School of Art, Media, and Technology

Interview with “Bad Feminist” Taylor Childers (BFA CD ’15)

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AMT asks graphic designer and Parsons Communications Design student, Taylor Childers, about her piece in the recent Gender Studies student exhibition in the University Center lobby–an interactive poster entitled, Scarlet Sticker: The Bad Feminist Project. 

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What is your experience with Feminism?

Growing up in the suburban Midwest, you develop this idea of what a feminist looks, talks and acts like. In a predominately Catholic community, that image is not a positive one.

I wanted to be independent like my working mother, who loved her job but was sometimes made to feel guilty for not staying home with her three kids. I hated the double standards with sexuality, ignored them and acted how I pleased and was judged for it later. All of this frustrated me and ultimately led to my interest in gender studies classes at The New School where I discovered just how closely my feelings aligned with feminism.

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The Bad Feminist Essays by Roxane Gay, which inspired your piece, tells us flawed feminism is okay–just as long as we talk about those flaws. How do you defend or disparage your so-called “flaws”?

We are human for one. No human is perfect and being honest about those imperfections is more important than ignoring them. When we recognize our flaws we can ask why. Why do I feel confident in heels? Why do I enjoy hip-hop music? The answers to these questions might make you change your behavior—or not, and I think that is okay too.

We grow up in gendered environments. Too feel comfortable performing a constructed gender is just as ok as rejecting the gender role you were assigned. Its personal. If you disagree, fine, but the feminism that I want to be a part of is open and accepting, not restricting.

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What was your original intention with this piece?

Little did I know, my desire to be independent in my sexuality, relationships and career aligned perfectly with feminist ideals–but could I be a heel loving, hip-hop listening, orgasm faking feminist? Roxane Gay thought so. Reading Bad Feminist Essays felt like a deep breath. I thought to myself, “thank god I am allowed to be a feminist.”

I knew I was not the only one who felt this way. As a Senior in Communication Design, I wanted to communicate Gay’s message in an interactive way that utilized experimental typography.

I also wanted the piece to have a conceptual component. The Scarlet Sticker is a reference to The Scarlet Letter. Although labeling a feminist good or bad shouldn’t happen, it will. Much like The Scarlet Letter, The Scarlet Sticker encourages the viewer to own that label and wear it proudly.

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How many people took photos of themselves with the stickers and tagged them as #scarletsticker?

A lot! Definitely more than I anticipated. It was so rewarding to be able to track how people interacted with the piece. I also found other photos under #badfeminist as well as the Parsons location tag.

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What was your reaction to how people engaged with the piece in ways not originally intended?

Thrilled. The variety of responses are proof of the amazing, open learning environment at The New School. Plus, the invitation to write your name on a sticker and peel it off to wear was directed towards those who agreed with the Gay quote. There were no instructions of what to do if you disagreed.

It ended up being sort of an archive of opinions. It was amazing to see, “This is sexist bullshit” next to “Oh really? I love it!” Again, what an amazing, diverse set of opinions we have at The New School.

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There was a clear directive given on how to engage with the piece. Do you think it was the presence of the sharpie, the invitation to physically engage with the poster by peeling off the stickers, the subject of the piece, the student environment or the medium that may have contributed to people taking their own “artistic license” with it?

When you leave a set of sharpies next to your own piece, you are asking for it. I was almost positive it would happen. The message is a bold one and I anticipated a variety of reactions.

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Is this an art or design project?

A design project.

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If design instigates reactions and engagement, is it “good design” or is it art? Can it be both. 

The line between design and art is always blurred. I mostly consider this a design project though. I designed it for a particular purpose and made decisions that would encourage interaction.

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Some of the comments on the poster claim there is “no such thing as a bad feminist.” What are your thoughts on that?

Preach. I don’t think so either. Again, feminism is personal. A lot of people might disagree with me on that, but I truly believe it is. Labeling feminists as good or bad shouldn’t be a thing.

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What defines “good” or “bad” feminism?

Looking at classification and labels in my work is nothing new. I study typeface classification on Font of You, a blog I co-author, every week. Unlike typography, I do not think there is a need to classify feminists as good or bad. By putting people in categories we are contributing to the same social structures we are trying to combat in the first place!

Some might argue that “bad” feminism is uneducated feminism. That idea is bullshit. Of course there are uneducated feminists. Claiming the name of Feminist is already scary for a few reasons:

1. Feminism often has a negative association. Answering “Yes” to “Are you a feminist” can be scary.

2. Feminism is a big movement and you likely know only the basic principles when claiming the name. This doesn’t mean you aren’t going to learn more later!

Labeling “good” or “bad” makes this all the more nerve-wracking. A good place to start when thinking about if you are a feminist is an Australian woman named Su’s definition of feminism, “just woman who don’t want to be treated like shit.” Agree? Ok, you are likely a feminist, now go learn about the movement.

Related: I saw this at Urban Outfitters today

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Would you approach a project like this differently, were you to do something like this again? What did you learn from the experience?

I was really happy with the variety of interactions. I think it would have been cool to set up a camera to record those reactions, but other than that no!

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 UPDATE! After Tweeting this post, Roxane Gay replied with this! Congrats, Taylor!

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