Olivia Gatwood was a youth poet competing in an HBO series competition called "Brave New Voices." Megan Falley was a college student who posted her own spoken word videos on YouTube.
Although the two had only watched each other on screens, they soon would coincidentally meet on the streets of New York City. Years after that brief bump-in, Gatwood and Falley ended up on the same poetry team together.
"Since we were the only women on the team, naturally we started to write a lot of group poems together," Gatwood said. "We just worked really well together and thought we could make a whole show out of it."
Now, Gatwood and Falley are bringing their feminist spoken word poetry show, "SPEAK LIKE A GIRL," to Rutgers next Thursday. The show at Rutgers is part of their tour that hits other colleges across the country.
"SPEAK LIKE A GIRL" uses spoken word as a tool to educate students about gender inequality through humorous and emotional performances. The show touches upon issues such as street harassment, body image and rape culture.
College students are often daunted by these topics, which is where "SPEAK LIKE A GIRL" comes in, Gatwood said.
"If we can make people laugh and give people a tiny picture of something they might relate to in an absurd way, they're more likely to grab onto the idea," Gatwood said. "Our joke is that we trick people into learning about feminism."
Out of the more light-hearted poems the two perform, Gatwood said a persona poem, titled "Princess Peach," is a standout. The poem analyzes the culture of video games from the perspective of Princess Peach from the Super Mario video games franchise.
"Olivia and I usually preface it by saying 'We're here to ruin your childhood,'" Falley said. " (The poem) analyzes how (in video games), if you collect enough coins or defeat enough monsters, your prize in the end is a woman."
Another poem called "Ode to the Selfie" is about fighting against the idea that a woman is vain for taking photos of herself and feeling confident. Selfies are revolutionary in a world that "tells women how ugly they are," Falley said.
Despite the humor found in their poems, Gatwood and Falley both agree that the show goes to darker places.
In particular, Falley said one poem is emotionally draining and personally difficult to memorize and perform. The poem is about sexual cohesion and an abusive relationship.
"It's hard for me to read, but it would be harder for me not to read," Falley said.
The poem challenges ideas of what sexual assault looks like, which Falley said is important for college-aged students to hear. Rape and sexual violence not only includes the perpetrator jumping out of an alley, but can manifest in other ways as well.
"People are more receptive to having their minds changed when they are smiling," Falley said. "The show in general starts out funny, and then we delve into darker pieces."
Beyond humor and emotion, Gatwood and Falley also try to incorporate current events into their poems. Recently, the two re-wrote a poem to add current events surrounding mass shootings and how they relate to women.
Oftentimes, mass shootings are an act of revenge against women who will not have sex or date the shooter, Gatwood said. Before writing the poem, the two extensively researched multiple mass shootings and read shooters' profiles.
"I remember sitting in the hotel room and feeling frozen and numb about it," Gatwood said. "We haven't preformed it yet, but I think it is going to be difficult. It gave me a new perspective on what we are doing."
Gatwood and Falley said they enjoy seeing men in an audience that is primarily female. Most audiences are 70 percent female and 30 percent male.
At one point in the show, a survey is taken on how many people have been catcalled or made to feel unsafe. Falley said it is important for the men in the audience to see the number of women raising their hands.
"It is so vital for us to have men in the audience," Falley said.