A Conversation with Angela C. Wild of Wild Womyn Workshop

jk rowling wild womyn workshop

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock this year is well aware of all the commotion surrounding JK Rowling. We’ve covered it extensively on AfterEllen because as it turns out Rowling came to bat for us, voicing her support for lesbians in her personal essay. And recently, she tweeted a photo of herself wearing a shirt that says “this witch doesn’t burn.” This tweet has since been pinned to her account.

https://twitter.com/jk_rowling/status/1308417985753870336?s=20

But did you know a lesbian designed that shirt? And AE was lucky enough to have conversation with the owner of Wild Womyn Workshop, Angela C. Wild. She sat down with us to talk about JK Rowling, feminism, and now the famous shirt.

AfterEllen : This must all be so much for you right now. So could you just tell us on your end, what happened when everything blew up?

Angela Wild: On my end, first of all, I need to say that I’m a one woman shop. I usually have a small operation, it rolls nicely. But, I’ve never had anything like this. So somebody tagged me on JK Rowling’s thread. And I was like, “Ahh! What is happening!” Honestly, in my wildest dream, I would never have thought anything like this could have happened. It was very emotional, very overwhelming. The orders started to come immediately. That was extraordinary. The first thing that happened was a really massive wave of positive comments and support! That was amazing. And then I thought, “Okay, brace yourself for the shit.” Obviously, the second wave was all the trans activists coming after me. But that doesn’t take away the beauty of this experience!

AE: So you mentioned that you’re a one woman store. It’s just you. Could you tell us a little bit more about the mission of the store and the overall style of the merch?

Wild: So first of all, I started because as a customer myself, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I saw there was a big gap in the market. There were loads of liberal feminist shops, a lot of them run by men! That just wouldn’t do for me! The messages were not there, the politics were not there, it was not what I was looking for. And there was also nothing that was, at the same time, woman centered, lesbian centered, and for activists. No feminist shops would tackle the trans problem. So I wanted something that would encompass all that, with really strong radical politics. So I started to do badges. Because when you don’t have a lot of money, you start with small things. And then I expanded. The aim is to be uncompromising and unapologetic. My work is often described as offensive by people who don’t like it. But I like to think that I am disrespectful [to the patriarchy]. I think we should be disrespectful to men and the patriarchy.

AE: And we don’t owe them. When have they ever respected us?

Wild: We don’t owe them respect. We don’t owe them loyalty. We don’t owe them to be polite anymore. I think we all go through that phase where we try to explain things very nicely, and then we realize it goes nowhere. So allowing women to have merchandise that reflects all this kind of stuff, that is at the same time really woman-centered, really women-loving, celebrating women’s literature, women’s art, women’s culture. So it has this dual aspect of activism, but celebration, as well.

AE: And there’s a lot of lesbian-centric stuff as well.

Wild: Yeah! Obviously! That goes without saying!

AE: I don’t really see that. Sometimes I’m scrolling through Etsy, and I’m trying to find something that’s just lesbians, you know what I mean? And it’s really hard to find.

Wild: So much about lesbians is erased or “queerified.” That’s why it was really important to have a large range of products that promotes lesbian visibility. And then, also I like my products to be nicely designed, you know?

AE: I have this Sappho card from your shop. You’re supposed to send it to your friends, right? But I couldn’t. I kept it.

Wild: No, just keep it on your wall like you’ve done!

AE: So the T-shirt that JK Rowling wore, could you tell us a little bit about that? It sold out very quickly, right?

Wild: So it’s a T-shirt that I designed a year and a half ago. It says “This Witch Doesn’t Burn.” It was a slogan that was inspired by a friend of mine who actually asked for a badge. And then I made a linocut of it and I made cards, then developed in T-shirts, posters, mugs.

The slogan is really about the history of women in patriarchy, how men have tried to burn us. And yet, look, we’re still there and there are still women who dissent, and still women who disagree, and there’s still women who speak up. All those of us who don’t want to shut up, this is what it is about. The fact that JK Rowling retweeted it, it’s just such a perfect cycle, you know? I am so grateful! Writing about witches and wizards, talking about women’s rights, refusing to bow down, being targeted, silenced, like she’s been being hated. And just promoting the T-shirt, wearing that T-shirt, I think it’s just perfect.

AE: It really is. Because I mean, Harry Potter is about a wizard, right? And the wizard is a hero. Historically, wizards have always been heroes, but witches have always been villains.

Wild: Right? Men were very scared of us, whether we are women, lesbians or witches! And I think it’s very contemporary still, unfortunately. But yeah, the idea was to link this historical aspect of women’s history with what is happening right now. And notice how our history is completely denied by men as well. When they talk about the witch hunt, they talk about them being “witch-hunted”, but nobody’s ever acknowledging the millions of women who’ve been burned and the impact it has on us. Where is the apology for this?

AE: I was actually reading about witches just yesterday. The article I read said a conservative estimate of 9 million to 11 million women have been killed in the name of witch hunts. And I was like, that’s crazy, because we just don’t learn about that.

Wild: No, absolutely.

AE: You sold out of those T-shirts right away, didn’t you?

Wild: I’ve sold so many that I need to first shift all this stock and make sure my customers are happy before I can produce some more! Because as I said, it’s only me, but to be fair, one of the great responses of this is I have many friends who came to help, who are coming to help. And yeah, it’s an intense time. It’s a very good and intense time.

AE: How else have things changed for you since that happened?

Wild: Oh, apart from that it’s not very different. It’s a wave, you know? The business is my only income, it’s my professional activity. It’s always good for artists to be able to live off our creativity. So that would be good if it really establishes Wild Womyn Workshop. But in terms of politics, what is really, really amazing when you have a shop like this is you can see where the orders are coming from, how many, which countries. I have sold to countries where I’ve never sold before, like Israel, Singapore, Brazil. I know there’s a big radical crowd in Brazil, there are a lot of radical women, but I’ve never engaged with them before. And so that’s really, really nice. It’s not just a business. You can really make connections with women as well. That’s really cool.

AE: That’s awesome that you have this global connection, now. So you mentioned that you got a lot of responses. What were the some of the best and worst responses you’ve got so far?

Wild: The best? I don’t know if I have a specific example. I am just blown away by the sheer volume of it, you know? Again, it really feels like a wave. It really feels like we’re building. I’ve been doing this for a while. I have run this shop for 3 years, but I have been in activism, and particularly against the arms of transgenderism, since 2012. So I can really see how much we’re growing all these years. In the beginning, I only knew six women who were vocal, and now there’s so many of us! When you carry a T-shirt like that, so many women who support it, want it, who are ready to speak up, it makes such a massive difference. I think it really shows that we are building something really, really strong. The worst responses were death threats and rape threats.

AE: How do you how do you handle getting those kinds of responses?

Wild: I think in time you get used to it, unfortunately. I put them in the spam box. And I report the worst ones to the police. I think these responses reflect how terrified trans activists are of us. There are always men who are going to try to make us engage with them. So whether it makes us angry, whether it makes us scared, whether it makes us feel sorry for them, I think the main thing is to not engage at all and try to keep your boundaries, your mental health, and your focus away. I would say to women, don’t look, don’t engage. Just put it in the spam box. Block it and move on.

AE: Do you feel like they they feed off of you engaging?

Wild: Yeah, but not of me. Of us. I think it’s really important that women stop giving their energy and attention to men, even if it’s anger, just don’t engage at all. Because, as you say, they feed off it.

AE: Instead of putting your energy into that, try to help your sisters instead or find something else to do.

Wild: Yeah, find something else to do that is women-centered, lesbian-centered. Campaign, protest, make art, look after yourself, anything! You can focus on all the good things that women are doing. It doesn’t mean you have to ignore it, we know it’s there. But don’t emotionally get yourself wrapped up in it. Because it can be triggering, it can stop you in your tracks, it is a useless distraction. Just don’t go there.

AE: I see them just constantly engaging. And these people, they don’t want to listen to you. They just want to make you angry, you know?

Wild: Yes, I think they feed off the energy. Women don’t have a lot of time. We don’t have a lot of energy. We’ve got busy lives! Women work hard, have responsibilities and children, and god knows how many projects to run. We could use our energy elsewhere than to feed trolls.

AE: So do you have a message or any advice for younger lesbians, especially lesbian creators like myself? I’m trying to be a writer, but I’m seeing what’s happening to JK Rowling. It just made me feel like nobody’s ever going to want to read my story, nobody’s ever gonna pick it up. Big publishers are not even going to look at it because of the content that I’m writing. It’s very woman-focused, it’s very lesbian-focused. 

Wild: I would advise you to be as self-centered in your art, as women/lesbian-centered as possible. Focus on what you do, focus on what you believe. Try not to feel censored by whatever institution you think you want to be in. To be honest, don’t even try to get in the system. Do your thing. There will be a space for you somewhere.

In the second wave, women were creating their own things. They created the women’s centers and refuges, the rape crisis [centers], their publishing houses, gatherings, festivals. I mean AfterEllen is a great example of that. We have to keep building our own things, our own culture. With that in mind, every single one of us who is creative is adding a stone to this. And so I would say it’s really important not to focus on what men, men’s institutions, and patriarchy will think of our production. Because you know what? They will always hate it. We don’t do it for them or their approval. We are doing it for us, and we are doing it for the women who have our ethos, who have our values, who will understand what we are talking about when they read our work. I think that’s the thing I tried to do myself, the principal I try to apply to myself. Don’t try to get in the system, don’t try to change the system, just build without it, like if it wasn’t there.

As women we spend a lot of time, especially younger women, wondering and worrying about what other people will think of us. I can see it a lot with young women who are trans allies, who are telling me, “how can you stand to be hated so much?” It depends by who, you know? I don’t care about being hated by men. They are not my tribe; they are not my market either. But on the other hand there is more and more of a community of women and lesbians who are supporting each other. There are more and more women who are using their creativity to produce political stuff, women and lesbian centered stuff. And this is where we need to put our love, our energy, and our work in I think.

AE: I found myself very lucky to be writing for AfterEllen because I don’t feel like I would have had the chance anywhere else.

Wild: Exactly! Women supporting women! Lesbians supporting lesbians! And your self-made project, you know? You might not have a publisher behind you. But look, for example, what happened with Jessica Taylor. She self-published her book. A lot of hard work went into that and then finally some publisher is publishing it. But even if she was not being published, she still would have had a really successful book. So, it’s about trusting your vision, just putting it out there, pushing it as much as possible and just doing your thing. Focus on what you believe in. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I think it’s really true.

AE: It’s not really something you hear about, especially when you’re trying to be a writer, and everything that you’re getting is so male-focused. And so, trying to write my stories, I know my audience. This is for lesbians only. And I’ve had people come to me and say, “Can you add some heterosexuals? Maybe it’ll make it more appealing to the masses?” And I’m like, I’m not trying to appeal to them. This is for lesbians only. We can’t even have our own thing.

Wild: I think as lesbians, and also as feminists, we are always in the margins. We have to accept that. Your work is not gonna appeal to some straight couple or some bloke. And that is a good thing. And it’s not what you what you aim for, just keep your vision in mind!

AE: I’ve had my friends tell me like, I can’t even look for lesbian stories anymore, because they’re not there. And so if I can write that for them, I will.

Wild: Either we can mourn and grieve that it’s not there, or we can do it! Create those stories that you would like to read!

AE: Yeah, exactly. So that’s what I did. I just did it.

Wild: Do that. Every woman should do that, too!

AE: Right! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Wild: I feel really positive at the moment about all the things that have been happening lately in the fight for women’s rights. I know when we come to this debate we feel terribly lonely and terrified. But I don’t think we’re in such a bad place at the moment because women are really waking up in large numbers. And so don’t despair, and speak up.

AE: Your silence won’t protect you.

Wild: No, it doesn’t. And there have been waves of women speaking year after year. And we just need to keep that wave rolling.

Maya Angelou once said, “each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” When JK Rowling took her stand, she gave a voice to women. But it wasn’t enough for her to just wear the shirt. She took the time to promote a lesbian artist who has been fighting for women and lesbians for years. And it’s clear from the success of Angela Wild’s store that many women are finding their voices and standing up. In following her dreams, Wild has become a beacon of hope to other lesbian creators, myself included. She’s shown us that we don’t have to make ourselves small. We don’t have to appeal to our oppressors. We can be loud, unapologetic lesbians and still make it in the end. So what are you still hanging around here for? Check out the Wild Womyn Workshop and get yourself some lesbian merch!