Meet Kiva Bay, the “Social Justice Cartoonist” behind the ‘Feminist Deck’ project

I first discovered Kiva Bay when, in the middle of a barrage of harassment that I was receiving on Twitter due to a collection of anti-feminist misogynist trolls deciding that I was their target of the week, she sent me a sketch of myself.

See, when Kiva notices feminists being harassed on Twitter, she likes to draw a picture of them, to remind them that they are admired and inspiring, to offer support, and to make them feel a bit better.

It really did (and does) work.

Kiva has gone on to turn this simple but amazing habit of hers into a whole project known as the “Feminist Deck”, a deck of cards that celebrates and promote feminists and their work. To quote her video on Kickstarter explaining this project,

“In the style of the Fleer Marvel Cards that I so liked growing up, these cards give you images of feminists, quotes and suggested reading material from them, and information on how to see more of them.

“The cards are a tribute to modern, living people who do good, progressive work. Real work. Hard work as journalists, as academics, as entrepreneurs, as activists, and as community members. All of these people are linked by one thing, Twitter. But they’re all individuals with stories that deserve to be promoted in the real world.

“In the end, that’s what ‘Feminist Deck’ will be: not gamifying feminist lives – promoting them.”

Pretty cool, huh?

Well, since this project began, it’s been quite an interesting ride for Kiva, and fascinating to watch from the side-lines. She’s had over-whelming support, but also criticism that ranges from the bizarre to the outright awful.

I’ve even watched her trying to deal with a feminist who decided the deck is all about handing out “feminist cards” and excluding anyone who isn’t in the deck as “not feminist enough”. To be clear, that’s not the purpose or spirit of the deck at all. Kiva happily accepts nominations. In fact, that’s why two of my favourite feminists (who I didn’t even have to nominate myself) are in there: Ginny McQueen (a cosplayer) and Amanda Palmer (a goddess).

The fact that this project exists at all seems to have especially upset some people, with even a whole 8Chan thread dedicated to planning its sabotage. One channer in particular pledged a donation of $10k, planning to pull the donation later. This “Kicktrolling” technique can be devastating to a project. (In fact, something like this just happened to 2Awesome Studio, whose Kickstarter failed after a pledge of 7000 EUR was pulled at the last minute.)

Luckily, Kiva figured out what was going on. In an email interview, she told me,

“When I saw that there was a $10k donation (no reward selected), I checked my Kickstarter dashboard and saw the pledge had been directed to my Kickstarter from and contacted Kickstarter. Then I used google to find the thread in question and saw the channer bragging about the false pledge.”

Even better, the fact that trolls tried this wound up helping the project to succeed, as news of this trolling attempt made headlines, and celebrity support from people like Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, and Graham Linehan began rolling in.

There were those (very likely the same trolls) who didn’t like this at all. “Celebrities supporting a project that actually dares to portray feminists in a good light? No! This must not be!”

They tried to use techniques that they’ve been using for ages to try get their own way. Basically, “Step 1 – Make up slanderous accusations about people you don’t like. Step 2 – Constantly repeat these accusations as loudly as possible.”

It did not go well for them.

Other complaints and criticisms have been all over the place, including the whine that “so and so is in this project and I don’t think they should be because I don’t agreeeeee with something they saaaaiiiiddd”. Neil himself actually had the best response to that.

I like Neil Gaiman.

There’s also been the “The project uses the images of feminists without their permission” argument. Of course, this is absolute and complete nonsense. Every feminist featured in the project is approached for their permission by Kiva Bay personally, and to be in the project you have to sign a release form. But I guess when you’re mindlessly trying to find any way to turn people against a project because you’re ridiculously threatened by it even existing then little things like “facts” and “reality” don’t matter to you.

Fuck the trolls, though, seriously.

But that’s my attitude, and one of the things that has impressed me most about Kiva is how she has responded to this disproportionate amount of hatred and attacks that she’s getting just because she wants to draw pictures of feminists on cool little cards looking cool. When I would have probably been raging about these assholes, or else laughing and rubbing their faces in their failed attempt at trolling, Kiva sent out a series of tweets that said this,

“Success is following me because I am following MY truth, living MY dream, instead of trying to live whatever dream gets approval from them. That’s why I can’t hate them. I imagine the pain they must feel, feeling that way all the time. I wish I could help them see.

“The very first reply in that thread is from someone who feels overlooked, ignored, and unappreciated as an artist. Dude. I’ve been there.

“But I was there when I was being selfish. I was there when I was seeking approval from others. I was there when I wasn’t being inspired.

“My heart goes out to the people who hate me, because I have hated, too. I don’t plan to go back to it, because it was a poison in my life. And because the people I hated, I didn’t know well enough to hate. The only person I hated was myself, really.

“8chan, I believe you can let go of your hatred. I believe you can let go of this idea that you’re doing it “for lulz.”

“There wasn’t laughter in that first reply. There was jealousy, and anger, and pain.

“To that artist: I believe in you. And I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that someday you stop tearing down other artists and believe in yourself, too. <3″

In that email interview I mentioned earlier, she had this to say about the 8Chan thread planning attacks on her project,

“The other thing I noticed, the big thing that still sticks with me, was the first comment on the 8chan thread. The commenter was furious because his space pirate story could not get funding on Kickstarter, while my card deck was doing very well.

“I remembered immediately all the times I had wrapped up my sense of self-worth in jealousy and pain and my heart went out to them. Not at first, but after about an hour of thinking about it I realized that what I was feeling, more than anything, was pity.

“My feelings were obviously hurt by some of the things they said, but when I began to really study the nature and tone of those comments, I saw a lot of pain on the parts of the commenters. I do feel compassion for these people. I remember being a bully, and my meanness was couched in a lot of self-loathing and pain.”

In my experience, Kiva has been nothing but the embodiment of kindness and compassion, from when she was just drawing sketches of feminists dealing with harassment, to when she herself has had the spotlight on her with all the attacks and abuse that goes with it. But it’s probably the way she explained why she tries to always show compassion that makes me respect her the most,

“I try to react with compassion to everyone I meet because I was a bully for a long, long time. I have anger issues and it works better for me to maintain my cool and keep positive. So my compassion and kindness was partially for me: reminding myself that it’s okay.”

As someone who struggles with anger myself, I know just how difficult it can be to harness and control it rather than allow it to run rampant and destroy everything. I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s anger and the part it played in fueling his work, and I think I can see Kiva harnessing her anger to fuel hers as well. To quote part of her reaction to when the hate-mongering site The Ralph Report tried to have a go at her,

“No matter what you do, Gamergate, it won’t matter. If you’re angry about this project supporting people you don’t like then this project will support them even more. I will pass along to them that if they want, they can make a donation to a worthy charity themselves, but here we go:

“Every cent of this project will support people who you feel should go unsupported. The art in this project will support and promote their work. The voices in this project will be paid even more money. The voices will be expanded to include even more people that you want to silence.

“All you have done is given me a fire. I could have devoted that fire to anger, but instead I will use it to add to the project, support more people, and spread more love, more kindness, and more goodness in the world.”

I read that, and I was like,

In short, I couldn’t be more honoured to be part of this project, and I can’t wait for my very own Feminist Deck.

If you want one for yourself, go to the Kickstarter page, where just $15 (well, $20 in all if you, like me, live outside of the US) will get you a deck of 56 cards. There are some other pretty awesome rewards too, and the chance to stick it to some bullies and trolls comes free.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty sweet deal.


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