Interview: Bridget Todd

Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself?

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I grew up in a very small town in Virginia that you probably haven’t heard of (shout out to Midlothian!)  I was a pretty mediocre student for the most part, unless it was a class or a teacher I really liked. I always liked  anything creative- writing, art, theater and dance, so these were the classes I really excelled at. My mom and dad are both in the hard sciences (my dad worked as an engineer and my mom is a physician) but I knew I would probably end up doing something completely different.

In college I majored in Women’s Studies and English Literature, which felt like pretty much like doubling down on future unemployment. My folks begged me to take a business minor or a few classes in marketing or consider a teaching certification, but I always felt the point of school was just to immerse yourself in things you actually liked. I wasn’t sure what the hell I wanted to be doing when it was time to graduate, so I went to grad school to get a doctorate in literature. This ended up being a major life mistake. I was so unhappy in my program and my grades showed it. I remember coming locking myself in my apartment one day and putting on Kanye West’s College Dropout on repeat until I was ready to admit to myself I wanted to drop out. At the  time , I was convinced I’d ruined my life and blew my one shot as being successful because it was the only path I saw for career success at the time. I was just getting comfortable with the idea that maybe I wasn’t ambitious and maybe I wasn’t the type of person who would have an exciting or fulfilling professional life. But dropping out of grad school ended up being the best life choice I’ve ever made (even though at the time I was terrified.) I got a job I loved teaching classes at Howard University in DC which to this day remains the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. Dropping out was the first time I had to say no to something that was serving me and it opened up so much space in my life to say yes to the things I did.

Right now you are hosting the Podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You and working with Afropunk and Refinery 29, correct? Your roots are in activism. I'm wondering how you got started?

Make more mistakes. Be messy. Be difficult.

That’s correct! I worked as a cohost for SMNTY and now I am the Executive Producer for Refinery29 Un-styled podcast and I make podcasts for AfroPunk as well as hosting their social change related events at festivals all over the world. But my roots are in activism and that will always be where my heart is. I was always interested in activism and social change and my mom and dad were always really activist-minded. At Howard, I knew I wanted to use my voice, but I didn’t know how beyond making an angry Facebook post here or there basically preaching to my fellow lefty friends. At Howard, the students are very civically engaged. They’re always leading protests and getting behind social causes. Even though I was the teacher, it was their fearlessness that taught me that it’s okay to use your voice for good. While teaching at Howard, I started getting more and more involved in causes and organizing. I got an internship at the organizing team at a government transparency organization that I did in between teaching classes (I’m fairly sure I was the oldest intern in DC and the only one with a full time teaching job on the side.) That time was great because I just to get involved in causes I cared about without thinking about whether doing so was going to be “good for my career.” It created a great foundation for when I was ready to work in organizing and grassroots activism full time. I did a few campaigns, worked for the New Organizing Institute training activists (the Washington Post called my program the Hogwarts of the Democratic Party) and worked on the digital team at Planned Parenthood. Even while I am not working full time in organizing, I still have my roots in social change. I believe storytelling and podcasting can be really useful tool in pushing the needle on social change.

Since becoming one of the hosts on SMNTY what is something you've learned?

I’ve learned that having a platform,  no matter how small, is a real responsibility. You owe it to your listeners and the people whose stories you’re amplifying to get it right and to own it when you don’t.

What is the hardest part about doing the work that you do?

The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s important to know how to mess up in public and doing so with grace, especially when you’re dealing with social change, feminism, and activism. I get things wrong ALL THE TIME. I say things I regret all the time or make jokes that sounded funny in the studio but seem cruel or thoughtless on a later listen. It took a lot of work to accept that I’m going to get it wrong, but I think it’s important to model this for others who might be listening.

We are never really done growing up. What do you hope to do in the future?

I used to think that I wanted to be the loudest, best, more awesome feminist rock star ever. Now I just want to make work that I’m proud of that amplifies causes I care about. I want train others  to use storytelling and podcasting to speak up and help move the needle on the issue they care about, too. I want to create a little feminist army of women, queer folks, people of color all making art that matters and that can help change the world (and hopefully getting paid fairly to do it!)

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

It’s such a silly answer, but I remember growing up in a really small white, conservative town and feeling like an alien. When I would find media that spoke to me and made me feel like even if I didn’t fit in in my hometown, there were other folks like me out there in the world, it was a big deal to me. The first time I read a feminist magazine or heard a really rocking feminist band, it made me feel less alone. The idea that even one person who feels out of place would hear something I make and feel a little less alone gets me out of bed in the morning. And I HATE mornings so much and I really love to sleep in, so this should tell you something!

Do you have advice for girls growing up today?

Make more mistakes. Be messy. Be difficult. Don’t be afraid to annoy boys. Boys will always think you’re too loud or too weird or too complicated or whatever. Don’t let that change you from being who you are. You will be so much happier in the long run.

Do you have any female figures that you look up to?

I come from a long line of really strong women who accomplished more than I could ever hope to or imagine, so definitely the strong women in my family like my mom. My mom worked her way through medical school as a Black woman in the 80s while raising kids. I also look up to women who risked their lives to help other women. Heather Booth was one of the founders of the Jane network, who provided abortion care for women when it was still illegal. She did this when she was just a student herself. She’s a good reminder that you don’t have to be famous or well known to change someone’s life.

Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?

If we don’t create monuments to our stories and our heroes, they won’t be remembered.

All kinds of women are out there doing very cool things but our stories often go unheard and untold. If we don’t create monuments to our stories and our heroes, they won’t be remembered.

What is something in life that you are most proud of?

Back in February, a friend I went to high school with told me her daughter included me in a project she was doing for Black History Month about Black women. It’s easy to forget that there are often so few women in a lot of fields and that someone from the younger generation could be looking up to what you do. I say that to mean that anyone reading this, you could be paving the way for someone and not even know it.

A Few Favorites:

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Band/Song/Music Genre:
I’m a big music person. My favorite all time album is Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I was really inspired by a lot of the women making music in the late 90s like Luscious Jackson , Bjork and The Breeders. The album I listen to the most is probably Currents by Tame Impala or A Seat the Table by Solange Knowles.

What is your life motto?

There’s this great story in Amy Poehler's book about how she was doing something silly while goofing around and Jimmy Fallon, who she worked with on SNL at the time. Jimmy jokingly said “I don’t find this cute” and she says she spun around in her chair and snapped at him “I don’t fucking care if you think it’s cute or not.” This story stuck with me because I remember spending a lot of my life thinking I had to behave a certain kind of way as a woman and when I realized I didn’t have to, it was so powerful. You can be whatever kind of woman you want to be. It doesn't matter if someone thinks it’s cute or not.