RECLAIMING OUR STREETS

MAJA JANOWSKA: RECLAIMING OUR STREETS

Maja Janowska, photographer, journalist and model, talks about the simple day to day tasks that can leave females feeling scared. 

Walking to the bus stop at 10pm on a Saturday night. Earphones in, but music isn’t playing, just in case I won’t be able to hear someone creeping up behind me. Turning my head every five minutes and speeding up as soon as I sense a silhouette coming up behind, just in case. The constant fear continues as I arrive at the bus stop, exactly two minutes before my bus is due. I don’t want to wait there longer than necessary. It’s not lit very well and all the shops are already closed. I sit down and hold a phone in my hand, with my recent call page up so I can call someone quickly, just in case.

This is my journey to the bus stop, every weekend to work. Exactly the same, it’s a routine I have developed to keep myself safe on the streets at night.

I thought this routine was perfect, but a man put it to test a couple of weeks ago. It was my first day back at work after two months off due to ill mental health, so as an extra pick me up I wore my “Bitches Unite” t-shirt. I was feeling extra powerful.

As I stood at the bus stop a man from across the street started shouting at me. I thought he was harmless because he looked pretty drunk, so I just ignored it and pretended I couldn’t hear him, you know, my earphones trick!

“Don’t pretend you can’t hear me! I know you want some of that” I wish I hadn’t turned my head at that point. I still regret it. There he was, with his trousers down, still shouting at me. Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking; the man across the street, previously deemed harmless was a flasher.

I was terrified and now sure of his intentions. I tried calling my boyfriend a hundred times but the signal was terrible and I didn’t get through.

My routine was failing.

I started to panic, thinking of another plan of action. Should I run away like I had done the last time a man followed me, or look for a police officer as I had before – I’ve been followed around more than once. Or, it occurred to me, maybe I should just ignore him and pretend I couldn’t see him. I’m used to ignoring men who shout at me but this was a little more scary than usual. I even considered shouting at the guy – I did that once before when a passing man spanked my butt as he passed me with a group of friends. They found it very amusing that their friend had touched me – I didn’t.

In this whole situation I almost didn’t notice the bus arriving. Shaken up, I thanked the bus driver for arriving on time. He just looked at me funny, obviously he didn’t have a clue that he had saved me from whatever this man was about to do next.

This is not an isolated event. This is happening now, to women around the world. Going back from work, to work, from a party, shopping trip, late lecture. All the time. It’s not the first and not the last time it’s going to happen to me, but we can unite and work against it together.

I continue to walk to the bus stop every weekend, following the same routine. I walk to a taxi rank five minutes away from work when I come home much later and spend £8 on a taxi home to avoid potentially getting raped. I live in a constant fear of someone taking advantage of me just because I am female.

I am writing about it because I’m sick of having to look behind me with every step I take at night, I’m sick of being casually, sexually assaulted in the streets. I am fed up of having to pay for taxis because it is not safe for me to walk home from work. We need to be Damn Rebel Bitches, and we need to unite against it and speak up! There is no place in the modern world for this oppression and if we speak about it now, optimistically, maybe things will change and our daughters will be safe to walk the streets of our cities at night.


JADE MORDENTE

JADE MORDENTE

Writer & activist Jade Mordente talks to REEK Perfume about smells, mental health, the beauty industry and gender equality.

What smells remind you of femininity? What are your favourite smells and why?

My favourite smell is fresh air at 6am. I wake up before work on Monday – Friday and head to the gym first thing, it keeps my mental health in check. In these last couple of months it’s been freezing cold and sometimes raining, and everything just smells so soft and fresh. I like the concept of soft smells, just a gentle hint at something beautiful.

Do you feel that as a female writer you encounter more barriers in all aspects of your career?


I definitely have felt vulnerable when writing, especially when expressing an emotion I deemed would make me look ‘weak’. I guess I have taught myself to put up my own barriers – what I can and can’t speak about. I’ve got to a point now where I am letting go of shame and breaking down those barriers. I recently wrote an extremely personal piece for Refinery29 on female mental health and just minutes after it was published I had all these guys trolling me on twitter calling me a ‘slut’, a ‘crazy bitch’ and a ‘reason to hate women.’ It was insane. At no point did I ever bad-mouth men in the piece, yet so many of the guys responding seemed to feel personally victimised by my words. I laughed it off and assumed they were projecting their own insecurities onto me. Although, I do hope they remain single for the rest of their lives.

To be honest, I’m extremely lucky in my current job as I sit at a table full of supportive, strong and inspiring creative females. In fact, the whole office at Show Media is run by empowering and influential women! I think there are 4 men to 25 women in the office. I know I’m lucky to be in this position. It makes me hopeful.

How well do you feel the UK beauty industry represents women through products and advertising? Women of colour? Women from minority groups?

Well it’s still rare to see anyone who isn’t society’s definition of ‘beautiful’ featured in a make up campaign. Usually it’s white girls with close-to-perfect faces, and on the occasions black girls are included in campaigns they will always choose light-skinned black girls. I went to a very interesting talk recently by the model Leomie Anderson. As a dark-skinned black girl she spoke about how many hiccups and awkward moments she’s faced on set throughout her career in the industry because a makeup artist had no idea what do with her skin, or didn’t carry suitable products. In my opinion if we are still somewhat surprised by a makeup campaign because it represents a race, religion or overall look which we’re not used to seeing, then we are not seeing it anywhere near enough. There definitely needs to be more diversity.

We also need to see some truth in these campaigns – show me a girl with a break out, then I can relate.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career or your personal life?


My grandmother. She was a strong and inspiring feminist, and has always been the person I identify with most. In Scotland she worked in the jute mills as a weaver and lead one of the first women’s rights marches across Dundee. She fought to get women better working conditions and a livable wage. She fought her whole life for women to be viewed in the same light as men. At just 19 years old she had her first child out of wedlock after she left her cheating husband. She told me the story hundreds of times. In those days you were expected to turn a blind eye to a disrespectful man, it was seen as shameful to be a single mother – but she didn’t care. She knew she was worth more than him and she was prepared to lose her reputation if it meant keeping her self-respect. She was the kind of woman who would empty her purse for a homeless person, but she also wouldn’t be scared to put you in your place if you overstepped the mark. She had a heart of gold and a fiery temper.

She did her best to teach me, to influence me and empower me. I’d like to think it worked, and that I can teach the same thing to other women.

What female or gender equality causes mean the most to you and why?

Without a doubt the causes closest to my heart are abortion and domestic violence. I’ll never be able to understand laws against a woman getting an abortion. I often think of those females who stand against the termination of a pregnancy and try to understand their way of thinking – but every time I come to the conclusion they don’t live in the real world. They certainly turn a blind eye to it that’s for sure. What about the woman who’s been raped? What about the woman who is told her fetus is going to be born severely disabled and will have a life filled with pain and physical constraints? What about the woman who can’t afford to feed herself never mind a child? And, of course the one nobody wants to mention, what about the woman who just doesn’t want kids? You know something, if these anti-abortion activists had to spend as little as an hour in the lives of some women then I’m sure their opinions would change. No sane women goes out of her way to terminate a pregnancy, it’s a painful decision. Yet we force ourselves to speak in whispers if we have had one. We force ourselves to feel shame. The money which is spent on anti-abortion campaigns should pay for the therapy sessions of those who have suffered an abortion – that would actually make a positive impact on the world.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

First of all, thank you. I feel truly excited and grateful to be part of this movement!
I have always romanticised the notion of rebellion within women but as I’ve got older my perspective on it has changed. Self-love, self-care and self-belief are a positive form of rebellion against a society that urges you to always want to be someone or something else! Female intuition is an extremely powerful thing when you learn to accept it. I’d call myself a witchy bitch as I truly believe in the power of magick – good things come when you make peace with yourself.


NERD ABOUT TOWN

NERD ABOUT TOWN

REEK Perfume speaks to Stephanie Yeboah (aka NERD ABOUT TOWN), a plus size style blogger from London with a penchant for graphic novels, fragrance and women’s causes.

What women have inspired you most in your life?

I definitely get my inner strength from my Mother. She has been such a strong, fierce role model in my life and is the definition of a true survivor. She inspires me to keep going, despite the odds and is a testament to hard work and determination.

Other women, such as Missy Elliot and comedian/actress Monique, have also been incredibly influential to me. Seeing these gorgeous, strong black plus size women conquering Hollywood while being confident and unapologetic as fuck definitely inspired me to get on their level and spurred me on to find my own inner confidence and sass.

What women do you identify with from history to the present day?

Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa; otherwise known as the ‘Warrior Queen’, from my hometown of Ghana. She led the rebellion in Ghana against British colonialism in 1900. She was the first woman in Ashanti history to ever be given a role of warrior – a role traditionally reserved for the men of the villages. She was a force to be reckoned with and while she was captured and deported, her bravery stemmed a kingdom-wide movement for Independence. A true Queen.

What, in your opinion, are the most important female causes?

I’m very passionate about tackling the issues regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM takes place in 29 countries in Africa and affects over 125 million girls worldwide, with 137,000 girls living with the consequences of FGM in the UK. This brutal and absolutely useless practice of stripping women of their femininity and sexuality is something that needs to be talked about more often and eradicated.

Why were these images your chosen favourites of yourself?

I love these images as they are raw, honest and gritty. It’s me with hardly any makeup on, looking confident as fuck. As much as I love dolling up for my blog, I believe true beauty lies within and is shown in the simplest of actions, such as smiling. I love it!

What smells remind you of femininity?

I’ve always associated the fragrance of dusting/baby powder with femininity. I would always find vials of it around my Mother and Aunt’s dressing tables as a child and it is just a delicate, soft smell.

How does beauty industry advertising make you feel about yourself?

We live in a society that caters to, and glorifies a Westernized beauty standard, or ideal. As a plus sized black woman, it makes me feel unimportant, as if my beauty counts for nothing because of the colour of my skin.

Luckily for me, I’ve developed a sense of identity and pride in my ethnicity and skin tone and I love my colour and my size. I just wish that this was something that could be extended to the masses, especially the media and that people of all genders, races, abilities and sizes could be made to feel beautiful too.

Do you feel pressure to look/act a certain way to fit in with the ideals of female beauty?

I used to, but not anymore because what is ‘ideal’ really? What the media want us to believe? Beauty is whatever you make it; that’s the wonderful thing about beauty. It can be whatever you want it to be, because celebrating diversity and what makes us unique, is wonderful.

Keep up to date with Stephanie by following her on her blog www.nerdabouttown.com or her instagram, @nerdabouttown


FEMALE EMPOWEREMENT, BONDING & CELEBRATION

FEMALE EMPOWEREMENT, BONDING & CELEBRATION

Photographer Linda McIntosh shoots a raw story for REEK Perfume, in an effort to celebrate bonding and female empowerment.

Tell us a bit about this particular photography project.

When planning this shoot, it was important to me to focus on Reek’s core values, and values I hold myself, of female empowerment, bonding and celebration. Inspired by the BITCHES UNITE tee featured, I wanted to show a closeness and bond between my subjects and saw shooting real life friends as the best way to achieve this. hence leading me to shoot Amy and Maddie. I decided to use a fun play on perfume as the driving theme behind the shoot, using it as a tool to heighten ideas of uniting and connection through shared and almost intimate interactions with the water. Doesn’t get much closer than sharing fluids amarite?!!! This way I also hoped to take a step back from the conventional beauty shoot standards, and instead show a real rawness by celebrating the beauty in what could be labelled the “gross” and “disgusting” which is the stuff I live for. I swear, my phone memory is 80% occupied by snaps of my tongue bar and my boyfriend’s bruises.

How does photographing women make you feel about your own femininity?

Photographing women is something that is organic and comes very naturally to me yet I find it to be a very powerful experience. Surrounding yourself with deathly beautiful women with razor sharp jawlines, who look soooo much better in the shoot clothes than you did when you tried them on at midnight the night before just to “check them”, and who you place on little Instagram pedestals as being the coolest people ever, could be daunting and intimidating at times and is a feeling I assumed could be consuming, but I have found the opposite to be true. Meeting all these different women through the job is nothing but empowering. Yes, everyone is just as beautiful and cool as they seemed online, but they are also funny, kind, creative, clumsy, nervous, excited, tired, hungover, polite, insecure, plus whatever else makes a person a person. This might seem devilishly obvious and something I should have worked out before I was 24, that people are people, but from a previously insecure mindset, that still gets insecure at times obvs because I’m a person and people are people if you haven’t been paying attention, the fact that I’m gaining confidence in myself from each shoot has been fab. I think it also goes without saying that shooting women gives you such an appreciation of the female form. No offence boys, but god we’re beautiful.   

What smells remind you of femininity?

With my favourite smells being WD-40, petrol and pubs, this is perhaps a tricky question for me but if we’re being real, I’d say that “femininity” has no set definition and shouldn’t anyway. At the risk of sounding 90 years old I would have to go with the smell of books. There’s something about reading that I find completely refreshes my head, brings me back to reality and helps me “reset” my frame of mind. Actually using my brain instead of tuning it out with Netflix or social media,  makes me feel 100 times more human and comfortable inside my head.

What signifies female strength to you?

Female strength to me can take many many forms and a lot of the time can be circumstantial. What can seem brave in one country or family or relationship or time may not be perceived that way in another and vice versa. I think a big factor of strength comes from confidence in choices by which I mean being unafraid to make choices for you and not forgetting yourself in a plight to please others. Being aware of the importance of your own needs and happiness is something which should be a priority but can slip in situations where you feel intimidated or less important or unworthy of it. Knowing your worth and not letting yourself be treated below that by others or even by yourself is what we should strive for. Strength is something that you don’t always form alone and so female strength to me is also a coming together of all female identifying people where we support and celebrate one another without judgement and prejudice. Insert Mean Girls clip about making the cake made of rainbows and smiles.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

This may be an unconventional answer to such a question, but I believe my positivity makes me a damn rebel bitch. Horrible as it is, I often find that looking at the positives and being optimistic and hopeful puts you in the minority and I often find myself having to rebel against negative views and ways of thinking.  Maybe it comes from being a photographer, but I think I am always searching for the beauty in every situation and actively trying to keep my head a negative thinking free zone. As soon as you find everything beautiful or intriguing and see situations as opportunities to learn or help, life is so much more fun. You might get less done or be late for everything because you had to stop and take a pic of an insanely good oil spill on the road that was too good to miss or because you can’t walk 10 steps without looking up at the way the sun is hitting off a window, but paying more positive attention to everything around you like magic seems to bring more positivity to you. I seriously need to chill on the tongue bar pics though.