STRONG AND SHAVED

STRONG AND SHAVED

It’s on trend and has been for a while, but what is the reaction to these brilliant bitches and their shaved heads our in their day to day lives. REEK finds out…

Jamila

Why did you shave your hair?

To be honest, I’d been wanting to shave my head for almost 5 years. I was always too self conscious to do it, thought my shoulders were too big, my head too small blah blah blah.

My hairs always been something that people commented on. I could almost sit on it. But it’s so much upkeep and I’m a lazy bitch when it comes to grooming on a good day. So it made sense to get a fresh start.

Worst thing anyone’s said to me since shaving it all off?

I don’t think anyone’s said anything nasty to me, they’ve just questioned my sexuality. My mum always said ‘if you’re not planning on sleeping with them then it’s none of their damn business’

Best thing someone’s said about your haircut?

I don’t even think I can choose one comment. I’ve had an unbelievable amount of kind and beautiful words from friends, family, even strangers! It’s mainly been positive and now I’m wishing I had just bitten the bullet and did it sooner.

Titana

Why did you shave your hair?

I am a born-free South African (born 1994)  I was in a society where Afro hair was not considered beautiful , so chemically straightening my hair was the norm, even though I had beautiful Afro hair I disliked the fact that it was so curled and I wanted it straight – straight hair was considered more beautiful just as European features were considered  more beautiful. Afro hair was also looked down upon as untidy in a lot of schools. So my hair was damaged by all the chemicals though it was dead straight. Being a dark-skinned black woman in that society I experienced a lot of prejudice which caused me to be insecure and my self esteem was very low. 2 years ago I saw a lot of black women shaving their heads and letting their natural hair grow. I also saw how it made them feel emotionally. When I decided to shave my head I started to notice who I ,Titana, is and was. I noticed the amount of self love that started to pour in. The fact that I had to face myself and look in the mirror and see all that I am. I can only speak for myself but there is something liberating and powerful in looking at yourself in the mirror with no hair and no make-up. It’s a form of true acceptance. I am truly blessed to have experienced it. I’ve always wanted confidence and now, that’s how I feel!

What’s the worst thing someone has commented about your hair?

Someone pointed out that I don’t look feminine . I had to ask them what femininity was, and challenge them on that.

What’s the best?

Someone said that I look beautiful, strong , and that I’ve gained a beautiful confidence in myself.

How do YOU feel with your hair shaved?

I feel incredible. I feel like I have accepted who I am. I feel liberated , confident and beautiful.

Misha

What inspired you to shave off your hair?

In terms of my hair, up until recently I have found myself doing what was expected of me as a model. I allowed others to dictate and decide what haircut would be best for my career, and I just went with it! This may have been what the clients were after but when it comes down to it, I truly believe that confidence is more attractive than any hair cut, and it’s impossible to be fully comfortable with yourself if you are not being true to yourself. This is why I went for it!

Worst thing anyone’s said to me about my haircut?

There was one taxi driver who GENUINELY thought he was doing me a favour by informing me that every single man he has ever known would agree that long hair is more attractive on women. He then asked me with genuine confusion “Has no-one ever told you this before? Really?” And I was just sitting there, wondering how it became acceptable to tell a woman how you would prefer her to present herself? And how on earth people in this day and age are baffled by why she would dream of prioritising her own interpretation of beauty, over yours? I told him that I do not decide what I do with my appearance based on what others (men/women/humans) find attractive, and I do not let others dictate how I express myself.

Samantha

What made you want to shave it all off?

I’ve felt so empowered since shaving my head. Its allowed me to accept the insecurities that I had before and learn to love myself fully for who I am. I’ve never felt more like my true self, than when I got rid of my locks. I totally think more people should feel comfortable about it and try this look, it brings out the uniqueness in a person’s face and gives you real confidence as you can’t hide behind anything.

Worst thing anyone’s said to me about my haircut?

I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable and horrible comments surrounding my choice of hair. So it’s hard to choose a particular incident. It usually goes one way or the other, either I’m having my sexuality questioned (even my gender on one occasion) or I’m being over sexualised by men, who think its okay to touch my head or take photos without asking. Which once sadly ended up with me being sexual assaulted in a club. I think the stigma surrounding girls with short hair needs to change. Its something which can be completely empowering for a women as it isn’t the social norm. What I think people need to remember is that our femininity and particular our gender, doesn’t lie in a hair cut.

How do you feel since shaving it all off?

I’ve felt so empowered since shaving my head. Its allowed me to accept the insecurities that I had before and learn to love myself fully for who I am. I’ve never felt more like my true self, than when I got rid of my locks.  It’s scary but I recommend everyone to do it!!! Love a buzzcut!!!


THE BEAUTIFUL BODY HAIR DEBATE

THE BEAUTIFUL BODY HAIR DEBATE

We asked Danni, a Body Positive Advocate who runs the Chachi Power Project, to give us her wise words about body hair. Oh my.

#imafeministbut

At a recent all-female networking dinner event in Glasgow, the conversation came around to body hair removal. How pathetically stereotypical of a women-only event you may groan, but wait… it’s not that old cliché. After starting my Body Positive Side Hustle: The Chachi Power Project in 2017 I’ve realised just how much women are dictated to about how they are supposed to ‘be’. What I find most shocking is the form we are ‘supposed’ to take isn’t only a slightly modified body… at times it can be the complete converse. It’s as if we’ve been told to hunker down in a corner and make ourselves busy with unrealistic, impossible tasks so the big boys can play.

Body hair has been a big player in my conversations with fellow females throughout my whole life. Only in the past couple of years did the conversation flip from ‘do you wax or do you shave?’ to ‘why should women need to exist as hairless pre-pubescent lust-filled objects?’ And that’s exactly where that conversation went that night in Glasgow.

Up until a couple of years ago my almost robotic reaction to seeing hairy female legs was ’”ewwww she doesn’t shave her legs”. These days it’s tough not to Hi-5 women with a curl under their arm or scream ‘YES SISTER’ across the street when I see a pair of hairy pins.

I’m still bewildered at my previous reaction. I mean, how fucked up is it that women are controlled and brainwashed to the degree that ripping out our natural vulva hairs isn’t just a thing we do once in a while but it is expected and we’re demonised if we don’t partake.

Internalised Misogyny is incredibly powerful and I’m glad I am slowly but surely unlearning its Women v. Women vibe and escaping its toxic grasp.

There are so many facets that play into why we remove (and are expected to remove) our tache, beard, leg, arm, underarm, vulva, ass, foot, finger, brow, tummy, tit hair… and YES for some women it is ALL of the above… Hours and hours, hair by hair just so we can get through the day without being stared at, laughed at, called names and told to go back to the circus.

Here’s a wonderful essay which discusses where body hair removal started, what caused it, what hair implied about women in different times and how hair was removed from the body in days of old… check out how horrifying it got:

“How to Remove or Lose Hair from Anywhere on the Body

Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

Nowadays the abuse, the judgement, the worry, the self-criticism often remain too much to bear. So we still epilate, shave, wax, pluck, pull, depilate and laser. It seems a painful and expensive price to pay.

I’m not pretending I’m not one of those people. Sometimes fighting the fight is more tiresome than removing the hair.

Whilst being a Body Positive advocate sometimes makes me angry, most of the time I’m taking part in heartfelt conversations, showing compassion and understanding and finding the humour in ridiculous, unreachable standards.

Last year I took part in a magnificent hashtag on Instagram: #botanicalbodyhair

It was started by @sarah_louise_ferg and @unfounddoor. Two women who, from what I can tell after following their online lives, live in a world of poetry, nature, sunsets, humour and creativity.

With this hashtag they made something beautiful out of an important topic which encouraged vulnerability, shone light on something which women find shameful, while poking fun at impossible beauty standards.

They started the hashtag by replacing the hair they removed from their body with beautiful botanicals and took artistic photographs of the results. Slowly but surely other’s followed suit and an excellent hashtag was born.

Alongside this article are my contributions… beautifully styled and photographed by my sister Lisa. You can check out the hashtag and it’s 263 beautiful inspired posts here. Sarah Louise Ferg’s blog regarding her reasons for starting it and some of her favourite posts here.

As humorous and light hearted as the hashtag may seem I think it was a beautiful and important piece of feminist and body political activism created in a gentle and accessible way.

The conversations it started were enlightening, empowering and sometimes frustrating – the best type of conversations. We don’t all have to agree but let’s open the floor for different voices and opportunities to learn from and challenge others.

Perhaps the fact that all the images created were visually stunning and typically beautiful but with an important underlying message made it easier for people to enter the conversation who may otherwise have stayed quiet. Who knows?

I just know it was a fun way to spend a Sunday with my sister. We nearly wet ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of figuring out how to attach purple fronds to my upper lip… in the end we just shoved them up my nose.

Because I believe in our right to bodily integrity I respect everyone’s right to do with their body as they see fit.

So, I say, do what you like when it comes to your body hair. Grow it or take it all away- it’s your body- do what feels right to you.

If you are going to remove your hair then great but let me ask you this: you may think it is nicer/ cleaner/ sexier/ preferable but… if everyone else in the world didn’t remove their body hair… would you still do it?

Sometimes it’s a good idea to question our motives. To dig deep and ask interesting questions about our choices. Sometimes the answers are uncomfortable. That’s ok. Asking the question is the important bit.

To broaden your idea of what a normal female body is, why not follow bearded model and body political activist Harnaam Kaur (her Instagram is great but if you wanna get a real taste of her wit and vibe then head over to her Twitter). Also learn from Dana from @dothehotpants as she traverses round NYC with her gloriously hairy pins and figures out her thoughts about the male gaze and socially acceptable bodies.

Perhaps invest in a cute pin from the @yourwelcomeclub and show off how you celebrate body hair.

And one last suggestion: No more commenting on other people’s body hair, no more commenting on other people’s bodies full stop, unless you want to exclaim how beautiful the being in front of you is.

Danni holds talks, workshops, events and retreats which encourage people to be part of the Body Positive Movement and figures out ways we can all have better body confidence.

Website:           https://www.chachipowerproject.co.uk/

Blog:                 https://www.chachipowerproject.co.uk/blog

Facebook:        https://www.facebook.com/chachipowerproject/

Instagram:       https://www.instagram.com/chachipowerproject/

Twitter:            https://twitter.com/chachi_power


IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT

IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE GETS PREGNANT

Growing up in Ireland, abortion was always considered a bad word; something that would be spoken about in private or as hypothetical. “If I ever got pregnant, I’d be on the first boat to the UK” was an ongoing joke…

I don’t know how many girls ever did “get the boat” but all I can say is my heart truly pains for them that did. On top of an extremely stressful and scary situation most would have had to travel into the unknown, likely alone, to get this done.

On my 26th birthday last year I found out I was pregnant. After three years of living in London, being single and broke (the London dream), I don’t know how to begin to tell you all the thoughts, fears and stresses that came with seeing those dreaded blue lines. I’d just been home to Ireland for a week and while I was there I knew deep down that I was pregnant but I was avoiding the facts. A week later on Tuesday 22nd August, I decided to suck it up and take the test. That evening, unexpectedly, there was not one emotion going through my brain. I was dealing with a blank. I don’t remember anything about that night – what I said, or what I did. I felt numb and silent, something had switched.

Stress and worry are natural reactions to situations like this, but the emotions running through my body at that time are something I don’t recall experiencing before. Figuring out what to do next felt like another obstacle to overcome, so I cannot even begin to comprehend how I would have been able to organise traveling to another country to have an abortion. Currently, 10-12 financially-able women travel to the UK every single day to undergo safe abortion services because they’re unable to at home. These women travel across seas feeling shameful, without a choice and without a guarantee of future medical support.

Getting an abortion was an extremely personal decision and was affected by many things other than just becoming a mother. I was brought up in a society which would judge me for being a single parent, but they also didn’t want me to get an abortion – what the fuck was I supposed to do? At the time I couldn’t even tell my closest friends, simply because I couldn’t get the words out. I didn’t know how I felt about myself and I couldn’t deal with the added stress of worrying about how people viewed me and my decision.

Nine months on and my family still don’t know. I think that is the hardest part. My family aren’t backwards, we’re actually very open, but growing up in a catholic environment we’re told to believe that abortion is wrong and even for me the negative connotations are still attached. A lot of energy is put into reminding myself that I made the right decision and keeping this a secret from my main support system has been one of the biggest burdens. I’ve always been a strong individual who’s been able to handle everything life has thrown, so the thought of having people, especially my family, take pity on me would be the worst.

Living in the UK has helped me realise how common this scenario is, and, most importantly, that I’m not alone. Many of my friends have been in this situation and having someone to speak with about my feelings regularly has allowed me to get through this. It is a massive strain on your personal energy to make sure you’re ok everyday, and I have no doubt if I was in Ireland and this had happened I would be in a very different situation mentally.  Having the option to speak to people about this anytime I need to do so has been vital. If I was in Ireland I wouldn’t have had that and I don’t know that I would be ok now for that simple reason. I was met with nothing but compassion and empathy during this situation. The NHS services in the UK made this entire situation feel like less of an obstacle, I was met with solidarity and support from all of the nurses and doctors I encountered, something I will be eternally grateful for.

Regularly I think about my decision and although I have no regrets I can’t help but think, what if? I have no doubt that one day I will be an amazing mother but it was not the right time for many reasons and I am ok with that – even if it’s not something I can’t talk about openly right now. I want women to feel empowered to make their own decision when it comes to their body and not feel shame when making the choice that is right for them. I’ve done all this myself, my way and learned so much about myself in the process.

Repeal the 8th is how we lift the stigma surrounding abortion, removing ‘shame’ or embarrassment for women in Ireland doing what’s right for them.

The REPEAL THE 8th VOTE is on the 25th of May. Want to get involved and show your support? Follow these links…

https://www.repealeight.ie/memberssupporters-submissions/

http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/quid-pro-choice/

Keep an eye on our social media on the 25th to hear from women who have travelled home to Ireland for the repeal vote. Ladies, we salute you.


EMMA BRESCHI

EMMA BRESCHI

Photographer, model, and lover of red, Emma Breschi, talks to REEK about why she’s a bitch’s worst nightmare…

 

Tell us about your day to day?

Each day is something new and different. I’m lucky that I get to experience life like that! But when I’m not working you can guarantee I’ll be spending the day with my dog, Lebron.

What has been the most exciting thing to happen to you this month?

Well today I’m hungover and I’ve lost my voice… safe to say I must’ve had an epic night.

Tell us about some of the women who inspire you in your personal life and career?

I’m inspired by bitches that rage with anger and give everybody hell. I’m inspired by the mothers who care to be kind. I’m inspired by women, because they really are quite something.

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

I mean most of us know the textbook meaning and how it should go, but gender equality is a topic of discussion that could go on forever and ever. So how can I put it simply? The way I see it, is that we should be able to raise our daughters more like sons and yet have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.

What signifies female strength to you?

Powering through your day with severe menstrual pains.

What are your 5 favourite smells and why?

Smoke from a wooden fire, Jasmine flower, the sea, eucalyptus oil and puppies… those smells rid me of anxiety.

Are you a witch or a bitch?

I’m a bitch’s and a witch’s’ worst nightmare.

Find out more about this brilliant bitch here!

Images: self portraits by Emma Breschi.


A Scent of Disruptive Women

A Scent of Disruptive Women

Alex Musgrave – Silver Fox

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Germaine Cellier

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Lyn Harris

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mona di Orio

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel

To mark IWD18, Perfume expert, Alex Musgrave, who blogs as The Silver Fox, writes about the contribution and struggle of talented women in the perfume industry –  those damn rebel bitches. 

for all the nameless lost wise women who used odour across centuries to heal, nurture and bind; I salute you… Foxy.

This skin game, the scenting of us, is a strange and arresting thing; a search for an odiferous counterbalance to our physical weight in the world.  It feels glossy, alluring and romantic, aspirational and transformative. The reality is one of cynical million-dollar marketing campaigns, explicit demographics, ruthlessly tested formulations and perhaps some small consideration to the scented juice itself.

The veneer is tantalising, an intoxicating collision of fantasy, artistry, business and passion. There will always be the discussion about whether perfumery is an art from. Everyone has an opinion on it.  Like Wong Kar Wai vs. the Twilight franchise or Cy Twombly vs. Jack Vettriano, there is snobbery, but both sides are necessary as light needs dark to shine brighter and darkness needs light to form shadow.

There are perfumers who flourish in relative anonymity, working for the big scent companies formulating candles, room fragrances, detergents, car, mall and hotel scents. Then there are others, arguably the artists and rockstar perfumers, who use perfumery to hurl us into memories of love and old classrooms, mother-love, dissent, heartbreak, fucking and betrayal.  For decades most of the auteur or dominant names in perfumery were men – strange considering the predominately female skin the juice would adorn.

The scene now is weighted differently. There are many more female perfumers making a panoply of compositions at all levels of the industry.  However much it may have moved from being a masculine-dominated world, there is still an underlying tremblement of women still having to prove their right to inhale the same rarefied air as the men. The title Master Perfumer is generously and to my mind, unnecessarily bestowed on male perfumers when they are assumed to have achieved a certain status.  It is a title of peers rewarding peers. It is also uncomfortably applied to female perfumers that the industry deems worthy. The feminine version mistress is too tainted by BDSM leering and TV home wrecker portrayals to be used and yet Master Perfumer reeks of patriarchy and Fifty Shades of Uncomfortable.

I have written extensively on both male and female creators, brand directors and perfume designers. Looking back through my archive I realise I have an unconscious bias toward the female nose although I can’t claim this is deliberate. I prefer the female cry and roar in music and my taste in literature has always been one of trusting the female voice. Thank you Charlotte Bronte, Margaret Atwood, Anita Brookner, Elisabeth Smart, Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Helen Dunmore, Susan Cooper, George Eliot, Sarah Waters, Mary Renault, Jane Austen, Candia McWilliam, and Shirley Jackson. I have never felt the need to apologise for my need to search for beauty amid molecular moods. All we can ask of perfumery at the end of the day is that it smells good and that our skin is a primed canvas for the creations of the men and women who choose to follow the strange and some might say sanctified calling of odour.  

I have pondered the role of nurture in perfumery, sensing in certain strains of natural and artisanal work the shadows and whispers of ancient Wicca and witchcraft in the expert manipulation of herbal lore and essential oils.  There exists a desire to illuminate the skin as sun nurtures the leaves. The mixing of medicines, poultices, philtres and poisons is loaded with the sensual symbolism of scent, regarded suspiciously as the domain of outsiders, witches, nuns and misfits. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to claim that one gender is better than the other when it comes to the arrangement of materials and presentation of odour but I feel there is difference; shades of interpretation, vehemence and sensitivity in the catalogued work of female perfumers.

In the early years as with so many things the scarcity of women in perfumery was due to it being viewed as a particularly chemical (i.e. scientific) process and therefore not seemly for a woman. Why would the delicate things want to do it when there were men in the labs making beautiful scents for them to wear and of course sell in the rapidly expanding world of aspirational retail?  Female perfumers? Crazy talk. Yet within the story of perfumery there have always been women, it just depends on how your vision is filtered. From the women breaking bodies gathering millions of rose and jasmine petals, tons of orange blossom required to create neroli, harvesting iris rhizomes, wrapping soaps, bottling, packing or perhaps standing in the bright lights of a marble glittered department store persuading a hapless man that perfume will save his marriage.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to write about some female perfumers that have scent-marked the air. This is a deeply personal selection; I like these perfumers and the work they have produced. Haters are gonna hate. I don’t give a fuck.  My choices resonate and for me gender does matter, female film directors make very different movies from male; ceramicists, tattooists, photographers, architects: all benefit from sleight of feminine hand. Equality is a right and on a sanguineous battlefield, any conversation will be at the edge of a sharpened word.

So…five women: Germaine Cellier, Sophia Grojsman, Lyn Harris, Mona Di Orio and Mandy Aftel; all of them incredible, all of them unique.  

Germaine Cellier

On my right arm is a tattoo of the molecular formula for iso-butyl-quinoline, a synthetic material that is now completely restricted in modern perfumery due to its highly allergenic properties. But at one time it was used in measured doses to create the sensation of textured untreated leather in green chypré compositions- like Bandit in 1944 by Germaine Cellier, created for couturier Robert Piguet with an unseemly overdose of this reckless material.  One of the most beautiful perfumes I have had the honour of reviewing was Le Sillage Blanc made by the heavenly Pissara Umavijani of Parfums Dusita, a perfume I described as ‘green forested pieces of skin’.  Pissara’s composition is a love letter to Bandit, an echo, not a copy; Le Sillage Blanc is bereft of floral notes and bitterly beautiful. Bandit was a talismanic perfume for Pissara as she grew up and it stayed with her as she became a perfumer herself.

There have been many reformulations of Bandit since the original; it is now well nigh impossible to know what it smelled like. You can sample it at the Osmothèque in Paris, the museum of odours that stores near-perfect replicas of old formulas using ingredients that are not banned.  A few obsessive (and lucky) collectors have bottles or traces and even so, the top notes may have long since evaporated. Pissara’s Le Sillage Blanc for me is the most haunting compliment by a contemporary perfumer at the height of her unique powers and I think perhaps the closest we might get to the spirit of the original Bandit.

The difficulty now is cutting through the sleeping beauty briars of myth and gossip that have grown up around the creation story of Bandit and of Cellier herself.  It is fact is that Germaine Cellier (1909-1976) was a rare superstar perfumer in an age almost entirely ruled by men. Cellier’s vision of perfumery was something genuinely schismatic and off-kilter. She was fearless. That we still reference Bandit and Fracas, which she made for Robert Piguet and Vent Vert and Jolie Madame made for Balmain, demonstrates the visceral and often discordant effects her work provoked.

Now those traits, risks and exquisitely articulated histories are viewed with wonder, awe and more than a little envy.  From Frédéric Malle’s Editions to Madonna, Cellier’s caustic ghost still hovers. Dead in 1976, wrecked from a life of ill health, too much whisky and her beloved Gauloises, her legacy is one of clash, character, determined beauty, insolence and a refusal to conform to her peers’ expectations.  Her use of pre-mixed olfactive bases at Roure where she worked led to accusations of laziness. These now legendary (and in many cases irrecoverable) bases were really perfumes in miniature, however in the hand of Cellier, over-tipping the levels of that inky hidebound shudder of iso-butyl-quinoline in Bandit or the icy verdancy of mulchy galbanum in Vent Vert they served as the most extraordinary theatrical backdrops for her perfumed signature.  

She is an icon and arguably her womanhood made her a better, indeed more revolutionary perfumer. Would she have created those extraordinary fragrances if she hadn’t kicked against the system and fought to compose work in her own cigarette, silk and steel way? Sometimes the crucible needs friction to create the right kind of fire. We can’t discuss tuberose without referencing the white buttery glow of Fracas or leathered chyprés with looping back to the knife-bristling couture lash of Bandit; such is the legacy of Cellier.

Sophia Grojsman

Sophia Grojsman will be remembered as the perfumer who stared into the soul of a rose – it looked back and whispered yes. Born in Belarus in 1945, she talked of a childhood of taste, her mother unable to tell if food was fresh, asking the child Sophia to test everything, heightening her awareness of flavour. The family moved to Poland then emigrated to the USA, where Sophia joined IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) in New York as a junior perfumer.

Working for a fragrance behemoth like IFF means a vast array of projects from fine perfume to candles and scents for detergents and fabric softeners, a huge (and profitable) part of the fragrance industry.  It takes a determined mind to navigate the elaborate politics and nuances of the industry and Sophia is now a Vice President of IFF with some of the most iconic perfumes of all time to her name. In all probability you have worn at least one or two of her compositions.  Calyx by Prescriptives, Lancome’s Trésor, Paris, Parisienne & Yvresse for YSL, White Linen and Spellbound for Lauder, Tentations for Paloma Picasso, Vanderbilt and the original Lalique for Lalique, just to name a few. Calyx was a personal favourite of mine, marrying a deeply weird almost rotten melonic surge with crystalline verdancy and a feminine cologne sensitivity. Clinique now own the remnants of Prescriptives and sadly Calyx now smells like a disturbing imposter.

If you research Sophia her name is entwined with roses, it is the bloom that defines her and has rewarded her with beautiful results.  She is quoted as saying:

Rose is a flower of love; it is the first flower that a man gives to a woman.’

And if you think about this simple exposition you will realise how much power it contains, not just in the justification of olfaction, but in terms of chroma and psychology. It may seem like an eternal cliché but roses are laden with an enormity of symbolism all over the world with a myriad of connotations. Shape and form from tight bud to reckless loose blooming.  Somehow it is a flower that manages to reinforce and transcend stereotype and this is how Sophia Grojsman uses it, combing the overt familiarity with that yearning for romance and billowing profusion of aroma.  

Somewhere in my childhood there was Paris, an explosion of dewy exuberance amid my mother’s normal olfactory routine of Opium, Dioressence and Paloma. It was probably purchased from a duty free shop as we travelled across the Middle East and West Africa. It was radically different from the sultry ambered mysteries of Opium, a perfume my mother adored. Paris appeared in 1983 and had many of the hallmarks of 80’s heavy hitters. It’s big and sensual; the floral notes appeared hugely bright like neon butterflies flitting across the sun.

Sophia is known for overdosing materials in some of her compositions, arguing quite cogently that the fullness of the overdose would rise like cream to the top, thus providing a dramatic luxuriance to the start of the scent. Paris was a love letter to the city from Yves Saint Laurent in the form of a lavish bouquet of pink roses. A simple idea; the brief was a swatch of pink fabric from a YSL collection, but the execution of simplicity is often the hardest thing of all.  In the iconic original ad campaign, the beautiful Lucie de La Falaise, niece of Saint Laurent’s beloved muse Loulou, held her bouquet with a strange ambiguity; implying a gift of love but also implying a woman who had bought them for herself on the way home to her apartment from a flower seller near the metro exit. Her huge 80’s gold earrings and bold scarlet mouth hint at the floral dazzle within the scent.  

The great allure of Paris is the erotic anxiety between the rose and violet notes that spill out of the heart and consume the senses. Orris, jasmine, linden, lily, lily of the valley and ylang all swirl in attendance to the main duo; carnal, glittering rose and dark, emo violet. It smells vast, like a universe of floral forever, yet the control of the notes and structure is masterly. There is an undertone of frivolity as there should with any scent inspired by Paris, but the tenacity reveals something more glamourous, mature and opulent, balanced with smooth musks, cedarwood and a carefully calibrated heliotrope note. Just enough to add a hint of old-school Guérlain echo, but thankfully not enough to dose that rather sickly cherry-pie vibe that sometimes flickers alongside heliotrope.

Some scent watchers say that many of Sophia’s creations have a similar feel, leading to discussions in perfume forums on the Grojsman Accord, believed to be equal parts Galaxolide, Hedione, Iso E Super and Methyl Ionone. Galaxolide is a clean sweet musk with gentle woody tones; Hedione is a gorgeous white-metallic, citrus-imbued isolate of jasmine; Methyl Ionone is an iris-tinted woody material and Iso E Super is a hugely popular booster musk and the main ingredient in the hugely successful cult scent Molecule 01 by Eccentric Molecules, created by German perfumer Geza Schoen. Placed in her formulae, particularly with large doses of rose, this kind of clean, cool musk combo deliriously exalts the floral body of the perfume and amplifies the tenacity on skin.  

Sophia’s importance as a composer of voluminous immersive perfumes cannot be overstated. Her commitment to the world of olfaction and mastery of different styles is exemplary. As a female perfumer she has created a repertoire of complex romance and smart storytelling that continues to influence perfumers today.

Lyn Harris

In 2000 a young English woman called Lyn Harris launched Miller Harris a London-based brand with four perfumes: Fleur Oriental, Citron Citron, Feuilles de Tabac and Coeur De Fleur. It was the culmination of years of training in Paris and at Robertet in Grasse.  It was a brand of memory, romance and the seduction of personal experience. Compared to the clamouring fragrance noise on the high street, there was a sense of elegant quietude to Miller Harris emitted by a clever signature mix of British natural materials like blackcurrant, moss, ivy, gentle woods and smart floral notes mingled with touches of French aromatics like basil, bright citrus notes and figs from the Mediterranean coast.  These hung like voiles over souvenirs of stillness, memories of Scottish childhood, the love of a French man and the smell of salt on a beloved’s beach skin.

One of my favourite writers has always been Elizabeth David who flooded British post-war cuisine with the vibrant colour of Mediterranean food. I read the copies my mother gave me over and over. The pages are falling out and stained from attempts to capture the essence of the books. Her descriptions of wine-soaked daubes, venison, shellfish, artichokes, fresh herbs, olives and oil-drenched aubergines enraptured me. You must remember that in this day of image-obsessed culture where we seem incapable of reading three sentences of instruction without an image; Elizabeth David’s books were published without pictures.  Her gift with words was enough.

I mention David because Lyn’s perfumes with their deeply emotive riffing and referencing on location and olfactive textures remind me of David’s writing. Both women have the ability to conjure up places, smells and sensation by using a carefully chosen palette or recipe of words. I can only imagine how fascinating an encounter between them would have been in real life.

Lyn’s catalogue was always tight and beautifully controlled and my pick is L’Air De Rien, the beguiling and affecting perfume she created for Jane Birkin in 2006.  It is one of a series of signature scents that have signposted my life. There are times when I crave it like a drug. It is a smudged and contemplative take on a musky vanilla scattered with dust motes, dissolving antique books, smuts of snuffed out candles and a moreish scent of body heat, an odour that stills us in silences where heartbeats sound like bombs.

L’Air De Rien translates as much as possible as nonchalantly, but even its literal translation, a sense of nothing, suggests the ambiguity at the heart of this Birkin/Harris collaboration. Its very unexpectedness makes it sublime. Jane Birkin is the keeper of the Gainsbourg flame and the most celebrated interpreter of his songs. In the UK we have never acknowledged the talent of Serge Gainsbourg. His relationship with the young and English Jane Birkin created a scandal in the 60s.  But it was a complex and fascinating love story. Controversy, talent, cinema, song, beautiful women, cigarettes, self-doubt, celebrity, love, sex and death. Such is the magnetism of the Gainsbourg legend.

For the French, Birkin is La Veuve Gainsbourg. Their daughter Charlotte is now an icon in her own right, an angular haunted beauty who combines Serge and Jane in startling shards. She is an acclaimed singer/songwriter with a voice that channels her father and mother and yet is distinctly her own mournful disco expression.  As an actress she has forged an unapologetically bleak and raw pathway as a muse for Lars Von Trier in Antichrist, Melancholia and the disturbing Nymphomaniac. All of this is wrapped around the Birkin/Gainsbourg narrative.  The images of Serge and Jane from the 60s are a mix of naïve sex kitten and louche cigaretty old lounge lizard with English country girl abroad and a shy musician deeply in love with his muse.  Yet with L’Air de Rien, Lyn chose to focus on the silence, the moments away from all of the paparazzi bulbs and headlines.

Jane didn’t wear scent and wanted something that would capture the scent of old books and her brother. Smelling it each time I am always amazed at how beautiful it is, how odd the pieces are as they coalesce. The after-years of memory, the vocal echoes, a whiff of cold wax and dust in the empty hallways of the mind. It feels incredibly feminine to me, deft and tender with a secretive ache somewhere in that slide down to vanillic dirt. Personally I think it is something only a woman could have composed; Lyn Harris is a genius with close up, personal composition. She moved on from Miller Harris in 2014 to found Perfumer H in Marylebone where she combines bare, fine raw materials with astutely observed memory rotating around concepts such as Moss, Snowdrop, Charcoal and Rain. It is as if the mood has become the essence.

Mona di Orio

The death in December 2011 of Mona Di Orio at the age of 42 from complications following surgery sent shockwaves of grief through the tightly knit and obsessive fragrance community.  For someone who has not worn her perfumes and experienced the profound beauty of composition and insight that Mona painted into her work, it is perhaps hard to understand the enormity of her light being extinguished so suddenly. For her devoted and loving partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, left surrounded by her scented legacy, he had the painful challenge of moving forward through the sticky sands of grief whilst trying to navigate a different route for the House that would both honour Mona’s memory and allow new perfumers to respectfully follow in her footsteps.

Each year on the anniversary of her death, those of who us who connected to her so urgently and vividly through her work join Jeroen in a moving tribute on social media to remember a woman who was one of a kind; a perfumer who developed a chiaroscurist language of her own, dazzling and erudite in its analysis of classic materials.

Mona was determined to be what she became, a psychological artist of olfaction, and a painter of the internal machinations of materials. From the spellbinding odours revealed to her in a street as a teenager as she impatiently opened her first bottle of L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain, through the rigourous and scholastic sixteen years apprenticeship with Master Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in Cabris.  She was his last pupil and in many ways his finest work; he instilled in her a unique desire to see the living world, approaching plants holistically, imagining a soul and tasking her to envisage how that might smell. But she was far from being just a student, though she learned extraordinary things with Roudnitska and you can sense the master’s hand guiding some of her work. How could Mona continue without Roudnitska’s voice echoing quietly through weather and shadows?  But ultimately she was her own creation; a woman who understood that perfumery was alchemy to disrupt and alter our lives.

The early compositions including Carnation, Lux, Nuit Noire, Jabu and the glittering Chamarré were eventually discontinued as Mona pursued an ambitious dream of perfect things. Les Nombres D’Or is a sensational collection, one of the most beautiful and eloquent produced by any contemporary perfume house. The compositions, rich and searching explorations of key materials such as Vanille, Musc, Vetyver and Cuir are near perfect and utterly unorthodox portraits of difference and classicism. These were inspired by the mathematical concept of the Golden Ratio and demonstrated the purity and acumen of Mona’s accumulated methodology.

After her death, Jeroen took time to grieve. To go forward surrounded by the personal reminders of olfactive and personal love was a tough call and I’m not sure some of the perfume community really understood how raw his experience was. In the end he unveiled a sensual updated version of the House, central to which was Mona’s trademark perfumed chiaroscuro, manipulating her materials akin to the light and shadowed nuances of Vermeer.  The House was in her name and she was perfumer and muse. Watching, we waited to see how Jeroen would manage and after a fumed and mournful start with Melanie Leroux’s Myrrh Casati, inspired by the sensational smoke and mirrors eccentricity of Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino, Jeroen found a oddly perfect echo of Mona’s sunlight and Cabris languor in the boreal Nordic reflections of Swedish perfumer Fredrik Dalman. His Dōjima last year, a perfume infused with the delicate mysteries of rice as currency, sacred drink, face powder and dust was utterly sublime.

The most wonderful part of the Maison evolution was the wise return of Lux, a scent that in many ways encapsulates the essence of Mona di Orio.  It took me a while (i.e. years…) to get it, the reflecting of Cabris zenith light with resins, amber and a smoky, powdered vanilla that dissolves like dawn. In my essay on Fredrik’s Bohea Bohème I described Lux as ‘a bare white bulb swinging in a stark, empty room’. I’d revise that now by adding that it would reveal a vase of sunflowers and a bowl of orpiment-shaded lemons. Lux was a personal project for Mona and it feels private, almost autobiographical in the way it combines her emotional connection to the terrain of her apprenticeship but also demonstrating the necessary awareness that all light needs shadow to create rapture.  

As a perfumer she brought immeasurable beauty to perfumery, a haunting fusion of Roudnitska’s rigourous ideals and her own innate sense of how our skin should project the light of odour. Mona may no longer be with us and this in itself has sadly charged her work with a certain mythology, but she survives in the molecules and compositions she left behind and in the gracious grief of Jeroen Oude Sogtoen who keeps her shadowed flame gently alive.

Mandy Aftel

California-based Mandy Aftel is one of the most influential and sage perfumers working today. Does the fact she is a woman matter when it comes to her beautiful and profoundly imagined output? I think it does.

I wanted to capture the feeling of how the past is alive in the present but transferred into beautiful, shadowed feeling of layered richness and sensuality.’

These words are a mantra, a rhyme and rhythm of creation for Mandy.  She has written two vital, thrumming books on scent, odour and most importantly a textured history of materials and practices that allow her to place herself within a rich tapestry of perfumed life.

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent’ (2014) and ‘Essence & Alchemy (2001) are important reads about the soul of perfumery, not just creation and the simple smell of things but the compelling human why and how our lives have been addictively entwined with a multifarious cacophony of odour and sensation for millennia. Her gathering of perfume books, pamphlets and documents to research her own publications provoked a need to create.  Her original work as a weaver, collecting natural ingredients to dye her own threads allied with her training as a therapist, has enabled her to enrich her place in the world by understanding the fugitive layers of the past. We should be grateful for this, her work, composed from materials sourced exclusively herself are unlike anything else. For me she is sacred and wise, an incarnation of healer, witch, midwife, priestess, matriarch and parfumeuse.  Her work thrills me; it has a rare ability to connect to an emotive part of self that still surprises me with each delicious revisiting of her perfumes.

I reviewed Palimpsest for my blog, an astonishing scent built around Firetree essence from Australia, chthonic and resinous, that I can smell on my skin without even wearing it.  It is such an important perfume for me, preoccupied as I am with ink on skin, reworking tattoos, re-inking new designs and leaving visible traces of the old beneath. Many of us live perfumed lives like this, writing stages of our existence in scented molecules on flesh. One of the other perfumes I wore as I was working on my Palimpsest piece was Vanilla Smoke and recently, I have been wearing this a lot as heavy snow fell across the city where I live.

Vanilla Smoke received amazing reviews when it launched. So many purported vanilla scents come and go it is hard to keep track or even care when the word vanilla pops up. Even as a diehard vanilla lover, I sometimes succumb to fatigue. I noted the launch and the word smoke and thought I must try it. There are only a few perfumers who understand the low feral anima of vanilla. Vanille, Mona Di Orio’s take on it was a wooden ship awash with booze and vanilla pods, the woods soaking up the juices. It is an incredible scent; added into the mix is the barely perceptible spoor of a wild animal, a snarling cat roaming the sticky, swirling decks.

Vanilla Smoke proves that Mandy Aftel is one of the perfume world’s great vanilla manipulators; you know by the tactile inhalation of the Madagascan vanilla that she doesn’t settle for any old vanilla absolute. Why would you? Like a colour tone or lux of light, it is about the search for personal interpretations of materials. The vanilla absolute in Vanilla Smoke is rich and chewy, with an oily wood-panelled back-taste to it, its beauty dramatically enhanced by a blueish Lapsang Souchong note, the tea smoked over pine needles. This has imparted a faint yet discernable terpenic nuance to the mix, counterpointed by saffron and a lovely soft touch of yellow mandarin at the top of the scent. The sensual joy of the perfume is to be found in the glorious drawn-out fade of vanilla on your skin.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day it is vital to note how far we have come in terms of women working as perfumers within what was once regarded as a man’s game. Despite this I can’t help feeling that something is still off, an underlying prejudice of masculine science vs. the emotional impact of feminine spirit. Though this should be celebrated; all of the perfumes I have described are technically brilliant, however they are illuminated and in some cases fireworked by the female hand and the emotional commitment that sometimes seems lacking in men working at the same level. There are men like Bertrand Duchaufour, Julien Rasquinet, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Hiram Green, Rodney Hughes, Fredrik Dalman, Cristiano Canali, Bruno Fazzolari, Hans Hendley and Quentin Bisch who relinquish affecting aspects of themselves into their work allowing us to connect perhaps tenderly.

This is a personal view, formed by writing for many years on many different styles of perfumer and maker. I have gravitated subconsciously toward female perfumers as a buyer, writer and wearer; could I distinguish masculine and feminine work in a blind test? Probably not, but that is not my point – my reasoning is to celebrate some of the extraordinary women who have left a potent olfactory sigil of individualism in the past, present and future of scent. Germaine, Sophia, Lyn, Mona and Mandy; thank you. And thank you as well to my female roll call of skin…

Alexandra Balhoutis • Alexandra Carlin • Alexandra Kosinski • Alexandra Monet • Aliénor Massenet • Amber Jobin • Amélie Bourgeois • Anais Biguine • Angela Ciampagna • Anne Flipo • Anne-Sophie Chapuis • Annick Ménardo • Annie Buzantian • Anya McCoy • Calice Becker • Caroline Sabas • Cécile Ellena • Cécile Zarokian • Charna Ethier • Christi Meshell • Christine Nagel • Corinne Cachen • Dana El Masri • Daniela Roche Andrier • Dannielle Sergent • Daphné Buguey • Dawn Spencer Hurwitz • Delphine Jelk • Delphine Thierry • Domitille Michalon-Bertier  • Dora Baghriche Arnaud • Dortothée Piot • Ellen Covey • Emilie Copperman • Evelyne Boulanger • Florence Idier • Francoise Caron • Hildi Solani • Honorine Blanc • Ineke Ruhland • Jeanne-Marie Faugier • Jeannine Mongin • Jennifer Botto • JoAnne Basset • Josephine Catapano • Karine Dubreuil-Sereni • Karine Vinchon Spehner • Laura Tonatto • Laurie Erickson • Liz Moores • Maria Candida Gentile • Maria McElroy • Marie Duchene • Marie Salamagne • Marie-Aude Couture-Bluche • Martine Pallix • Mathilde Bijaoui • Mathilde Laurent • Mylène Arlan  • Nathalie Cetto • Nathalie Feisthauer • Nathalie Koobus • Nathalie Lorson • Patricia Choux • Patricia de Nicolaï • Pissara Umavijani • Randa Hammami • Ruth Mastenbroek • Sandrine Videault • Sandrine Videault • Sarah McCartney • Shelley Waddington • Shyamala Maisondieu • Sidonie Lancesseur • Sonia Constant • Stephanie Bakouche • Tammy Frazer • Vanina Murraciole  • Vero Kern • Veronique Nyberg • Victoire Gobin-Daudé • Victoria Minya • Violaine Collas • Yosh Han

Bandit (Piguet 1944)
Paris (YSL 1983)
L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris 2006)
Lux (Maison Mona di Orio 2006)
Vanilla Smoke (Aftelier 2015)

Alex’s blog, a scent of elegance is here: http://www.ascentofelegance.com/

 


LASERS AND FEMINISM, IT'S BONNIE BLING

LASERS AND FEMINISM, IT'S BONNIE BLING

We speak to Mhairi creator and owner of  Bonnie Bling about lasers, feminism and #metoo… 

Tell us about Bonnie Bling.

Bonnie Bling is my alter ego where I gather my thoughts on what’s been around me lately and then design and create my own laser cut jewellery inspired by my absolute adoration of all things Scotland.

What would you like to see change to help women in business succeed?

I feel that there is very much an ‘old guard’ of men in suits who don’t take women in business seriously. I remember when I set up my first (Graphic Design) business, going to start-up events and the ‘networking’ hoo-ha’s you were advised to go to, and feeling really uninspired by them. I always sensed that male-dominated hierarchy in the room. They treated me like my business was a ‘hobby’, but it made me more determined to do something different. Fifteen years on and I’m sure that world still exists but now there are alternatives. Social media groups make it easy to connect with like-minded women to support each other and that makes a big difference when you’re new to the field or even an old un like me! We are more outspoken, creative and kinder in our approach to each other’s businesses now and that is a huge step forwards.

What gender equality cause means the most to you personally and why?

Since I had my kid it’s been a real eye opener, the pressures on working parents was something I had never even considered before. Maternal and paternal leave restrictions in this country leave a lot to be desired, and inflexible working for both parents cause huge issues for many. We work far too many hours in this country, getting a balance right for a family life can be a real struggle. I am fortunate in that I have my own business and this has afforded us the luxury of being able to juggle things more than most people, but that comes at a financial cost as you can’t be all things, all the time. I was super close to losing my whole business and giving up on it all. Before my kid hit 3 years old, which is when parents get their first allocation of free childcare, it was very difficult to juggle the work/home responsibilities. I don’t know how we’d have coped if it weren’t for my amazing parents who helped out, but others aren’t as fortunate in that regard and it’s something that has to be taken on by employers and the government. There has been more awareness of parent’s rights to apply for flexible working, but companies can still refuse to grant requests. We have a long way to go to getting this right. Check out Mother Pukka for info on their awesome Flex Appeal movement.

Why is the #metoo cause so close to your heart?

When the #metoo tag started appearing across social media, I was dumbstruck. We all felt it, that clanging in your stomach, the sadness in your heart, when you realised that all those moments where you had yourself been sexually harassed were real, that it wasn’t just you, that others had had much, much worse experiences. It was the saddest of days but also a turning point in becoming a positive movement. Personally it brought back a lot of encounters that I had blocked from my memory and had never discussed with others, it made me acknowledge them and that in itself was empowering. I had never realised, or indeed considered, that so many others had experiences similar to my own, and that made me goddam angry! How had these assholes got away with their behaviour for so long?! Not anymore.  

I made my own pin of support as I wanted others who saw me wearing it to know that even if they didn’t want to speak out, that I understood, like a silent signal. I truly hope that the #metoo movement has become a milestone in our society’s attitudes to sexual abuse and harassment, and that future generations won’t have to tolerate what so many before had to endure.

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

I feel like a shiny happy pop Princess on the surface, who retreats to her bunker to shave her hair off, have a meltdown at the state of society, and work on her schemes to stick it to the man. I’ve always been like a wide eyed puppy dog growing up with the likes of Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Grace Jones, these strong, fantastic artists who broke the rules but also managed to tread a line that made them MONEY! They put up and fought through a whole load of shit I’m sure, but they played the game by their own rules and made it work.

Tell us about some women that inspire you?

The creative community in Scotland is strong. Everyone knows of each other if not directly, then through social media. We are a small country but we are well connected. The number of insanely talented women we have in our creative business community is mind-blowing. Over the past 6 years Bonnie Bling has brought me together with some of the most inspiring souls I’ve ever encountered and growing alongside them has been a super rewarding experience. From Gillian Eason working her ass off at Creative Dundee, Sam at Isolated Heroes building her fashion brand, Lynn McCrossan crafting Scottish cashmere on another level, the team at WE Mean Business creating a safe, supportive online space for women in business, to my neighbours in the Hidden Lane who are creating their own small businesses from our little backstreet in Finnieston (Libby Walker, Vanilla Ink, Hidden Lane Tearoom, Shona Fidgett)  I consider myself very lucky to have met and be surrounded so many kick-ass creatives.

What are your three favourite smells and why?

Honeysuckle, we had it outside our Highland holiday home and reminds me of long seaside school holidays in the most beautiful, remote, tranquil surroundings.

Sea spray- it blows in your face on wild, choppy days and cleans out your mind. It reminds me of all the ferry journeys I made as a teen of divorced parents, making the boat trip from one parent to another.

Sun tan lotion- the moment sun hits my skin I can smell the freckles popping out.

Are you a bitch, a witch or a bit of both?

I’m a bitch, but a good one.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

Support, sensitivity, positivity and a fun-tactic sense of humour.

What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

Don’t try to do it all, just do what you can.

Bonnie Bling are hosting a celebration on Saturday 10th March at their Hidden Lane HQ.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1888715561140753/

We’ll also be raffling off our one off, totally unique #metoo necklace to raise funds for Glasgow Women’s Aid.


THE BRILLIANT BITCHES THAT STARTED IT...

THE BRILLIANT BITCHES THAT STARTED IT...

REEKperfume founder, writer and activist, Sara Sheridan writes about the bitches who started it all… the suffragettes. 

My grandmother, Eva, drummed into us when we were kids that we had to vote ‘especially the girls.’ She was born in 1909 and remembered the first time her mother cast her ballot in the general election of 1918. In the UK, it was our very own damn rebel bitches who ignited the call for the female vote – the Jacobite women. After the 1745 uprising huge amounts of Jacobites were arrested – including many female rebels. The UK’s prisons were straining at the seams and the women (mostly Scottish) landed themselves in court. Many were fined for their part in the rebellion and, to the shock of their English counterparts, paid with their own money. In Scottish law these women were able to own property. In England at that time women were property and any fines would have to have been paid by their closest male relative. The bitches did not hang around when they spotted the difference and 1746 saw the first call for female members of parliament – made by a group of upper-class English women who wanted the same property rights as the Scottish women they’d seen in court. They were laughed out of Westminster. It took 172 years before the first female MP was voted in – Constance Markievicz, an Irish republican who, as a Sinn Fein representative refused to take her seat.

That women gaining the vote (or suffrage) was clearly linked to female members of parliament is not surprising. The lengths to which they had to go to achieve that basic right is. In Scotland (home of most of the Jacobites) the greater legal status of women helped to fire progress on women’s rights – particularly in education and the professions. The University of Edinburgh’s early admission of female medical students (who were sent home on ‘male’ anatomy days, which were considered too shocking for women – honestly!) was revolutionary and the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ the first group of matriculated female students at any British University, began their studies in 1869. They were prevented from graduating – in fact their participation in anatomy exams sparked a riot in 1870. However, many became pioneers not only in their own field, but also in the fledgling suffragette movement. They were also instrumental in starting female medical schools across the country.

Overall, Britain was behind in terms of women’s rights – especially considering the position of world power it occupied at the time. Different countries proposed different solutions – giving the vote to women who owned property or women past a certain age but gradually universal female suffrage was becoming common. Swedish women had been voting since the 1700s. New Zealand passed legislation in 1893, Australia in 1903, Finland in 1906 and Norway and Denmark in 1913. During World War I several central and eastern European countries started to extend voting rights to women and one of the first acts of the new parliament after the Russian revolution in 1917 was to extend the suffrage to female citizens, but Britain still hadn’t done so.

It’s difficult to underestimate how radical women demanding the vote was viewed in the UK or the anger around it. Those involved in the movement were subject to abuse and were treated in the same way radical terrorists might be today. They often operated under police surveillance and many were arrested. When they went on hunger strike in prison they were force fed, being held down and having tubes inserted directly into their stomachs. This was a horrific practice which many of the women underwent twice a day, hundreds of times. Sylvia Pankhurst described it ‘I struggled as hard as I could, but they were 6 & each one of them much bigger and stronger than I. They soon had me on the bed & firmly held down by the shoulders, the arms, the knees, the ankles. Then the doctors came stealing in behind. Some one seized me by the head and thrust a sheet under my chin. I felt a man’s hands trying to force my mouth open. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips apart and I felt them insert a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth. I felt I should go mad; I felt like a poor wild thing caught in a steel trap. I heard them talking: ”Here is a gap.” ”No; here is a better one—this long gap here.” Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it prised my jaws apart as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn; but I resisted- I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat. I was struggling wildly. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but struggling for at last I heard them say, ”That’s all” I vomited as the tube came up. They left me on the bed exhausted, gasping for breath & sobbing convulsively. The same thing happened in the evening; but I was too tired to fight so long’

The government passed a ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which meant women who were too weak to continue in jail could be released and then re-arrested when they had regained their strength – meaning that even short sentences could drag on over months with force feedings – a form of torture.

This didn’t deter the suffragettes from a programme of civil disobedience that seems breathtaking today including women who gave their lives to highlight the cause – the most famous being Emily Davison who died after being run over by the King’s horse during the Derby in 1913 when she stepped onto the
track to raise the green, purple and white suffragette flag. At public meetings it was common for women to be assaulted by men in the audience and there are multiple reports of suffragettes being punched and kicked,  sometimes losing teeth in the affray. The movement was split with some women favouring non-violent protest and others keener to fight back and, crucially, prepared to damage property, setting post boxes alight, burning down empty houses and attacking exhibits in galleries – including on one occasion forcing the Tate Gallery to close. Clubs seen as particularly male (or which excluded women members) were also attacked – golf courses had suffragette slogans cut into their greens and cricket pavilions were torched. Suffragettes who chained themselves to railings outside public buildings in protest were routinely sexually assaulted by police.

During WWI the argument to withhold the vote became insupportable while British women (trained by the medical pioneers from the Edinburgh Seven onwards) joined male combatants at the front. Famously Dr Elsie Inglis set up field hospitals but she wasn’t the only woman by a long chalk. That these brave female doctors and nurses remain uncommemorated on war memorials in the UK to this day, is a national disgrace which activist, Leslie Hills has already written about on this blog.  However, the women who initially got the vote were, in the main, not the women who had gone to war. At first it was the middle class over 30s only – or at least those who owned property (or their husbands did). From there our rights extended.

My favourite of the medical, suffragette pioneers remains Grace Cadell who attended one of the medical schools for women set up by Sophia Jex-Blake, the instigator of the Edinburgh Seven. President of her local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Grace refused to pay taxes in a protest against her vote being withheld and as a result, she had her furniture taken by bailiffs and sold in the street. Grace showed up and turned the sale into a suffragette meeting. When she was fined for another act of disobedience, she paid her fine in coppers as an act of defiance. She also acted as a doctor to the many women who were in and out of prison and who were released into her care when they were too weak to continue in jail. In 1914 at the trial of Maude Edwards, charged with slashing a portrait of George V, Grace was so outraged she ended up being carted out of court by police officers for causing an affray. She was a single woman in a time when that was socially disadvantageous but Grace died leaving a huge amount of money in her will to her four adopted children – all ‘saved’ from a local orphanage and brought to live in her house. As with so many amazing women, there’s no monument to stand testament to her huge spirit, her generosity and her determination but now, 100 years on, it is important that the memory Grace, and indeed of these women has not been forgotten. Far from it. When we march today, we march in their footsteps and when we militate for change, our voices echo theirs, part of something far larger because ladies we are not there yet. Not by far.


WARRIOR POEMS

WARRIOR POEMS

Poet and Best Bitch Raheema Khan shares her work with us

AN ODE TO THE BROWN WOMAN

they don’t deserve you
crawling in your anger – you scare them, but you empower us.
it takes courage to express what many have never done
giving the brown woman a voice
we belong and we’re here to stay.
being skillful, intelligent,
that’s what got us here.
your diversity report says different,
but we know the score.
we’re not ashamed to be brown
we’re enlightening you all . . .

FATHER

I wrote to you every day for six years
Posted the letters on my tiptoes at the letterbox
Waiting for a reply that never came.
You can’t make up for that now
So please don’t try to validate yourself with a title that will never be yours.
Father.

SADDIQA EFFENDI

you taught me to survive
i am a warrior because of you.

BECOMING

23 years on and only now I feel comfortable in my own skin
years of hating the flatness of my bare back
the lack of curve in my backbone
having no ass

the narrowness of my nose
parts of myself that stem away from ideal beauty
not being able to see where I fit in
perceived as being unfeminine because
a woman standing over 5’9” is in a place of dominance
somewhere I shouldn’t be
threatening your masculinity with my lack of delicate femininity
but years of hatred have offered all directions of thought
allowing me to see my difference as something within my control
comforting and beautiful
so my beauty isn’t going to be shaped by you
but instead has given birth to a voice that will never be silenced

LIVING VIOLENCE

your trauma isn’t meant to be forgotten
when you sugar-coat and kill it
you reject your experience
saying no to the burning that finally led you to an unlabelled life
your individuality untainted by the limitations of reality
remembering pain doesn’t always have to be violent.
but forgetting it ever made you feel keeps it alive

KNOWING MY WORTH

my love for myself will not stop at the hands of someone who hasn’t felt love.
you remain a specimen that is left to examine
for those that take joy in trying to re-piece people who deny how to feel.

MEDICINE

Tell me I’m pretty
I crave your words.
Not your touch because that’s pursuable,
Making you utter what you’re incapable of satisfies me
because you feel the discomfort of being forced to suffer.


WOMEN'S MARCH LONDON 2018

WOMEN'S MARCH LONDON, 2018

Actress and all round Damn Rebel Bitch, Ellen Patterson, writes about her experience at the Women’s March in London.

A year ago today hundreds of men, women and children gathered to stand against the election of a sexist and racist candidate to one of the most powerful positions in the world. That day I was far from London, but I followed the event on social media from South Africa and I could feel the determination and drive for change. It was clear that the year ahead would be a big one. In the past twelve months, incredible progress has been made with thousands of women fighting tirelessly to have their voices heard through campaigns such as #MeToo. Some people thought this might be ‘a flash in the pan,’ something that would blow over sooner or later (for many preferably sooner.) Today ,outside 10 Downing Street we made sure people wouldn’t make that mistake again. From baby bitches to lady bitches and many fabulous male bitches, voices rang over London to tell the world that time is up. Time is up on sexual harassment and abuse, on gender based bias, on bigotry and prejudice, on racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and homophobia. Time is up on anyone being made to feel anything other than proud to be in their own body. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu triumphed over the elements as she led our voices thundering through the snow and the rain, introducing inspiring speaker after inspiring speaker. The air shook with resolve as we stood together in support of our sisters. We stood with our sisters in Poland who are told they cannot choose what they do with their body, our sisters in Sierra Leone forced to live in fear of abuse, our sisters in India who disappear day after day, our sisters in Ethiopia who are mutilated without remorse, our sisters in Ireland who have to leave their country to access medical services, our sisters in the United Kingdom being pressured to conform to a binary gender norm. To our sisters across the world of every race, religion, culture and sexuality today we tell you loud and clear – WE STAND WITH YOU.

As I lowered my frozen fist, with mascara streaming down my face and watched the rain-streaked placards march into the distance, I felt pride on a whole new level – this was damn rebel pride. No one could have been in any doubt that this was a fight that was not losing momentum any time soon and that the year ahead is destined be one that can, should and I hope will change the world. From the wonderful people from Bloody Good Period to Helen Pankhurst, the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the crowd today represented a global movement hell-bent on creating greater equality. A world where every bitch can be who they want to be.

#timesup

Photography by: SNY Photography 

“I have been brought up by women, most of the most important relationships I have in my life are with females. My Mum, my Gran and my Aunty. I have watched my wee sister grow up and I have blagged a wonderful girlfriend. I have young nieces and nephews, little minds still free of the inequality facing millions today.”


#METOO IN TECH PART ONE

#METOO IN TECH PART ONE

Michael MacLeod, journalist and media producer, hits hard with this piece about sexism in the tech industry. Bitches, you will be shocked.

Most history books will document 2017 as the year women exposed sexual abuse in Hollywood. For the technology world, 2017 will go down as the year women exposed scandal after scandal on a truly world-changing scale.

Eight months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the tech industry was rocked by allegations that led to confessions exposing a culture of workplace sexual assaults, unequal pay, harassment and bullying.

It was the year the world woke up to the fact that men controlled the worst of the internet and women should fix it. There is undoubted male-bias behind the scenes of the web and the career ladders linking its architecture. The social media platforms that many people believe resulted in a Trump presidency were mostly built by men.

Evidence?

Billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his 2018 goal was to ‘fix’ Facebook, implying that even he regards it as broken.

To its credit, Facebook does do a lot to encourage and celebrate the women in its workforce. But that’s because it can afford to. Smaller companies point to a supply chain that doesn’t meet their ideal recruitment demands.

Despite some wonderful efforts, the likelihood – right now in 2018 – is that any employer seeking a software developer will end up hiring a man. Why?

Only seven percent of UK students taking computer science A level courses are female, according to careers advice group Women In Tech. Of those young women, only half landed a job in the same field.

That’s an absolute tragedy for equality.

As a result, women make up just eight percent of the UK’s technology engineering workforce according to the most recent ONS figures.

A huge 70 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s SVB Startup Outlook Report 2017. The global survey reflects the answers of nearly 950 startup firms.

“We cannot be deceived by our seemingly large network of talented and successful female founders, investors, board members and innovators,” admits Claire Lee, the Managing Director and Head of SVB’s Early Stage Practice. “The data show us these women remain a lonely minority in the technology world.”

The disparity is cemented into the very building blocks of the internet. Brick by brick, those blocks need to be rebuilt, with women involved at every level: research, user experience, design, programming, testing, project management, analytics, marketing, team management, business development, thought leadership and boards of directors.

When you consider most of these roles are dominated by one gender, it’s no wonder we’ve got an unfair internet. Shutting out women, denies innovation, shuns valuable community links and misses out on clear ideas of what the internet can and should be. It lacks a true reflection of the world and humanity.

I almost submitted this blog post every week over the past six months. But every week brought another gender-related scandal within the tech world. This piece would be tens of thousands of words long if I listed them all. So, here’s a summary of 2017’s biggest gender-related tech sector scandals. Some of these stand-alone reports were the result of dozens of brave women uniting to share their stories.

February 2017: Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, blogged about a pattern of sexual harassment during her time there.  I strongly urge you to read that blog post and reconsider whether you want to have the Uber app on your phone. Her claims sparked internal investigations exposing a rampant workplace bullying and sexism culture. After many setbacks, Fowler was finally vindicated. Her strength to speak out ultimately resulted in the resignation of the multi-billion-dollar firm’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/technology/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick.html

June 2017: Four months before the Harvey Weinstein accusations surfaced: an avalanche. Dozens of female entrepreneurs told the New York Times that sexual harassment was rife in the technology industry.

Their bravery paid off. Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck admitted making unwanted advances in the context of business deals. His company collapsed as investors withdrew. Read him groveling after-the-fact here. His apology warned that this was only the beginning. “It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I’ve done,” he said. “The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.”

July 2017: A memo written by a now ex-Google engineer sent Silicon Valley into uproar. James Damore claimed ‘biological causes’ made women less suitable for intense jobs like his. He even moaned that ‘every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression.’ Google fired him , scrambling to distance itself from his comments, but the impact was huge. Among his controversial ‘solutions’ to tackling gender imbalance was a section titled ‘De-emphasize empathy.’ I’ll spare you the detail but here’s the link for transparency.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. James Damore’s diatribe rallied some in the alt-right, newly emboldened by Donald Trump’s defence of Charlottesville white nationalists as very fine people.’  They saw Damore as a martyr and called on people to boycott Google for firing him.

One of the most celebrated responses to Damore came from another former Google engineer, Yonatan Zunger, who said: “The conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards.

“It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones.” Something odd happened in the summer of 2017. As the executives tumbled, their confessions began morphing into strange rallying cries for diversity and inclusion. In one case, an admission led to an apology followed by an almost never-ending essay of pitiful wealthy white male privilege masquerading as a manifesto to change the entire industry.

It’s rarely a good idea to read the comments, but the comments below this apology from investor and former Google executive Chris Sacca are a fascinating debate.

Sacca apologised after entrepreneur Susan Wu accused him of touching her without his consent

Ms Wu said: “There is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the industry often end up in distressing situations.” At one large firm, a working group had more men called Matt than women, according to this excellent New Yorker report published in November.

Did you realise it was this bad before? Truth is, it’s probably worse. These are the stories of the women who felt able to speak out. It’s certain there are others who haven’t and that these examples are the tip of the iceberg that women in tech have been up against. But there is a fightback. Coming soon, on this blog, we’ll meet the women leading it.