FEMINISM IN THE MALE GAZE

FEMINISM IN THE MALE GAZE

Journalist and ardent feminist, Robert Somynne talks to REEK perfume about equality in the media worldwide and what makes him a male feminist…

What makes you a feminist? And do you find people have a strange response to male feminists?

Coming to the realisation that if we aren’t all free and no one can be free. It seems obvious but there’s a lot of cowardice I had to get over to come to a place of being totally comfortable with saying out loud that I’m a feminist. It’s about being a good ally in the struggle and knowing that it’s not just equality on the face of things but the structural battles that we’ve still to win.

I don’t really mind what response I get from other people (men) nowadays. It perhaps mattered more in the past when I was younger and the brotherhood of chauvinism was stronger – forcing you to not admit things or dilute your commitment. It takes having women around you and yes – having a go and not letting up when you act the fool or fail in your solidarity. That’s the only way you get past gender as a barrier to proudly saying you believe not only in equality but in radical measures to achieve it.

Do you see gender and race equality issues in your own industry? What has been your personal experience of this?

The UK media is pretty piss-poor for both gender equality and ethnic diversity – the Scottish media is infinitely worse. My entry into journalism was helped by coming to Scotland and writing at a time when the constitutional debate was raging at its most fierce. But everyday it’s hard for women and anyone not white to get a decent look in – bar exceptions.

The structural power of the old boys’ set is firmly rooted and hasn’t been shaken despite advances for women in public life in our political parties. The culture of being in the crew to get a gig or story can leave women isolated if they’re not willing to be pliant. However, the group “Women in Journalism” and NUJ Scotland BME group are trying their hardest to fight back.

Some of the best journalists I know are women still shut out of permanent print journalism jobs. But considering how worn down Scottish journalism is, it’s maybe a case of not being allowed access to a morgue.

I’ve often written about issues relating to race, immigration, and other areas only to be rebuffed by editors and then go on to see weaker pieces by writers without the personal experience of being an ethnic minority or child of immigrants in print. That’s grating.

Another issue is how internships that are unpaid even by papers with editors on large salaries, hurt women and BME writers more as they are less likely to have the funds to support essentially free work.

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

The pay gap, the bias women face following maternity leave regarding promotion, the safety of sex workers and migrant women and paternity leave.

Three of these issues are critical for men as much as women. I remember a protest in Germany with men demanding better paternity leave and pay and I found it inspiring. If women are denied their economic independence and power it impacts men as well.

Besides the obvious issue of basic justice, we are weakening our economy by failing to ensure equal pay for women for equal work and enforcing it in practice across industries. When women who end up denied the natural progression in promotion after having a child, we lose a captain of industry, a leader and a role model for men and women.

Cultural tendencies such as who looks after the children, does the bulk of emotional labour and domestic labour are important to me because of experiences with my father. He looked after me for much of my childhood and never exhibited any sense that it was odd, shameful or wrong. We think of ourselves as liberal but we still need to be a lot more fluid in what women and men can and should do.

As someone with a keen eye to foreign affairs what would you like to share with our readers about the different challenges facing women in the UK in comparison to across the world?

I focus a lot on the Gulf countries for my research and writing. Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Bahrain and the wider Arab world including Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and more.

I’ve always resisted the notion that because women collectively face higher degree of physical violence and legal discrimination abroad women in the UK should be silent and “grateful”. There’s a worrying trend of some commentators on the Right using women’s suffering in the Middle East as a political crutch. We need to be vigilant against rape culture wherever it is and men need to get educated and fight the patriarchy everywhere.

In Saudi Arabia for example, the guardianship laws are the prime example of a suffocating regime of gender control that stymies the political and social development of the nation. But there’s some great work going on by Saudi women who are fighting back and who clearly possess their own agency.

Women in Iran possess the highest scientific qualifications in the whole region yet still face formal and informal barriers to technical jobs and management.

What separates women from those in these countries in time and legal status. We must never forget our past and never assume we cannot be taken there again. Neither can we accept that women are permanently doomed in other parts of the world. It’s vital for feminism to be internationalist as well as intersectional and know our actions and choices are connected to events thousands of miles away.

Tell us about some of the females who have inspired you in your personal life and career?

Marie Colvin, was a war journalist who inspired me greatly. Her fearless reporting signalled her out among her colleagues as someone not afraid to go where the story or conflict lead. She was blinded in eye by shrapnel from a Sri Lankan army shelling leaving her with the iconic eye patch associated with her work but she seemed to have great insight in the heart of any conflict she wrote about. She was killed by a shell in Syria at the beginning of the war, aged 56 after a career spanning 30 years. Hers was a clarity of writing rarely seen – it impacts on what I want to do in the future.

I’ve had the pleasure to also meet great writers and makers either at the start of their careers or well into their craft. Jen Sout is a great writer who I hope to see a lot more of in international and Scottish journalism. She’s covered a lot of work relating to Russia, surveillance, LGBT rights and offshore tax havens which is the real meat and bones of holding the powerful to account.

What significance do smells have in your life?

It’s most about memory and reaching back to times where I have felt safe and confident about the world and my immediate surroundings.

Also smells are about comfort so you don’t have to worry about what is supposedly manly or not. Fragrances can entwine you with memory or a relationship, bond you closer with a person or a moment in time.

I’m a history buff and love camping. An enduring smell is wild garlic. I know not something you’d rub on your neck for a night out but it reminds me of when I first moved to Scotland and went to camping to Arran, Kelso, Sutherland and along the forest walks and trails wild garlic was always in season. It’s strong and ever-present,  an unrestrained smell of the outdoors.

What are your favourite smells and why?

This is rather nebulous. The smell of wet leaves on the ground because it reminds me of walks in London parks with my dad in the autumn as a kid.

Anything citrus reminds me of holidays in Sicily.

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

One of my favourite essays is an etymological piece by Clare Bayley: A History of the Word Bitch. http://clarebayley.com/2011/06/bitch-a-history/

I’d like to think that I’ve taken from my mother what Bayley describes as the “irritable” qualities which are actually just assertiveness in not letting go of a point you believe in. Especially when you should be quiet or grateful and not “uppity”.

An Alabama representative bemoaned suffragettes as destroyers of “domestic tranquility”. I think that’s a good kind to be.


STONEWALL, PUSSY, PRIDE AND POWER

STONEWALL, PUSSY, PRIDE AND POWER

Sarah Moore talks to REEK perfume about pussy, pride, power and working at Stonewall…

 

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

Pussy, pride and power. To me, femininity is ultimate strength. The scent of femmes, in whichever way that is presented, is everything.

As a queer woman do you feel you are well represented in the industry?

In a word, no. Not yet. The fashion and beauty industries have got a lot of work to do to up their game and diversify the faces we see in all their campaigns. Having said that, last year my then-girlfriend (you might know her, she’s a Damn Rebel Bitch too!) and I worked with the Swedish brand Monki on their ten-year anniversary ‘Monkifesto’ campaign. The concept for this was full of originality and integrity. The brand has since followed through by fundraising for Stonewall, and now Stonewall and Monki are in discussion about an ongoing partnership. This is a great example of how brands can incorporate LGBTQ representation into their campaigns in a sincere, non-pinkwashing way ie actually care about the cause and do something long-term, not just for the sake of sales.

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?

This question is difficult for me, because I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like I could relate to anyone. The first people that spring to mind are the drag queens RuPaul, Sharon Needles and Latrice Royale. I have a really vivid memory of being 20 years old and the absolute lowest I’ve ever been – unemployed, directionless, depressed – and discovering RuPaul’s Drag Race. The motto ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?’ stuck in my head. Sharon showed me that it’s completely fine to be weird and queer, Latrice taught me to embrace myself for who I was and push forward, and Ru made it all happen. I’ll always thank them for helping me turn my life into something I’m proud of, despite everything else. Does that count?  It’s also worth mentioning the following though: Lady Gaga, Madonna, Cindy Sherman, Kathleen Hanna, Nan Goldin, Munroe Bergdorf and all other the visible queer women and non-binary femmes who inspire me every day.

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

Given the nature of my work at the charity Stonewall, equality for LGBTQ people is something I actively work on every day. Though to me, equality is an intersectional feminist issue, and in my opinion it’s difficult to prioritise social injustice. Just as much work goes into my day job as It does not being a bystander to patriarchal, racist, xenophobic, sexist, LGBTphobic bullshit on my journey home or at the weekend.

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

I’m a take no shit, worked my way up from my own rock bottom kinda bitch. But at the same time, I try to be as soft as possible too. I think it’s vital to recognise that everyone’s experiences are different, and if we’re lucky, life has a way of making us resilient, compassionate, loving, patient and kind. To me, these are some of the most important qualities a person can have.  It’s only once you’re able to accept yourself for who you are and be tolerant of others that you can ignite passion and create change. And being a bitch is all about fire. So step your pussy up.

What are your favourite images from the REEK shoot and why?

I don’t often see myself in front of the camera as I spend so much time behind it, but I absolutely love all the shots from the REEK shoot. There are too many to choose from! I love the focus on tongue and lips (it’s the Pussy Pride again!) and I like that I’m smiling in one – it’s rare in photos!

 

Want to know more about Stonewall?

Check out the website or follow them on instagram or twitter.

More wise words and what not from Sarah here.


WHERE PEOPLE SLEEP

WHERE PEOPLE SLEEP

In Glasgow, three flatmates, Amy, Samantha and Shaheeda, have found a way to live and sleep with art by utilizing their living space for breathtaking exhibitions. REEK interviewed them about their radical, feminist art project.

Tell us about the concept behind ‘where people sleep’? How did it start? Why did it start?

AMY: Where People Sleep began out of a desire to take control and utilize our space but most importantly just to have fun and experiment. I was studying at Glasgow school of art and feeling let down by the course. My flatmates were both artists and we had these big cluttered hallways that were asking to be cleared out and used to show art, so it just made sense.

SHAHEEDA: It soon became clear that our street had been a sort of hub of creativity for goodness knows how long before we arrived. I’d just decided to drop out of a Social Sciences course at university, and I was really keen to fill the space in my life that had been taken up by uni and replace it with pushing creativity.

A month later, Sam joined us and was working towards expanding her portfolio, so we began to do up the flat and plan our first exhibition, grand opening: where people sleep gallery.

SAMANTHA: It was Amy’s suggestion to use the hall. We wanted to bring together artists from various genders, backgrounds, sexualities and race. Collaborating with our friends and artists in and around the community, it became a great way for us to bond and get to know how each other. I think it became something we all needed in our life in different ways, which is why it has become as big as it is now.

What has the response been so far?

AMY: It’s been heart warming. Our excitement and drive to keep doing events and shows is heightened by knowing that there’s a lot of people supporting us and keen to be involved. We’re surrounded by friends.

SHAHEEDA: Every time we hold an event, we consider expansion, we are more organised, more experienced and are taking on bigger challenges, which means we are always delivering more to the community! And people are noticing. One of the most special things for me is the delight I feel when I ask someone who I really admire to be involved with Where People Sleep.

Tell us about some of the more controversial artwork you’ve showcased at ‘where people sleep’?

SHAHEEDA: I don’t think I would like to label any piece of work that has been shown in Where People Sleep as ‘controversial’ as that is subjective to the viewer. However, I am very interested in showing work in our space that challenges the status quo, showing work by people that are under-represented in the mainstream art world, people who aren’t always given a voice or work that expresses a perspective on issues that aren’t always talked about openly.

SAMANTHA: Perhaps some of the work that we have exhibited, including Shaheeda’s and my own, might be controversial to others but not to us. Some of it does make people feel uncomfortable but it’s about changing people’s perceptions and understanding of the world. It’s having conversations and discussions and allowing the artist to express themselves in a way their voice might have not been heard before.

There seems to be a huge celebration of women in the exhibitions, tell us how this came about?

SHAHEEDA: I would say that the celebration of womanhood that comes through in our exhibitions naturally – it’s something that is simply ingrained in our curatorial style. Particularly Samantha’s and my work are often concerned with identity and perceived identities, the way we view ourselves and the way we are viewed by others, so I suppose this instinctively relates to the sort of work that connects to us, which we in turn pursue to be shown in Where People Sleep. We are interested in giving space to people that identify anywhere in the gender spectrum and are always thinking of ways to keep our exhibiting artists as diverse as possible.

AMY: We celebrate everything and everyone in the gallery, females, males, kittens, slugs, snails….

What insight have you gained from sharing your female experiences through your artwork?

AMY: Personally my art doesn’t relate to female experience other than it being made by a female, I tend not to use gender as a theme.

SHAHEEDA: I have learnt so so so much since moving to Glasgow, co-founding Where People Sleep and officially beginning to make work as an artist. My identity as a woman is something that I feel has shaped the very essence of my life experiences, many of them being negative ones. Exploring this through my work allows me to start conversations about things that are really important to me like consent, identity and relationships. It allows me to feel as if I am directly attacking a passive world with my message.

SAMANTHA: Through my work I’m constantly gazing at others, gazing at myself and gazing at the world around us. I think it’s important that we celebrate the female gaze. We celebrate being creative and passionate. We look at the definition of Femininity and the many forms it comes in and embrace it. We become inspired by ourselves and those around us and thereby become our own muses. Through my work I’ve gained a greater understanding of my own identity and acceptance of it. And also love and admiration for those who strive to be nothing but themselves. We live in a world with ingrained social constructs, so it’s hard to break through and make up your own mind, that’s why art that challenges them is so incredibly important. I hope through my work I not only inspire women but also the entire gender spectrum.

What would you like to see change in the art scene across the UK?

SHAHEEDA: I would like to see more paid opportunities for people like me. Young, determined and motivated people who have no desire to pursue anything but a career in the creative arts. I would like to see an increase of POC representation across the board, from exhibiting artists to institution staff. I would like to see fewer people talking about experiences that they have never endured. I would like to see more collaborative relationships being built and more focus on how artists can support other artists when they are in positions of power or privilege.

SAMANTHA: Currently what I would like to see change in the Art scene is artists being paid for the work they produce. Not just in the Art scene but the entire creative community. I think people tend to think, ‘Well I’m giving this person a platform for their work to be shown so that’s more than enough payment for their services’. Which if it was any other job sector would be seen as ridiculous. You’ve also got places like Transmission who purposely make the effort to pay the members and artists they employ but are sitting with a committee of volunteers who aren’t being paid for what is essentially a full time job. We’ll end up losing these important and essential organisations which is shameful. That’s is why this is so important to WPS. Although we’re a small collective, we really want to uphold this principle.

There’s also still a strong social class structure within the Art Scene and particularly in Art Education. There shouldn’t be these boundaries. When I think of Art I think of everyone. No matter who they are and where they come from. It’s something that can be so fundamental to a person. Art has the power to change perceptions, to engage with an audience who have no previous knowledge of art. It shouldn’t matter about your race, or what class you come from. That’s why I love that WPS aim to work with a diverse range of artists and particularly bringing together both artists from an art education and also who aren’t. It’s so important to know you don’t need a art degree to make art and have voice within it.

What gender equality causes are important to the collective and why?

SHAHEEDA: Equal representation, lack of censorship.

SAMANTHA: I think it’s so important that we’re able to create a space that is not only diverse but attracts people from all walks of life. We want a space where people can speak freely without fear of judgment or ridicule. Where people can be themselves and show art that is open, honest and real. That’s why gender equality is so important particularly now when the word gender is being redefined. Now is a time to see and understand different people’s perspectives no matter what race, gender or sexuality, we should all have a voice that is listened to and I think that is the beauty of Art and particularly what I want our collective to stand for.

Art is so sensory tell us how you feel about smell?

SHAHEEDA: I like the smell of spray paint. It reminds me of my childhood.

Are you witches or bitches?

SHAHEEDA: Two witches and a bitch.

Find Where People Sleep at: https://www.facebook.com/wherepeoplesleep

Photos by Linda McIntosh


PERIOD POVERTY

SELMA RAHMAN: PERIOD POVERTY

Selma Rahman, Board member of Women for Independence, Scottish Independence Convention and grandmother talks to REEK about the cost of the curse.

It has been estimated that over a woman’s menstruating years, the cost of period products (PPs) comes to around £5,000, on which we pay VAT.  VAT is supposed to be levied on non-essential, ‘luxury items’: cars are luxury items. So when money is tight, period poverty strikes. The Scottish Government is spearheading a health and well-being initiative through Community Food initiative North East http://www.cfine.org/ (which covers low income Aberdeen homes over seven regeneration areas) to provide free period products for women.

Heat or eat; pay bills or cut back on food.

Can’t afford PPs?-stay at home-don’t go to school.

Can’t afford food? Stint on PPs.

Stint on PPs? Worry at work that your clothes are stained; stress-miss work-school.

Some women know the score! It seems obvious, so why has it taken so long for period poverty to be highlighted? Is the curse still so cursed that wider society continues to ignore it? It has to be ‘wider society’ that ignores it since women don’t! We live with it. For many months, years, and millennia – so many women, so much menstruation and so little knowledge of our herstory coming from our lived experiences.

Well, if are you sitting comfortably, let me tell you.

Long, long ago before anyone wrote anything, or drew anything on cave walls, the female of the bipedal upright species bled bright red blood, for no apparent reason and they didn’t die! There is a hypothesis that women in those early times were considered strong, miraculous beings while men were seen to bleed from wounds and then, surprise, they died. Even more miraculously women would grow big, bigger, even bigger and then, out came a wee being, along with more of that bright red blood. Sometimes the women died, but if they and the wean survived they then produced milk that fed the wee souls.

That was nothing short of powerful, miraculous: life bearing, life giving, birth, blood and milk all in the one being!

Think about it: no Google, no instant health info-look it up-self-diagnosis in those cave days. Equally, early nomadic life, on the move, didn’t leave much time for analytical thinking. So, the link between menstrual cycle, male penetration, subsequent pregnancy and birth took a long time to be established. It took millennia before a man wrote it down, so no one ever charted the thought–action–confirmation process or the real experience of the women.

When you’re written out of history, the chances are, you’re not the historians! You’re demoted or worse, ignored. Reduced to the menial, insignificant, and your very life-giving-life-signifying cycle is reduced to ‘untouchable’. This resulted in women frequently being removed to the very edge of society: literally, into separated areas of the ‘unclean’. But who truly knows if ‘menstrual huts’ to which women are still exiled in various regions world-wide, didn’t start out as warm, safe refuges that we created and chose to go to, to bond, to meet, to share our knowledge and experience. Our time, our space. So that degeneration and contamination, pollution associated with menstruation, must have influenced the development (or lack) of hygiene, pads and tampons over the millennia.

Let’s face it, if men had bled regularly, there would have been product improvement long before now! And it would have been free for centuries.

Much has been written, but in all probability, more has been forgotten in the evolution of PPs but one of my own favourites is http://www.mum.org : An early History Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene & Women’s Health in Ancient Egypt by Petra Habiger that includes the hieroglyphic translation of text that gives some examples of “negative” careers such as a laundry worker, who has to wash the loincloth of a menstruating women: possibly a pad or rag? Even then, there is the implication that menstrual blood was impure!

It’s now mostly forgotten in the annals of WW1 that nurses couldn’t help but notice that the cellulose bandages being used on the wounded did a good job of absorbing blood compared to plain cotton. And the result? Nurses started to use the bandages during their periods. Needless to say, post war, this was taken up commercially by Kotex. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that we saw the advent of pads with sticky-back adhesive, meaning an end to belts and pins to keep the pads in place. (http://menstrualcup.co/who-invented-the-menstrual-cup/) Tampons probably go back to those ancient Egyptians.

But here and now, and the scandal of austerity, food poverty and period poverty…

Let’s applaud the Scottish Government’s initiative. If it proves an informed base for rolling this out across Scotland, and if the idea of an S-Card comes about (sanitary cards to be shown at participating outlets, chemists, supermarkets to receive free PPs, similar to the C-Card enabling access to free condoms), then well done womens’ groups across Scotland (www.womenforindependence.org/) that campaigned for this, raised funds to ensure PPs are part of food bank collection-distribution; lobbied MPs, MSPs, and well done to the elected officials themselves who have listened to the groundswell of public opinion.

In fact, well done Scotland! Not too wee and not too poor to understand period poverty and be prepared to do something about it.


'THE WOMAN' A POEM

REEK INTERVIEW: IT AIN’T REBECCA

Stylist and fashion writer Becky Boyd talks to REEK about poetry, third wave feminism and her favourite smells alongside her beautiful poem ‘The Woman’…

Tell us the thought process behind your poem?

I’ve always had an interest in writing and been drawn to poetry but I’ve never been able to figure out how to start creating my own pieces and to be honest, I still haven’t. This piece is the first I’ve ever written and it came from my friend asking if I’d be interested in writing a piece about my perspective on what it is to be a woman for her Uni project.

At first, I wasn’t planning it as a poem, but it started to mould together as more of a written piece rather than a commentary of my experience as a woman. Ideas of using techniques and different mediums to emphasise certain parts came together and I then took the conscious decision to try and make it have rhythm using repetitive sentences and contradictions, which led to creating an official piece, “The Woman”.

What do you want people to take from it?

This piece includes my own experiences but I know from talking to friends and women of all ages, that we go through similar things. I want women to read it and feel less alone. I want women to read it, identify their own qualities and feel empowered. I want women to realise that supposed “negatives” are actually strengths. I want women to recognise that the expectations pinned on us by others are wrong. I want women to sense the sarcasm and contradictions in the poem and to nod and say, “yeah, mhm, I’ve been told that, I know that…” If that happens, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

I want women to read it and feel well represented. To say, yes we can be emotional but that’s our superpower and actually no, it isn’t weak. This particular part stands out for me because I’ve grown to embrace the power in my emotions and have realised that many people try to belittle a woman’s ability to feel when really, it comes down to the fear that people have that women can be truly comfortable in themselves.

I want men to read it and understand that their comments can make a woman question her natural instincts to nurture and also condense her capacity to love, which can be damaging for her. If men can realise that a woman’s power doesn’t take away from his own and that these comments are more damaging than they may think, then maybe they can learn to embrace female strength instead of shutting down from a place of fear.

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

My mum is my biggest inspiration and always has been. She built herself up from nothing and continued to find the strength to push through difficult times to make a better life for me. She did this to ensure that I have everything she wished she had when she was younger. My mum has always brought me up to be open minded, to love others, to be strong; to love myself for who I am, to be self-sufficient and to chase my dreams. These are all lessons I’ll carry on and instill in my children. Without the support from my mum, I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today.

Mary Queen of Scots is a historical figure that inspires me. Two things I’ve taken from her story was her strength to carry on through all the difficulties she faced and her selflessness in the choices she made in putting her people and family first. Both of those qualities are qualities that I personally identify with and believe are important to continue to create stronger and happier relationships.

What changes do you think should be implemented to encourage women to go into business and start up their own brands?

One huge change that has to happen for more women to feel inspired and encouraged to start their own empires is, for women to come together and build one another up. I still feel that there is a tension in women working together. A lot of women feel that other women have ulterior motives rather than a genuine interest. This has to change – we’re more powerful together and when we fully realise the extent of this, things will change.

What signifies female strength to you?

To me, our greatest female strength is our capacity to find strength to carry on. Women can go through the craziest times and come out even stronger. It’s something we should embrace, as it’s something that will always work in our favour. Nowadays, there’s a phase that women go through of pretending they have no feelings, “acting savage” when in fact, what they don’t realise is that this phase only shows insecurity and weakness. At the end of the day, showing our emotions is more powerful than hiding those abilities.

What are your favourite smells and are you a witch, or a bitch?

As one of my favourite smells is burning wood and I associate that with the word witch, so I want to go with that answer but to be honest, I’d say I’m a bitch. I’m saying bitch because I am mostly an understanding person but sometimes you just have to be selfish and turn the bitch on. On that note, I want women to know that it’s okay to put yourself first.


SARA HILL

REEK INTERVIEW: SARA HILL MAKE UP

Sara Hill’s pioneering make up brand inspires entrepreneurship, start ups and emotional bravery. Sara talks to REEK Perfume about real-life beauty, equality and her love of the word cunt.

Tell us a bit about Sara Hill make up and the ethos behind it all.

My makeup brand started with a drive to create a product I loved myself. The ethos came later, when I thought about how I wanted to present it to the world. I knew that whatever I put out there, had to represent my own thinking. I wanted to talk about makeup without manipulation – the word “flawless” is banned in my office as I believe no one is flawed. I decided to talk about my products from a more functional, artistic perspective and with a bit of humour. I’m not perfect myself! I try  my best to keep the attention on the quality of the product – that’s the important thing.

What inspired you to work both as an artist and launching your own beauty brand?

I think as a creative person you want to do lots of things, I’m always coming up with new ideas. Having my own brand allows me creative freedom to do things my way and to make products I know I’ll love and hope that others will love to.

How has working as a make up artist shaped how you view your own beauty?

I think there’s a disconnect and a distance with the vision of myself and reality, this sounds awful but it’s not. When I look at my eyes I think “they’re nice how would I paint them” rather than “look at my eyes”. I find getting older interesting, I love how grey my hair’s getting. Wrinkles on my own face are like drawing on crinkled paper, it’s a nice new challenge. I’m more than my body or my face.

Have you experienced any backlash from your campaigns?

None that I have heard, I’m happy with them and that’s all that matters in my world.

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

It’s about a world without labels, allowing humans to think and feel and act in whatever way feels authentic and makes them feel truly happy without harm to others. A world free of any judgement based on your genitals. I feel Equality must start with an internal journey to question our own thinking and conditioning. All equality is an awakening to understanding that we are all the same, we are all connected.

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?

I think all humans are amazing, spiritually Byron Katie is incredible. She’s my go to when I’m feeling stressed – her words ground me . I also love Anjelica Huston and Angela Lansbury just because they’re amazing!

What changes do you think should be implemented to encourage more women to go into business and start up their own brands?

The changes need to start in a person’s head. Fear is the biggest reason for anyone not to follow their dreams. Fear of failure is a big one! That can hold people back.  I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as failure. Even if my business goes bust, I lose my house, my car anything like that, It really doesn’t matter. I’ll still be me. I’ll find something else to do that makes me happy and I will of learned so much on the journey. I think my own biggest fear is having a dull ass boring life doing something I hate. Now that’s scary!

What signifies female strength to you?

Stillness, Clarity, Resourcefulness, Humour, Unshakability.

What smells remind you of femininity?

I’m not sure what femininity is to me. I find it difficult to describe or encapsulate into anything. The only thing I can think of is my mother – that feeling and smell of warmth and sweetness.

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

I’m a bitch that loves the word Cunt! I’m a bitch that loves glitter, smudged mascara and real skin, I’m a bitch that loves all the bitches in the world.

Find out more about Sara Hill at her website: www.sarahill.com


REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

Journalist, commentator, foreign affairs expert and full-time feminist, Robert Somynne writes about the amazing women of the Mexican Revolution, their struggle against the patriarchy, their rise amongst the Zapatistas and how their legacy was hushed up. 

A rifle strapped to her back, gunpowder and sweat on her palms, the sweat of the cartridge with bandoliers  strapped across  her  chest.  She  wears  a  flowing  skirt,  an open revelatory blouse and a  carefree expression  on  her  face.

This picture has been painted and mass produced on t-shirts, calendars, cigarette boxes, TV advertisements, movies, folks songs and art in Mexico and beyond. The Soldadera were the women  soldiers who  fought in  the  Mexican  Revolution  of  1911 to 1920. Mexico at this is time, as it still is the world over, was a patriarchal  society which constrained  women  and  limited  their  liberties in almost all aspects.

Women’s duties were, according to the mantra of the day, first owed to their families with the awesome power of the Catholic Church stifling any chance of equality with  men. The women who joined the revolution as soldaderas left behind these responsibilities as obligatory chains and by feat of arms made the case for equality with men. In the process images of rugged rifled revolution and sensuality overturned notions of what was decent and suitable.

Motivations to join the armed struggle were also motivated by class and ethnic diversity. Most soldaderas came from the so-called lower rungs of society.  Some were  the  indigenous or  mestiza, women of  mixed  indigenous  and  Spanish  ancestry, daughters  of  peasant farmers  or  merchants.

These women fought on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution with revolutionary rebel or federal forces. The word soldadera comes from “soldada”, or in English – soldier’s pay. This was originally because of male troops giving their wages to women to pay for food, clothes cleaning, and other services. But as the conflict raged many of these women would act beyond the domestic by seizing guns and horses when male forces made advances.

In fact, during the Revolution, soldaderas were considered so vital that leaders among the Zapatistas included coronelas (female colonels), an advance which made it inconceivable to send the women home as some wanted. Secretary of War, Ángel García Peña attempted to strip the women of their arms many male federal leaders warned that insubordination would break out among the troops.

After the revolution, worried that women’s liberation would disturb and fundamentally alter the agricultural and class system, the fighting role of the soldaderas was reduced and warped. The brave, strong woman with a cartridge belt cocooning her shell was transformed into the promiscuous harlot. According to the generals of the time, neither women or whore were suitable for fighting in an established nation. This new image was the “La  Adelita”, an image which forced women either to be pure and submissive or “sexually flagrant” and military ineffective.

Under no circumstances were women allowed to be sexual in charge of their bodies, arms and the project of liberation and nation building. Women’s bodies were too revolutionary for revolutionary Mexico.

Then came betrayal, with the new government stating that soldaderas had only fulfilled domestic roles during battle; tasks that they would have performed in their own homes had they not been following the troops. This ignored the many battles of hard fighting that women had taken part in, scouting missions and missions of espionage.

Whether because of cost cutting or good old fashioned misogyny, (the two not being mutually exclusive), the new Mexican government had betrayed its most effective aid. This would have a great impact of women’s economic progress and societal development in the nation.

But the general population were also at fault. They quickly lost their respect for female members of the military and logistical camp supporters. During the fighting, soldaderas were controversial. Before Mexico redesigned its military after the Revolution, it was obvious that soldaderas did not always include wives and family members. They were effective fighters too.

Yet by reducing the factual importance of the soldaderas and eliminating the idea that many of them had fought, the government could reduce the already insignificant amount of aid awarded to female veterans and re-establish male Catholic dominance.The government would go on to offer only a small amount of money and only to female relatives of male soldiers who had died in battle. Its refusal to offer pensions to female veterans, meant the role women played in combat was ignored.

The soldaderas’ image although twisted, remained a delicious embarrassment to Mexico for over a century. Socialists, liberals, anarchists and feminists would deploy the sexual power and martial prestige of the Soldaderas to great political and cultural effect.

In 2011, Puerto Rican artist Yasmin Hernandez finished her much acclaimed mural in East Harlem called “Soldaderas.” The mural, part of a planned grassroots regeneration of the New York neighbourhood, was inspired by Frida Khalo’s “Las dos Fridas” a painting that shows Kahlo holding hands with Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

Hernandez, a woman who is an example of latina excellence in art and life, said the mural is “a statement on the vitality of the changing neighborhood” and of “sisterly solidarity and passionately dedication to liberty”.

What have the soldaderas to teach us? To be shameless in your existence and to strive to overturn every limitation we encounter either cultural or political. But above all to be vigilant that women’s rights and efforts are not erased or sacrificed after a revolutionary fight.

Images by Agustín Víctor Casasola & Miguel Casasola, source.


THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

Documentary film-maker, veteran activist  and full-time DAMN REBEL BITCH, Leslie Hills, is determined to memorialise female history and one heroine in particular.

Here is the story of a woman I have been bringing from the shadows for the last couple of years.

On the wall of St Paul’s Church, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, is a plaque on which is written, To the glory of God and in grateful remembrance of the men of St Paul’s who fell in the Great War. One of the men listed is Margaret Davidson.

The friendly person on duty in the church when  I first saw the plaque, had been a member for many years but was not aware of Margaret’s name among the fallen. St Paul’s website notes that the plaque lists names ‘including one Margaret Davidson’ but comments no further. An appeal for information, through the website of the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, to the present rector, Andrew Swift, received no reply. I contacted the local Council who were extremely helpful and told me that people of St Paul’s were buried mostly in the graveyard on the High Street but could offer nothing more.

I searched for Margaret Davidson’s death on all the usual sites – casualty lists, Red Cross Nurses, Voluntary Aid Detachment or VADs (who were female medical staff), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – to no avail. The search was complicated by the fact that there are three other Margaret Davidsons, two of them well known, active in the field in Serbia and France. But all of these women survived the war.

At the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, I found the record of Margaret Davidson, a casualty of WW1. Most of the details are missing – except that she was in the Women’s Services, her unit name given as Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society, Scottish VAD Casualties. And the final identifier: on the line which is headed Other Detail, is the word “Bute”.

She is also memorialised in York Minster on a beautiful memorial to the women of the Empire who fell in the Great War.

Margaret Wood Davidson was born in Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, in 1896 to John Joseph Davidson, a gardener and his wife, Barbara Janet, Wood who married on 3rd January 1895 at Stitchell.

In 1901 Margaret, aged five, was living with them at Shakenhurst Hall, a grade II listed building with 13 bedrooms and an estate with 12 houses and cottages. John Davidson was a gardener and lived in the lodge. Margaret had a brother, John James, who was three.

By 1911 the family was living in Ardencraig Cottage, Bute. Ardencraig House and its lovely gardens stand, still, high on a hill overlooking Rothesay Bay. Margaret was fifteen, John James was eleven, a further son, George, was nine and a daughter, Agnes Barbara, born 29th October 1909, was one.

John and Barbara Davidson lost both a son and a daughter to the Great War 1914 – 1918.

On the plaque in St Paul’s church, Margaret is commemorated alongside her brother, John James Davidson. His war record, sadly, was easier to find.

John James, John and Barbara’s elder son, four years younger than Margaret, was a private in the 96th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry and died, in training, of spinal meningitis at Camp Hughes Training Camp, near Carberry, Manitoba.  He was 18. He is buried in Camp Hughes Cemetery. On the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial there is a page in his memory – admitted to hospital on 28th June 1916 and died of non-combat causes on 13th July 1916. The narrative comments that John James was farming when he enlisted at Saskatoon four months before his death.

He is not listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial pages but he, who died in training in Canada and did not see action, is commemorated on the Rothesay War Memorial on the Esplanade. Margaret, who worked in the field, is not on the memorial. He is also commemorated and his photograph included in the book held at the Bute Museum “The Burgh of Rothesay and Island of Bute War Memorial 1914-1919” She is not.

The National Records of Scotland show Margaret Davidson died in Ardencraig Cottage, on 19th August 1917. She died of a Cerebral Embolism, Valvular Heart disease and Rheumatism. She was 21 years old. One must assume, as she is listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial and in St Paul’s, that the conditions which led to her death were brought about by her service in the war.

Her father, John, notified her death. He was still at Ardencraig Cottage working as a gardener in 1925. He died on June 7th 1947, thirty years after his two elder children, at 8 Bellevue Road, Rothesay. The death was notified by Barbara Hansford, his younger daughter.

Barbara Davidson Hansford was married, by Kenneth Mackenzie Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, to George Stanley Hansford of Maidstone in Kent on 21st April 1937 in St Pauls, Rothesay.  She died at Redbridge in Essex in 2004, aged 94.  Her mother, Barbara Janet, died in Essex in 1960 aged 90. It is very likely that the last Davidson to live on Bute left in 1947 before the war memorial was erected.

Of George, the youngest child, there is little trace. Certainly none of the George Davidsons listed as casualties at Edinburgh Castle was born in the right place and there is no sign of his death in any UK record.

To my piece on the Buteman website there was a reply from a distant relative of the Davidsons. His family’s legend was that John James died bravely in battle – but that Margaret, known as Madge, also died on active service in the field. He was able to tell me that George whom he knew and liked, had gone abroad.

We met up in The Graveyard of the High Church and he showed me the Davidson’s gravestone on which the parents inscribed the names of three of their children.

Sacred to the memory of Margaret Wood Davidson 16655 Red+ VAD Died 19th August 1917 aged 21 years

also

Pt John James Davidson 204381 96th Canadians died 13th July 1916 aged 18½ years buried at Camp Hughes Manitoba

THEY DID WHAT THEY COULD

George Davidson NDD NDAR died 28th January 1941.

George is not on the lists of service dead in the National Archives and in the light of research, I believe that George was in a Spanish-speaking Navy, most likely the Brazilian Navy which was involved against German submarines in the North Atlantic.

George Davidson, seaman, is listed on the Rothesay war memorial under WW2 deaths. So, again, he is on the war memorial – and Margaret is not.

The Buteman put my notes on Margaret on the website but not in the paper, noting that the words were the author’s own – it is a small island. The Museum ladies in bemused fashion noted my interest in the memorial book. I visited the British Legion. David Boe of the British Legion Museum, on Deanhood Place, Rothesay, knows of Margaret but it appears only because he read a piece I wrote in the Buteman asking for information. He was singularly uninterested.

And why should I care? Because this is how history is written and unless we unearth the stories such as those on the Mapping Memorials site and the Sheroes blog and publicise the excellent academic work being done by feminist academics who are pulling the work and achievements of women into the light, our daughters and our sons will not know how influential and important the work of women has been –  almost always in the building and the bettering of our world rather than the dismantling and destruction of it.  

And also because I am outraged by the neglect of a woman who died because she wanted to do the right thing and was so casually disregarded and forgotten just because she happened to be born female. It is not good enough.


FARZANA

FARZANA

Writer & activist Farzana talks to REEK Perfume about smells, beauty and gender equality after interning with head bitch of REEK Perfume, Sara Sheridan.

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?

As cliché as it may sound, the woman who inspires me the most is my mum. She is someone who has always worked hard to progress, to satisfy her career goals, support herself and her children. She is very to the point, some would say stubborn, but she knows what she wants and that has definitely had an influence on me.  In high school I had a big friendship group of both males and females. The girls were all very strong willed, independent, driven and very bossy. The boys were just as strong and we always supported one another equally (and still do to this day). Equality was definitely encouraged and embraced through this group of very important people who have shaped my life.

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


I don’t associate any smells with femininity, I associate certain smells with certain females – if that makes sense. Everyone has their own smell that reflects their personality, from Marc Jacobs to Chanel. I love the wide range of females smells there are instead of all being of flowers or vanilla – classic female associations, right. There are varieties of female smells just like there are varieties of females, I love that.

Do you think female success differs from male success in your industry, and if so how? Have you experienced this in your own career?

When my course ends in August, I hope to enter the publishing world. The top jobs within the industry are dominated by white males – a stark reality that is in the process of changing by building inclusivity.  Women are very much employed within the industry but it is men who pull the strings. I have not experienced any discrimination in the industry, I have only done interning, but I hope that I never will.  

Do you feel pressure to act/look a certain way to fit in with the ideals of female beauty? How do you combat or comply with these pressures?

When I was younger I felt pressure to look a certain way to fit the ideals of beauty, but as I have grown up this pressure has gone. I look to my younger sister who is going through the ‘plucking your eyebrows to death then filling them in’ stage, after just having come out of the ‘put as much black eyeliner around your eyes as physically possible’ stage, and I see my younger self. We’ve all been there… But now most days I don’t wear make-up if I can’t be bothered. I don’t feel the pressure anymore, I like seeing my face without all the paint on it and it’s a breath of fresh air.

What pushed you to get involved with this movement in such an active way?   

I intern for Sara in her writing life, so I’m around the REEK office. Sometimes I listen in on meetings between Sara and Bethany. I had never heard of REEK beforehand but inspiration behind the company is interesting and admirable and so I have spread the word to my friends and family. I love the promotion of strong, unapologetic women – qualities that we should all embody. 

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

I’m a ‘go for it’ bitch. Sometimes this is a bad thing, I listen to my friends and family in their opinions but at the end of the day, I do what I feel is right and what I want to do. I’m a damn rebel bitch because everything I’ve done is my own choice, my own mistakes and my own triumphs. The ability to control your own life and find your own way signifies strength to me (male and female strength), and that’s the kind of person that I am trying to be.


AMBER HUNTER

AMBER HUNTER

Head designer of menswear brand ‘Underated’ Amber Hunter speaks to REEK Perfume about gender equality, female empowerment and being your own boss.

Tell us what you do?

A wise bitch once said ‘there are 24 usable hours in everyday” (Liv Tyler, Empire Records) and you better believe this girlboss is living by this motto. I’m currently the head designer of men’s streetwear brand Underated, spending all my time researching, designing and producing garments that allow men to express their individuality while embodying London street style.

How do you find working in menswear as a female designer? Do you face any challenges your male peers don’t?

I absolutely fucking love it. You know, I actually feel like it gives me an edge and an extra level of respect – some of the most successful menswear designers are women. I’ve had the occasional shade thrown my way, but I figure if you’re gonna do it, be the best you can and don’t give anyone a reason to doubt you. I worked damn hard to get to where I am and I’ve sacrificed a lot in all aspects of my life to be here. I get sick of people underestimating me because they think I’m some shy wee girl from Scotland and all I do is draw clothes all day but it only motivates me to work harder and prove people wrong.

Do you feel that women are celebrated in your industry? Tell us about some of the women who have inspired your own career?

100% – women in this industry are fierce. I actually feel like men and women are pretty equal in fashion, it’s more about being head strong and working your ass off. If you don’t have the right mind set you’re not going to make it and believe me I’ve been there. Kelly Cutrone is my number one boss ass bitch and without her I definitely wouldn’t think the way I do now. You can have the talent and the drive to be successful, but if you don’t start to think like a strong woman, you’re never going to be one.

Where do you find inspiration for your own style?

If it’s black, it’s on my back. To be honest I work so much most of the time I look like a 17 year old boy but I’m actually okay with that. I don’t know if working in menswear automatically leads you to be more androgynous with your look, I tend to gravitate towards relaxed boyfriend fits and a staple skinny jean. I’m going to the hairdressers next week for the first time since I was 5 for gods sake – I’m definitely not your conventional girly girl. If I manage to find some time to go out though you know a bitch is going to make an effort. Still black though. Always.

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

I believe in equality in all things, whether thats gender, sexuality etc. The pay gap is a big issue for me right now, the fact that a woman can do the exact same job as a man and get paid less JUST because she is a woman is ridiculous. Isn’t it ludicrous that men are literally given life by women and theres STILL a gap in equality in this day and age? What the hell kind of bullshit is that?

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

In my final year of university I was one of 5 students worldwide to be sponsored by Hermès. Although I never had the chance to meet her, Véronique Nichanian will always be a designer I identify with. She has an enviable ability to mix high end luxe with casual sportswear layering, and has been the head designer of the menswear line since it started it 1988. If that’s not the dream I don’t know what is.

In music – Stevie Nicks. 68 years old and she’s still serving up such effortless beauty and realness on stage. Her talent is undeniable and she defines what a women should be – head strong, unapologetic, inspirational and free spirited.

In my own life, my younger sister Jasmyn. She is everything I wish I could be in one fierce, polished package. She’s the person in my life that tells me when I’ve fucked up and puts me in my place in the most savage way. She makes me believe in myself and that I can always do better. I love her.

What changes do you think should be implemented to try and encourage more women to go into business and start their own brand?

Sometimes I feel like women confuse being confident with arrogance, there is nothing wrong with being confident and believing in yourself. This should be encouraged as early as possible. Secondly, there needs to be more education and support on the business side. I never had one class in business at university, NOT ONE. I was told that, “if you or your family doesn’t have a lot of money, you should give up now” what kind of nonsense is that? We need to make sure there is support and help each other build creatively – who knows what we might be missing out on if the right people don’t get the encouragement they need.

What signifies female strength to you?

Making mistakes, overcoming the unexpected and straight up owning who you are as an individual. Being who you are and knowing what you’re not – there’s nobody more powerful than a woman with knowledge.

What smells remind you of femininity?

Jo Malone – Lime, Basil and Mandarin. It’s the scent I remember my mother wearing the most growing up and it’s the perfect combination of strong and sweet which I feel embodies what it is to be a woman.

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

I’m confident that I have the power to make a difference. Im a pisces, very sensitive and emotional and I will always put others before myself. At the same time, I’ve got to a place in my life and career where I don’t give a fuck about what other people think – especially if it’s negative. At the end of the day as long as I am doing the best I can, passing on knowledge and skills to others and fighting for what I truly believe in – I’ll be a damn rebel bitch until the day I die.