Moving Beyond Binary Consent and the Notion of ‘Bad Sex’

Unrigging the Game: An Ode to Moving Beyond Binary Consent and the Notion of ‘Bad Sex’

Phd  law student, Chiara, explores the post #metoo world and its implications for the outdated notion of  binary consent. Do you want to have sex? You sure?

As the viral campaign surrounding #MeToo reaches its anniversary, it’s worth remembering that the origin of the phrase goes back to 2006 when activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too Movement as a way to help women of colour who were survivors of sexual violence. But what has actually changed?  In the tag’s anniversary week, the ranks of men who have re-entered and/or remained in the powerful and privileged echelons of society, despite women having come forward with stories of abuse at their hands, include: Louis C.K who is performing stand-up again after a quick hiatus since he admitted to sexual misconduct after accusations from five women; prominent news anchor and the man who had a secret button under his desk that allowed him to lock his office door from the inside, Matt Lauer, apparently determinedly told fans he will be “back on television” after being accused of sexual harassment and subsequently fired from NBC in 2017; celebrity chef Mario Batali, who finds himself “eyeing a second act” and “examining whether there is a way for [him] to step back into his career after taking a leave of absence and apologising for accusations which surfaced describing his inappropriate and abusive behaviour towards women; and finally, the decades old stories told and trauma relived by black women detailing sexual misconduct by singer R-Kelly which  have for the most part been ignored, allowing him immunity from any backlash and permitting him to continue his career performing at concerts around the world.

These men sit amongst and are propped up by the President of the United states who remains the President despite at least 22 women coming forward accusing him of sexual misconduct between 1970 and 2013 (this only one of a plethora of things which should disqualifying him for office). Unsurprisingly, Trump has also endorsed the-GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

But the anniversary week of #MeToo culminated in one of the most salient moments yet — the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. On completion of an emotionally gruelling testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr Christine Blasey Ford explained how at a high school party she believed Brett Kavanaugh was going to rape her after he and a friend forced her into a bedroom alone. Kavanaugh proceeded to grope her and tried to take off her clothes. A week later, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the highest possible judicial post, after frothing at the mouth in front of the committee in an effort to defend himself against the allegations. The message is clear: ladies, you will suffer re-victimisation through the re-telling of abuse while your assaulter rises the ranks unscathed. I anticipate hearing more about the ease with which women can accuse a man of sexual misconduct, how allegations can bring men down in one fell swoop, destroying their careers and in Trump’s words,  “ruin(ing) men’s lives”.

Sadly, it is almost expected that society and will continue to make excuses for boys and men despite all of this. Brett Kavanaugh was “just” a teenage boy and we all know that “boys will be boys”. Donald Trump succumbed to that infamous and shudder-inducing “locker-room talk” on the Access Hollywood tape. Let’s not forget Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, who engaged in “twenty minutes of action” when, during a college party, he sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster. The himpathy is rife, it knows no bounds and is prevalent beyond these examples. It seeps so deep that these men and their behaviours are the standard.  In so many male spaces, sex is about conquest, their own self-interest and entitlement. Men can assert their masculinity and perform for other men through sex with women. They’ve banged ,smashed, torn up and destroyed so much, that as Peggy Orenstein, author of Don’t Call Me Prioncess, notes, it sounds more like they’ve returned from a construction site than had sex.

Another feminist author, Rebecca Traister observes, the game is rigged. In this hazy world, women are told that consent to sex is an individual, autonomous process, one in which we can easily say yes or no.  Consent is something that men get from women. Men set the terms, their needs are the priority and they are positively entitled to a climax, just look at the orgasm gap.

Women? Women are the gatekeepers of that yes or no to sex and the onus is squarely on women to communicate their decision clearly. Whether their consent or refusal to sex is respected is another matter. But, as a result of this binary framing of consent, we are left with a dichotomy between sexual assault or sex positivity; and there seems to be no in-between. What about all those foggy memories of sloppy sexual encounters which we did not want, but gave in to? The ones which were covertly coercive that we questioned the next day? Rationalising: assuring ourselves it wasn’t rape. But what was it? A phenomenon that has no name. Perhaps these experiences are similar to the ones that over half of American undergraduate students note – women more so than men – when they were found to have consented to unwanted sex at some point. The reality is that women in heterosexual relationships are, quite honestly, oftentimes having sex which encompasses a grey area between male boorishness and sexual assault. This sex is so normalised and so common that it has come to be accepted as just bad sex. It’s almost a rite of passage—wade through the bad sex to (hopefully)  get to the good stuff.

How do we unrig the game? Should consensual sex be the standard? Of course, consent is important, but there is another dimension that we need to consider. We need to make  a more nuanced analysis of the inequalities of hetero sex. If we are to think about consent, what it means and what it looks like, we need to understand and acknowledge that consent cannot always be negotiated meaningfully and equally. Consent doesn’t exist in a vacuum, uninfluenced by external factors like cultural and societal norms. What’s more, women cannot simply be thought of as agentic beings, grabbing their opportunity to give an enthusiastic, yelling-from-the-rooftops yes to sex without hesitation. Given that women are so often encouraged to respond enthusiastically in all kinds of contexts despite their feelings, it just isn’t that simple. Figuring out how to recognise the erotic potential of heterosexual interactions and advocating for a sexual integrity that focuses on the negotiation of an individual’s pleasures and desires is thus imperative. Young men need to be spoken to early on about this. About pleasure, gender dynamics and healthy relationships. A multi-dimensional, inclusive sexual politics of this kind will offer a shift from the binary understanding of consent and the heavy reliance on men’s wants and needs when it comes to sex. And in return, gendered power relations, cultural and societal structures and the ways in which they impact the ability of individuals to meaningfully negotiate consent and sex in positive environments will be acknowledged.  

Listening to women is essential, but if the #MeToo movement is going to make real, monumental change, and if we are to learn anything from its stories, we need to shake everything up and start again. Platitudes and  endless hashtags have quite truthfully come to a nausea-inducing point. We need to challenge our culture, its outpouring of sympathy with powerful men and its aptitude for encouraging women to perform their pain only to turn on its heels and say: but maybe she is confused about what happened. Men and boys need to be taught that women’s bodies are not sites to perform and enact their male entitlement. No more propping up men, excusing their behaviour and blaming it on the ‘boys will be boys’ trope. Rather than boasting about your conquests, measuring us, rating and scoring us, how about considering whether or not you actually made us feel good? That would be a sexual standard that I could get behind.

 

Chiara is a second year PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh School of Law. Informed by the theoretical framework of heterosexual scripts and using symbolic interactionism as a method of inquiry, Chiara’s socio-legal research explores how fraternity brothers in the United States conceptualise and negotiate sexual consent in a time where sexual misconduct policies are ever shifting on college campuses. She is currently a J-1 Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin and received her MSc in Inequalities and Social Science from the London School of Economics.


Anatomy of an Activist

ANATOMY OF AN ACTIVIST

Irish activist Lauren shares her thoughts on the last years repeal campaign, and the place for grassroots activism in the community.

What message would you like to give to other people trying to make a change through activism?

Activism comes in all forms but whatever you are doing make sure you really care about it! Passion is necessary because it drives you to go to meetings after work when you’re exhausted and devote your Saturdays to fundraisers when you could be at home watching Netflix. Get involved in projects in your community – the problems you see in the world can seem overwhelming and abstract but making connections with local groups that are already working on  the issues you care about is the best motivator and a great way to meet amazing people. If there are no groups that exist then start one! You can always link with similar organisations working the same field. So for example when SIARC (Scottish-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign) started we spoke to Abortion Rights Camp and London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Truly, chill out and don’t be so hard on yourself (also the advice I give to my current self cos some struggles are forever).

What changes would you like to see in your community?

Communities  need more power to enact change. There is a problem with local governance in Scotland, where I live – there is only one local representative for every 4,270 people which makes it the least democratic country in the EU in terms of  local democracy. There are so many amazing organisations working on issues like poverty, homelessness, asylum seeker and refugee rights, disability, mental health and many more important things but there is a distance from this. Communities and councils need to be brought closer together. We need power to be held in local government not centralised.
(More information here)

What does the word community mean to you?

A network of people who support each other.

What does the repeal campaign mean to you?

It was the best thing I had ever done – the journey that we went on with SIARC over the last couple of years when we were standing on the other side of the referendum felt momentous and beautiful. I’ve made amazing friendships that sit on a  foundation of fighting for equality. The referendum signified a new Ireland, a more caring and supportive nation. I always loved my country and after the referendum I felt like my country loved me too. 

Following the 2018 campaign, how do you think we can continue to tackle abortion rights across other countries?

Unity on abortion rights from cross-party and organisation support will be key in campaigning on abortion rights.

How do you deal with negative reactions/disagreements with friends/family regarding your work in the repeal campaign?

I find this a particularly hard thing to navigate. Although I love my family,  we had very different opinions on the issue and it really broke my heart. It is still something I struggle with and post- referendum it is just not discussed. I’m aware this is not the best thing to do but I’m also extremely exhausted!!

What did travelling home to vote for repeal mean to you?

It was the single best thing I have done in my life! To exercise my democratic right on an issue I felt so passionate about and one that we all worked so hard on was so powerful.

What do you think is the next step for abortion reform in Northern Ireland?

For me I am listening intently to what those on the ground are advocating for and taking direction for them. They know the complexities of the situation better than anyone and we want to support the movement and not co-opt it.

How can others get involved?

Find local community groups working on this issue and support them whichever way you can. You can do that by giving them  your time or making a donation big or small – both are amazing. Even just online support through sharing events and posts can make a difference. These fights are won through collective effort and we all need to do the work.

Here are some groups you can follow campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland:

http://www.alliance4choice.com/news
https://www.facebook.com/room4rebellion/
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/abortion-rights-northern-ireland-timeline

Words by Lauren Walker


Scottish Feminist Judgements Project

SCOTTISH FEMINIST

JUDGMENTS PROJECT

100 years ago the suffragettes changed the law but how does the law work for women these days? We spoke to the crusading bitches at the Scottish Feminist Judgments Project looking into exactly that…

Tell us about your project and where it came from?

This project follows in the footsteps of other Feminist Judgments Projects, inspired by a Canadian initiative – the Women’s Court of Canada – that published feminist re-writings of key court decisions. By the time we joined the party, there had already been projects in England & Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland & Northern Ireland; and projects have now begun in India, America and Africa –  it really is a global phenomenon.

What surprised you most – something you didn’t expect that came out of Scottish Feminist Judgments Project?

It’s been full of little surprises. It was a surprise that we were able to convince a group of legal academics to take part in a theatre workshop where we role-played the voices inside a judge’s head (!) but one of the biggest surprises has been the momentum of the project’s creative strand. We always knew we wanted to move beyond a textual engagement with judgments and the judging process, but none of us foresaw how big that would become. We were lucky that our exceptionally energetic and talented creative co-ordinator, Jill, came on board to manage that part of the project. We have just held an exhibition at the Scottish Parliament, and it’s been gratifying, if not exactly surprising, to see how many MSPs were drawn in by the work and willing to talk about the project. We’re hoping to roll out more creative engagement activities in public exhibitions – so fingers crossed for more surprises to come.

How are your emerging conclusions about Scotland’s system of justice comparing with those of similar projects from around the world?

Like many other places in the world, Scotland has areas of law and policy that are worrying from a feminist perspective. What is distinctive about Scotland, though, is the way the legal and political have come together over time in the construction of national identity. We explore this further in the book that is coming out next year, which contains all our re-written feminist judgments, as well as commentaries from legal and other experts, such as Rape Crisis and the Scottish Trans Alliance. Another idea we explore is that, historically, Scots law had a certain flexibility built-in that allows judges more discretion than they might otherwise have. One of the things we want to show in this project is that we need to question who is exercising this discretion and who it benefits. What we’re doing  doesn’t only show gender ‘blind spots’, it shows how dominant and powerful voices can marginalize and oppress people in all sorts of ways, whether on the grounds of their ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, gender identity, or class.

Why was it so important to combine the views of the academics involved with the project with the contributions of creatives?

Art has a universal appeal. Even though the art world can be as elite and inaccessible as academia, there aren’t the same barriers to understanding: everyone can have an opinion. It’s visceral. As we’ve said, there was an appetite in the group to move beyond textual engagement and because art has a democratising effect, we felt its inclusion would result in a more varied, and in some senses more meaningful, engagement. Art speaks in a different language to law so hopefully by using these different languages we can reach more people and find out as much as we can about their understanding and experience of law.

What is the place of activism within the law?

One of the things that lies at the heart of a feminist approach to law is rejecting the idea that law is a detached, objective and coherent system of rules that we can apply to any particular case. Law is deeply political, and the politics it tends to support often reinforce women’s exclusion or disadvantage relative to men. Every area of law is different, every case is unique and some areas of law are more progressive than others, but we think the place of activism is to highlight law’s blind-spots, challenge its partiality, and expose its impact in the daily reality of women’s diverse lives. There are always limits to law. Frequently, the laws  in the statute books are not where the problem really lies. It’s about how those laws are applied (or not) in concrete cases, but also in the social structures and systems that empower women to access those laws. To think that law alone can solve the ‘gender’ problem would be naïve. Law holds a lot of power and sends a signal about what we as a society consider important, so activism – and art – has to engage with it. But also art and activism can provide other spaces, outside of law, to make visible and challenge power and injustice, in ways that are not constrained by the legal system’s rules and concepts.

If you could pick one thing to improve the situation, what would it be?

It might seem that the obvious answer here would be more women judges – and that is important for all sorts of reasons, not least ensuring a more diverse range of role models. But as history has shown, having women in positions of power does not necessarily ensure feminist progress (sometimes far from it!). A diversity of experiences in interpreting the law is crucial, but so is being able to empathise with the perspectives of others who may be different from you. In other words (as one of our feminist judges put it), whereas law tends to ‘see’ disputes as snapshots – a moment frozen in time – justice requires that we see these disputes like scenes in a movie – part of an ongoing rich story that requires context and human engagement to make any sense.

Who are the women who have shaped/inspired you?

Jill: Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine for writing one of my favourite ‘comedies’ “Getting On”. Louise Bourgeois for being a seminal artist who firmly attested that emotional responses in her work (and in general) were not gendered. Louise Wilson for being the most inspiring (and terrifying) arts educator the UK has ever known – I always wish I’d been taught by her.

 

Chloë: Sophia Jex-Blake, the protagonist in the case I am re-writing for the project. Jex-Blake faced a huge amount of bullshit in her attempts to get access to the medical profession and she didn’t let it crush her. She kept pushing back.

Vanessa: So this is a tricky one – the list could be endless. But if it is not too cheesy, I am going to say my little girl, Ailidh. She is 4 years old. She is brilliantly feisty. She speaks her mind freely and without filter; she is brimming full of confidence that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to; and she questions claims to authority on a regular basis. As her mum, that has its challenges sometimes (!), but it is a spirit I want to make sure she holds on to as she grows, and that inspires me daily.  

Sharon: I want to say my granny because she was a character and smart, joyful, funny and resourceful even though she had no education and no money, and took no bullshit, especially from men! I was really inspired by Patricia Williams, a US critical race scholar who was told her writing was too personal to be academic and that if she published it she would be perceived as ‘unstable’. There are too many personal and political influences to list here, but I’m pretty blown away by my fellow feminist judgments project damn rebel bitches!

What are your favourite smells and why?

Chloë: I am not saying I’d wear it as a perfume, but one of my favourite smells is petrol. Not sure why exactly!

Sharon: I think for me, it is the smell of fresh toast, or that gorgeous rich earthy smell you get when it rains for the first time in ages. And tequila.

Vanessa: So, it has to be the smell of the sea, especially on a blustery day; or failing that pipe tobacco.

Jill: Spray paint. Damp (particularly in box rooms, attics and old books). Jasmine.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

A mirror. Not just because it neatly ties into the theme of Jill’s artwork… but because every woman who looks at her own reflection is looking at a Damn Rebel Bitch. Rebellion can be dramatic, loud and merciless, systematic, organised and conformist or quiet, personal and private. Because of the societal expectations placed on *all* women (many of which we subconsciously internalise), even questioning your identity and place in the world is an act of rebellion. We’re all Damn Rebel Bitches.

How can people get involved?

Come to the shows! You can see our events here. We have one coming up in February at Southblock in Glasgow – we want to pick your brains and will have lots of creative engagement activities to take part in. Other than that, follow us on twitter @Scottishfemjp – your digital support means so much…. And smash patriarchy every chance you get – obvs.

Learn more about the Scottish Feminist Judgements Project on their website & join in the conversation on twitter and their sister projects in Ireland, India & America.


Sexual Health with SH:24

SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

SH:24 are helping to make sexual health more accessible from HIV testing to contraceptive information. We speak to one of the team members Linnéa about what started this innovative project… 

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

SH:24 is a London-based online sexual and reproductive health service. We provide free home STI testing in partnership with the NHS, free oral contraception sent to your home (available in Southwark and Lambeth), and support from clinicians via web-chat, phone and text. I am the creative content designer, so I make  illustrations for instructions and leaflets and manage and curate our Instagram account @sh24_nhs. My day to day work life is spent researching and planning posts and campaigns, and drawing occasional genitalia! 

How did the organisation come about?

In England, there have been large governmental budget cuts to sexual health services which means clinics are under a lot of pressure and severely oversubscribed, and many people are turned away due to lack of capacity. SH:24 came about as a way for people not experiencing symptoms to get regular testing without having to go to clinic. This frees up capacity in clinics to deal with more complex cases. We are part of an integrative service with clinics, which means we work together to offer sexual health and contraceptive support to a larger number of people, rather than replace clinics.

What do you see as one of the main issues people ignore about sexual health in the UK?

There is a lot of stigma attached to sexual health, and I think a big problem is the way we ignore the impact this has on people accessing sexual health services. Public health campaigns often use fear-mongering as a way to get people to take charge of their sexual health and access services, which I don’t think works and only feeds feelings of shame. It’s important to see sexual health as part of your general health, just as you would regularly go for check-ups at the dentist or GP. Anyone can get an STI, and it’s important the we work towards de-stigmatising STIs as a way to get more people to take responsibility for their own health. I think many people also ignore the impact that stigma and shame has on their actions – I can definitely say I used to be like that! Before working here I had only done a STI test once even though I was sexually active, and I was too scared of going to a clinic for fear of being judged.

How can people get involved with SH:24?

Join our new contraceptive forum – it’s about bringing together clinical expertise and user experiences, so that people considering their options for contraception can get a nuanced view of the pros and cons about different methods by reading other people’s experiences and having accurate medical information. It’s a place where contraceptive users (of any gender) and clinical staff can meet to support each other and answer questions around contraception. This part of our service is still being developed so we would love feedback from users!

You can also follow us on Instagram. I love hearing from people on Instagram,so whether you’re a service user who wants to share your experience of using SH:24 or a sex educator looking to collaborate on a campaign, get in touch!

Is there a service you find people aren’t aware that SH:24 provides?

We are working on expanding our contraceptive services, and besides the above mentioned forum, we also offer contraceptive advice via web-chat with a clinician.

Another service people aren’t always aware of is that if you test positive for as STI you have the option of opting in for partner notification, which means we will text any current or previous sexual partners that might have been exposed, so they can get tested. The notification is anonymous so there is nothing should be nothing in it that links back to you.

Tell us a campaign or movement that is close to your heart and why?

I love HERO and GMFA’s recent campaign “I test for: Me. Him. Us.”. The campaign, developed by and for BAME gay and bisexual men, aimed to increase HIV testing but also address the lack of representation of BAME queer men in public health campaigns. As Marc Thompson from BlackOutUK, an advisor on the campaign, put it: “The lack of visibility of men from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in sexual health promotion has been well documented as having an impact on BAME men’s sexual health and risk taking, which ultimately plays a role in the disproportionate rates of HIV infection in this population.”

I love the positive message of the campaign. The images are of loving, caring, black queer relationships, without the common stereotype of hyper-sexualisation, and positions HIV testing as a natural part of a healthy relationship. It shows HIV testing as an act of caring, for yourself and for others. Positive accurate representation is so important in determining if people feel included and engaged in public health, and I really believe this approach is an important step towards changing people’s attitudes and eradicating sexual health stigma!

Visit the SH:24 website for more information… 


The Tree That Changed My Life

The Tree That Changed My Life
By Jan Ambrose

Inspirational bitch Jan Ambrose went to the south of France and shed her corporate skin and a whole lot of tears . . .

Leaning against a tree in the south of France sobbing my heart out wasn’t quite what I’d expected when I signed up for a retreat after 26 years of working in a bank. I had taken the bank job aged 22 as a result of my father advising me to get a proper job. At the time, I was saving up to go travelling after graduation and I felt lost about what to do next. On my dad’s advice I’d applied for two jobs for when I got back – one with a retailer, the other a bank. The bank offered me a place on their graduate training scheme and I accepted, thinking I’d do it for a while till I worked out what I really wanted.

The training was interesting, I moved around departments, worked on different projects and secured a permanent role, enjoying the financial security and benefits. But if I’m honest, from the start, a small voice kept telling me there was more to life. I wanted to make a difference and help people and I knew that working in a bank wasn’t my true calling. I went with it, though. Time rolled by, I got married, we started our family. My husband also worked in the corporate world and I just settled. For 26 years, I found satisfaction from leading teams, helping people develop, mentoring and coaching but deep down I remained convinced I was meant to do more.

By last year I had been studying life coaching and hypnotherapy for several months alongside my day job and I loved it. Supporting people to make positive changes was incredibly rewarding. So when the opportunity emerged to apply for redundancy I decided to go for it. The fear of leaving a stable well paid job after so many years was overwhelming, but I had to – even if I wasn’t sure how things would work out. I dreaded the idea that if I didn’t take this opportunity I would be with the same organisation until I retired and I knew I would regret that. With a vague idea of what I wanted to do but no clear plan (something I was deeply uncomfortable with) I took the leap into the unknown. The generous redundancy pay out meant I didn’t have to worry about money for a while but as soon as I left, I found myself racked with massive fears. Who was I to think I could change direction and build a successful business helping people? Who on earth was I kidding?

After a few weeks of floundering, I was worried I would be drawn back to the corporate world. It was kind of overwhelming – 26 years in the same job had on one level, ruined my confidence. I needed support to move forwards and find out if I was cut out for this. So I booked a place on a retreat. This meant 5 days in the peace and quiet of rural France working with a small group of wonderful women, enjoying yoga classes and working on ourselves,. It was a fantastic opportunity – a really magical time. As a group we discussed the things that held us back, sharing all aspects of our lives. Everyone there was, like me, trying to change but finding it difficult.

For me, the biggest breakthrough came when we started to talk about what rules we had allowed to form over the years that dictate our lives. I was shocked at what came up for me. The rules that emerged came from somewhere deep down. During one of the exercises I wrote:

–       Good girls keep quiet, don’t make a fuss and hold back

–       Always be on time, be polite, be respectful

–       You don’t deserve and can’t make a good income out of this ‘alternative hypnotherapy stuff’

I’ve done a lot of personal development work and self exploration over the years so seeing what I’d written really shocked me. I was so rattled I switched my focus to the next task without really taking it in – how did I want to live going forward. I found myself writing:

–       I want to live an even bigger and more magnificent life

Next I wrote down a quote from the French writer Emile Zola that I’ve had framed on my wall for years.   ‘If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.’’

When I looked at the pages in front of me the contrast between how I’d been living and what I really wanted, was stark. I had been living out of alignment for so long. I felt an immense rush of emotion and I started crying. I felt compelled to move and getting up, I stumbled outside. Crossing the gravel path I was drawn towards a beautiful oak tree. I leaned against it, looked up at the leaves and cried and cried and cried for what felt like an eternity.

This was not the graceful weeping you see in films, this was full-on ugly crying, deep shuddering sobs as I let go of emotions I had been holding on to for years.  It was cathartic though and eventually the tidal wave passed and I felt a deep sense of peace. Exhausted I sat down under the tree. It was then I heard a quiet voice inside me saying ‘Welcome home …. you are loved.

Coming together later as a group we called out what we’d learned. Thank heavens we were in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely shouted to the universe what I had learned about myself ‘I am phenomenal, and I am here to live out loud.’ It was life changing.

Coming home, it’s resolved such a lot for me. I know I am here to use my skills and knowledge in coaching and hypnotherapy to help others grow and develop. I don’t know all the details yet of how that’s going to happen, but I’m working hard on it. I read recently, when you have the strength and courage to make a leap of faith and embrace change, an invisible mattress appears and the universe will support you.

Since coming back from France I have told the story of my retreat to many people and it seems to strike a chord. So no more holding back for me.  In particular I owe a very big thank you to that wonderful group of women and a magnificent oak tree for supporting me when I needed it most. With so much love.

You can contact Jan on: Jan.ambrose1@hotmail.com

See more about the retreat here


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Nina Mdwaba to accompany her piece ‘My Black is Infinitely Beautiful’ for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

Eilean nam Ban project

Eilean nam Ban

By Ellen Patterson

We speak to actor and activist Ellen Patterson about her all female project  Eilean Nam Ban. An exhibition sharing stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary women through art, poetry and more…

Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

When I started my masters degree I decided to look back over the work I had done for my undergrad and noticed there were a lot more men’s names in the reading lists than women’s. When I actually compared them, I found that only 30% of the reading I was asked to do in four years of university was attributed to a female voice. Only 1% came from a woman of colour. I wish I could say I was surprised. So, when we were given pretty much free rein on our final pieces this year I immediately wanted to create a platform for women’s stories to be heard. I have felt inspired countless times by a piece of art, be it a song, a painting, a poem (the list goes on) so I was drawn to the idea of bringing women’s stories to life in art. The project ‘Eilean nam Ban’ has since grown arms and legs and I am now presenting an exhibition featuring an original song by a Scottish fiddler, a song by an Irish singer, a painting, a collage (made by my Grandmother who, by the way, is most definitely a Bitch), and several poems…so far! This will be shown for free at the C.A.F.E in Brixton on September 28th.

What does the name mean?

Eilean nam Ban is an island just off the coast of Iona in the west of Scotland). Iona was the site St. Colomba’s destination when he left Ireland in 563 and he set about building an abbey there (Iona still has a very beautiful abbey). According to Colomba though, this great task could not succeed whilst there were either cows or women on the island. He insisted ‘where there is a cow there is a woman and where there is a woman there is mischief.’ Thus, all the women and cows were banished from Iona and sent to a neighbouring island which earned it the name ‘Eilean nam Ban’ or ‘Women’s Island.’ In solidarity with those banished women (and cows), I hope that my exhibition can act as its own small women’s island.

Are there any particular people who have inspired you on your journey?

The biggest inspiration for this comes directly from REEK. I have followed REEK closely, working with you at any opportunity I get and your mission to let no women go forgotten has been a huge inspiration. All the work that Sara has done outside of REEK to shine a light on women’s stories has also really spurred me on.

How can people get involved?

Make your voices heard! I am still looking for stories and for artists to collaborate with. The stories can simply be the tale of a woman who has inspired you, be it your best friend, your mum, or that lady in the café at the bottom of your road whose smile always brightens your day. It can be one sentence or one thousand sentences  – if you want her story to be heard, I want to hear it. If you are an artist and want to get involved, I can send you one of these inspirational stories to use to create a work of art in whatever form you choose.

And anyone who can come to the exhibition, it would be great to have you there!

What issues do you see people face in your day to day?

This answer could be pages long; sadly I think we are very skilled at ignoring things that are staring us in the face. I will just focus on one issue for now, one that I see every day in my line of work as an actress; the constant treatment of women as inferior. I see this when a woman is told to lower her register or she won’t sound important, when she is told at 32 she can only play a mother, when she stands up for herself in an audition and is turned away. Time is not just up on the outrageous practice of accepted sexual harassment but on the perverse attitude towards and the shabby treatment of women every single day. She is a person, just as much as he is.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

Anything on my sister’s Instagram feed. The worst was Kim Kardashian selling those weight loss lollipops. For a brief moment I genuinely wanted one. I am a 27 year old woman who is secure in her body (most of the time) and I was lured in. How is a fourteen year old who is being bullied at school supposed to read that and not be convinced they should be shedding pounds one lolly at a time?

What message would you put on our on our sticky bitches? (gender equality stickers, free on our site

LIVE IN PEACH (go cruelty free)

What are your three favourite smells?

Just smells or scents? Okay, I’ll do both! Smells; summer rain, talcum powder, a burning log fire. Scents; Bitches, Witches, The Dark Heart of Old Havana  by 4160 Tuesdays.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Definitely a Bitch. But can I still be in the coven?

Yes. Yes you can.

You can support the ‘Eilean nam Ban’ project on their fundraiser here. All charitable donations in aid of The Fawcett Society. To get involved contact: eilean.nam.ban@gmail.com


We Are All Activists

We Are All Activists
By Kennedy Younger Dold

Writer Kennedy Younger Dold  looks at the phenomenal success of the youth movement in politics today through the lens of history.

All over the land, the kids have finally startin’ to get the upper hand.
They’re out on the streets, they turn on the heat,
And soon they could be completely in command.
(Sweet, 1974)

Museums and galleries are quiet places. The stern, official portraits of historical figures make it all too easy to forget the vitality of the stories on display. But, those tales demand to be told. They are the stories of the young, the restless and the rebellious. History tells us stories of many young people who achieved notoriety.

In 1777, Sybil Luddington rode twice as far as the more famous midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn of attacking British regulars during the American Revolution.  Not only did she ride twice as far, but at 16, she was half his age as well. Joan of Arc was 17 when, leading from the front, she inspired the French army to victory after victory during the Hundred Years War with England. Henry V was 29 at the Battle of Agincourt.  Flora MacDonald was 24 when she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. Victoria was 18 when she became Queen. Alexander the Great conquered and created an empire at the same age. Mary Shelley, at 20, published Frankenstein.  At 23, Nellie Bly was exposing inhumane conditions in American asylums.  To pile on even more extraordinary achievement, she traveled around the world in 72 days… just to beat the fictional record set in Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days.  Flash forward to the 20th century and the rise of the self and culturally aware teenager.  In 1977, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia (age 19) (although fictional) brought hope to a galaxy far, far away. Young people shaped the post-war years: staging protests, fighting for civil rights, and writing pretty incredible music.

All these people were decades from their first grey hair; yet, they shook the ground beneath them. Today, people are surprised by their ages. People remember Queen Victoria as an aged monarch in black mourning clothes. They often forget the fiery woman, just 18, who fought to govern in her own right.

Today, it is regularly held young people need to reach an arbitrary age to fully understand the world. Older generations dismiss their opinions as naive and unsophisticated. They insist younger generations ‘wait their turn.’ So when is a generation’s opinions worthy of consideration?  In America, you are legally an adult when you turn 18; you can vote, get married, sit in judgment of your fellow citizen on a jury, be charged criminally, enlist and go to war. Oddly, you cannot order a pint until you’re 21. However, attaining legal age doesn’t seem to convince older generations that a level understanding of the world has been achieved or that expressed points of view are of any value. Historically, acceptance seems to come down to an individual’s drive to create change and the allied ability to jam their foot in the door and grab opportunities.

The most common roadblock to seizing a historic opportunity is a sense of helplessness. When faced with injustice, it is exasperating to hear ‘nothing can be done.’  Of course something can be done! It may happen in simple baby steps, but incremental change, no matter how minor is still forward movement.

It does not matter how old you are; what matters is your voice and actions.  Your action maybe the genesis of a movement lost in time. It can also be the last weight needed to tip the scale and open the floodgates.

In the worse sense of tragedy, this February in Parkland, Florida 17 high school students and staff were added to the already too long list of domestic mass-shooting victims in America. However, instead of only offering ‘hopes and prayers,’ students as young as 14 rose above tragedy and created the Never Again Movement.  Emma Gonzalez (age 18) became its face. She helped to organize, plan, and execute nationwide marches and rallies culminating in the massive March for Our Lives in Washington DC and sibling marches across the country on March 24. Even my own small hometown in Kansas assembled in support. Emma and her friends put intensive pressure on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the politicians who accepted their donations.  Originally, the NRA focused almost solely on hunter and gun safety. In the last decades it has devolved into an extreme right-wing lobby group fighting any restrictions or reservations to unfettered gun rights. Regardless of public opinion or reasonable and rational measures to control gun violence, the NRA has maintained a stranglehold on any gun legislation. For the first time in a generation, the young students of the Never Again Movement have defied the odds and pried open a national dialogue.  In response, many states have begun to pass laws requiring increased background checks and bans on the sale of military assault-style weapons, high volume magazines, and accessories designed to increase rapid-fire capabilities.

The Parkland students turned a terrible act of violence into a tumult for change.  Almost immediately NRA and right-wing critics began the age-old chant: ‘high school students are too young, too naive to understand the interworking of American politics.’  They need to ‘wait their turn.’ The students’ response was quick. They were old enough to understand the dangers of getting shot; they were old enough to demand reforms. Their message was clear, if the adults were not going to do anything to protect their lives, to secure them safe schools and communities – then it was up to the youth to do it.       

Earlier on the other side of the globe, Malala Yousafzai was 15 when she was targeted and shot by the Taliban in 2012.  Since she was 11, Malala had been writing accounts for the BBC’s worldwide audience about life under Taliban occupation.  From tragedy, she turned to activism. At 17, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on education for women and young girls.

Lauren Duca (age 27), a columnist for Teen Vogue, realized her platform to help young women understand the world around them and seized it.  In a startling op-ed about President Trump’s lies and ability to gaslight the American public, she caused a media fervor. Lauren became a spokesperson for young American women; and was interviewed on some of the largest US news outlets and talk shows.  Famously, on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Lauren affirmed young women in America can, should, and do understand the world around them. Responding to his criticism, she asserted young women could have a world outlook and still enjoy fashion, make-up, and personality quizzes. The duality of young people to both understand complex issues and enjoy life is what makes them incredibility resilient.  It helps them to avoid the dangers of disillusionment. It keeps them driving for change. They see how beautiful and amazing the world can be and are not afraid of living in a diverse world or facing the unknown.

To achieve a progressive worldview, young people must move beyond only thinking on a grand, Romantic historic scale and realize ‘great deeds’ are made up of daily actions and choices. It was only after the fact, after history studied and documented and realized the significance of an action that they were deemed extraordinary.  History’s young people did not necessarily realize the gravitas of their choices. They simply acted in the face of the challenges. The same ability to act in incremental steps is within the capacity of everyone.

The 2016 election became the origin of a generation of young voices, who realize they have a responsibility.  Although crushed, I voted in that election. The worst part was explaining to my, then 17-year-old, sister, why her country didn’t care enough about her to vote for her future.  Why her country sided with a platform with planks to restrict the autonomy of her body, the access to her education, the ability to marry who she loves, and would allow the deportation of her friends.  I reminded her, we still and will always have the chance to do something. We can be sad, we can get mad, but we must stand back up. We must, in the words of a defeated but not silenced Hillary Clinton ‘never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it.’

There has been a dramatic rise in women running for office and young voters using their voices. To date, many have won their primary elections and stand ready for the 2018 midterms.  Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (age 28), a Democratic-Socialist, won an upset victory in the Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District in New York.  Her voter were young, many voting for the first time.  Rashida Tlaib (age 42) won Michigan’s Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives seat vacated by John Conyers. As the Republicans did not present a candidate in their primary, she will run unopposed in November.  Come January, Rashida will become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In my very conservative, home state of Kansas, Sharice Davids (age 38) a young, gay, former MMA fighter, White House Fellow, and daughter of a single mother (who not only raised her daughter but also served in the US Army as a Drill Sergeant!) is standing against the conservative incumbent in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District.  Additionally, if Sharice wins the upcoming November election, she will be the first Native American woman in Congress. Youthful voters must and do use their voices because they know they can make a difference.  By voting, young people shape the America they want to see. They are making America look and sound just as diverse as the young, hopeful faces they see in the mirror.

 

Everyday, more and more young people realize the power of their voice.  They are not different from famous figures celebrated in the history books.  They can be young people refusing to accept things ‘just the way they are.’ They ask questions, demand answers, and pave the way for a bright new future.  Historically, this is nothing new. It’s the same reaction to the same questions. Some quietly accept while others stand against the status quo. Joan of Arc had it when she was one of the first to scale the walls at the Siege of Orleans.  Henry V had it when he stood in front of his tired, downtrodden, and outnumber band of brothers at Agincourt. Nellie Bly had it when she self-admitted to one of the worst mental asylums in America to expose the reality of the conditions. Emma Gonzales had it when she stood silent for 17 minutes in front of a crowd in Washington DC to honor her friends who lost their lives to senseless violence and political negligence.   Lauren Duca continues to write politically astute articles for Teen Vogue. She proves teenage girls are not only intelligent but have insightful and important things to say. The Parkland students could have faded into yet another American tragedy, but they said no. To an entire nation, they said ‘never again.’

In my new home, in Scotland, the same spark lives. Here, 2018 has been celebrated as the Year of Young People. It has witnessed university students using their platforms to organize marches, meetings, and charity drives. On other fronts, young women refuse to have their careers halted by glass ceilings and young men are making conscious efforts to identify and combat sexism.  These stands have often meant confronting their own friends. Young people volunteer time to work political campaigns, work in shelters, or simply provide an ear to listen to those previously ignored.

The power and potential of being a young person transcends geographic boundaries.  We don’t see walls as barriers. Instead, walls are there to be climbed. Better yet, young people petition and protest, so walls are never built.  Young people go forward with open minds. Just because something works does not mean it cannot be made better. Just because something has been that way for a long time, does not mean that it is not time for change.  Young people are reaching out to each other to work and stand together. The Damn Rebel Bitches of the past did it and this self-proclaimed Damn Rebel Bitch is just getting started.

The young people of the past teach us to not sit silent – especially not today.  As Bishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘if you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Sitting silent is only acquiescing to injustice.  It is naïve to think you are too young to make a change in this world. You grossly underestimate yourself if you believe you cannot make a difference. As the students of Parkland have demonstrated, if you do not act then who will?  The heroes of the past were not superhuman, they were ordinary young people who faced challenges, saw their opportunity to make their world better, and grabbed it.

My voice may shake.  It’s terrifying standing up, but if I stay silent, if I sit down – nothing will change.  I’ll grow old wondering if I could have done something more, spoken out louder, or extended a hand just a little further to those in need.  Maybe, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll be remembered in a museum or get a paragraph in a textbook. Regardless, if you stand, if you take action, you will know you confronted injustice. In decades to come you will look in the mirror and confidently know you did everything you could to better the lives of those around you and the world.

There’s plenty happening. What are you waiting for?

Never Again Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/NeverAgainMSD/

Lauren Duca’s work for Teen Vogue https://www.teenvogue.com/contributor/laurenduca?page=1

You can donate to the ACLU here https://www.aclu.org/


Moody Girl

MOODY GIRL INTERVIEW

We interview Emily Fazah founder of Moody Girl an initiative to start a conversation about PMS… 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Moody Girl and how it got started?

Moody Girl was created after years of suffering with PMS. From the age of 15 onwards I noticed a huge difference in the way I suffered with my periods compared to other girls at school. When trying to open up about both the psychological and physical effects it had on me I realised that this wasn’t something people spoke about honestly and from then on I learnt to suffer in silence and to just get on with it. There came a point when I just couldn’t ‘get on with it’ any longer and I decided to speak with my local GP. As a young girl seeking answers I thought surely my doctor would have some answers! Unfortunately this was not the case and GP after GP met my woes with the same blank expression. All that was offered was the contraceptive pill (which sent my moods completely wild) or anti-depressants, which I refused to take, as I knew deep down what I had wasn’t depression. Finally after extensive research I was referred to the Chelsea and Westminster PMS clinic where I spoke to the first doctor who seemed to understand and since then things have got much better. For so many years I felt so alone as if no one else was going through the same as I was. But then I thought ‘what if other women have been suffering in silence too?’ It was then that I decided to start Moody Girl. Moody Girl aims to open a line of communication between women suffering with destabilising hormonal conditions. You can see moody girl here.

How can we get involved?


The whole purpose of Moody Girl is to build a community of women who have suffered with any type of period drama. Moody Girl has an online forum for women to chat through everything menstrual related. The best way to be involved is to sign up to the Forum and post any questions you may have or answer existing questions asked by other users. All we ask is that users are non-judgmental and inclusive when listening to any girl or woman who reaches out.

What has been the response been like for MG?

So far, so good! At first it was a daunting process sharing my PMS struggles after keeping them locked up for so many years but after the initial website launch I have learnt to be PMS and proud. The Moody Girl Stories that have been submitted have made the whole project worthwhile. To be able to hear from other women who have been suffering too is sad but also a relief, seeing as I felt so alone for so long. One of the stories we received came in all the way from Virginia, USA, and completely blew my mind. You can read all of our Moody Girl stories here


What would you like to see MG achieve over the next year?

At the moment it is just me working on Moody Girl with some help from my amazingly talented girlfriends and supportive boyfriend. In the next year I would love to have a more permanent Moody Girl team and a space to work from. My first fundraising event is coming up in August and this is to raise money for further research into PMS & PMDD and the team at Chelsea and Westminster PMS Clinic. The goal is to continue with fundraising events & too start retreats for PMS & PMDD sufferers. The Moody Girl retreats will offer educational and nutritional talks, meditation, yoga, music therapy and a general opportunity for women to meet and talk through their experiences of coping with PMS & PMDD.

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

All of the women who have had to suffer in silence with a destabilising condition over the years. My auntie was a beautiful, intelligent women whose whole being changed after she had children. She was put on antidepressants which then spiralled into alcohol addiction and sadly she passed away. My mum and I feel she had undiagnosed post-natal depression. I identify with all women who have been fighting for answers or have been misdiagnosed throughout their lives.

My Mum. She has been the only woman in my life that has believed in my symptoms fully since they started at age 15. She has suffered with PMS herself and has come out the other side fighting. She pushes me to not let it dictate my life. Companies such as Bloody Good Period, GurlsTalk, and Freda are doing amazing things too!

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you angry? 

To be honest most campaigns relating to periods right now make me happy. I’m overwhelmed to see finally people are opening up and being proud! What does make me angry is GPs handing out antidepressants to women suffering with hormonal problems before steering them in the direction of specialists to get a definitive diagnosis.

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?


In my opinion a Damn Rebel Bitch is someone who fights for answers and pushes through the PMS fog better and badder than ever.

What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

You aren’t alone. You aren’t depressed. Keep pushing for answers, you will find them!

What do you think are the three biggest lies out there about periods and period pain?

1) Women use PMS as an excuse for everything. 

2) Menstrual pain is a myth. 

3) It’s wrong to talk to boys about periods.

Get involved with MOODY GIRL! Join the conversation or get involved with their fundraiser, Sat, 18/08/18 more details here


LGBTQ+ Centre London Needs You Bitch

LGBTQ+ LONDON NEEDS YOU

The LGBTQ+ community in London is working together to create an LGBTQ+ community centre and they need your help. 

The word ‘community’ is hard to define. For some, it’s a common geography, a shared history or passion that brings a group of people together. For LGBTQ+ folks, it’s who we are. For us, community, can be a lifeline.

When we heard about this project we wanted to put all the bitches on red alert!

We know you will want to support this initiative as much as we do. The much-needed centre will be a space away from nightlife for LGBTQ+ of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe and call home. It will be completely accessible and multi-purpose, run by and for LGBTQ+ people as a not-for-profit. It will be open from morning until night for use by individuals and campaigning groups.

The Centre will serve as a cafe, a meeting point, a workspace and a social centre, with an information hub, research facilities and a signposting service for those seeking support to discover the brilliant charities and organisations that specialise in LGBTQ+ specific service provision.  

In just six months the Centre project has already engaged with hundreds of people through meetings, events and online, and they have garnered the support of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, the Mayor of Hackney, MPs in the local area, business owners, community groups, charities, health practitioners and the press.

The team of volunteers needs to raise £50,000 by June 13 – if they don’t make the target, they’ll lose the donations that have already been pledged. Please dig deep and give what you can.
www.crowdfunder.co.uk/londonlgbtqcentre

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can reach the team at londonlgbtqcentremedia@gmail.com


AFTER EIGHT

AFTER EIGHT

So how did it feel to be part of the historic Irish vote? We asked one of our best bitches, Niamh Kelly.

We came, we saw, we wore the t-shirt. We repealed the 8th.

Friday 25th May 2018, was a historic victory for Irish feminists, who had been campaigning for the 8th amendment’s repeal ever since it was passed in 1983. The Catholic Church’s influence in Irish politics has been in decline for years, and this referendum shows that a new secular, but compassionate Ireland is here to stay. At 18:30 it was announced that Ireland has voted to repeal the eighth amendment of its constitution, with an astounding 64.51% voting Yes.

As an Irish woman, being part of this change is something I am beyond proud of. It’s a moment I won’t ever forget. I was lucky enough to be able to make the journey home and join the thousands of Irish people who were #HomeToVote.

The trip home was emotional and scary. It was filled with an uncertainty whether the beautiful small country I call home, would do the right thing, and vote for a change that affects so many women on a daily basis. Hearing the stories and reading the news throughout the campaign I was sure that Yes would be the outcome, but as the days became closer uneasiness set in.  

Coming from a small town it’s easy to come into contact with closed minded people – you know they are there, even if you don’t agree with their opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, the same way all Irish women should have a choice. The yes vote seemed like a no-brainer,  but apparently not. Seeing so many YES signs around the town and people holding signs saying “Beep for yes!” I was pleasantly surprised by the people behind the pro-choice movement and the chance for change.

Being back in Ireland a couple of days before the vote allowed me to speak with amazing Irish men and women of all ages, who restored my faith in the nation. We are a compassionate country, working to make good changes for our citizens. Throughout this campaign, the people of Ireland came together for yes, a yes for the women of our country.

The movement to repeal the 8th has shown me the power of community and the compassion the people of Ireland have for women. Being an Irish women in 2018 is a feeling like no other, but the fight doesn’t stop here. Northern Ireland is still campaigning to bring the same choice to its women. Friday’s referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland and we need to rally together to make the same choice available there –  and to women all over the world.