LET THEM EAT CAKE

LET THEM EAT CAKE

Writer and feminist, Naomi Frisby talks to REEK about cake as a patriarchal weapon.

Eating cake has become a national occupation. We talk about it, tweet about it, Instagram pictures of it, watch it being baked on TV. Cake is buttery, sugary goodness guaranteed to make us feel better about life. It is the British Dream: a whiff of nostalgia, green fields, a country fair, your nan’s kitchen. Life was good and you could still lick the spoon without fear of salmonella.

In America, when white supremacists protested the removal of a confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, comedian Tina Fey spent her SNL slot trying to comment on it while shovelling chunks of cake into her mouth. ‘Most of the women I know have been [eating cake] once a week since the election,’ she said. In doing so, she lampooned those of us who’ve bought into the idea that filling our mouths with sponge and cream is a valid response to the state of the world. You can’t protest while you have a mouthful and once you’re full you’ll be too tired to be angry. Or you’ll turn that anger on yourself because you shouldn’t have eaten the cake, it’s too many calories/points/syns. Now you’ll have to spend time and energy getting rid of it, you wouldn’t want anyone thinking you don’t have control over your own impulses, your own body, would you? If you can’t have control over yourself, how can you be rational enough to participate in national politics?

Cake is a feminist issue. How many times have you seen a man turn to cake to supress his emotions? We’re in a double bind: eat enough cake and your body will be unattractive; don’t eat any cake and the anger you’re failing to suppress will render you hideous. Here are some tips to help you get it right: You can allow yourself some cake if you’ve been good. Have you organised the household? Sorted the kids? Taken care of your partner’s emotional and physical needs? Been to work and ensured that everything ran smoothly for everyone else? Allowed the men to interrupt you? Steal your ideas? Did you do the school run? Supervise homework? Make dinner? Listen to your partner talk about their day? Then you can allow yourself some cake, if you can find the time to eat it.

You can allow yourself some cake if your body’s a size 10, streamlined, bikini ready. Mention repeatedly that this is a treat and don’t eat too much of it, you couldn’t possibly manage a whole slice to yourself. Share with a friend, with your kids, with someone you love. You don’t want to get to a point where you’re taking up space in the world; where would we fit all the men?

You can allow yourself some cake if you’re a comedian, a fat (size 12 or above) female comedian. In this instance, you’re allowed to shovel in the cake, to smear it across your face and body in an act of self-depreciation. You’re allowed to announce to the world that you know your size isn’t socially acceptable and you can laugh about it too. If you’re going to take up more space in the world, insert yourself into a male profession, have the audacity to insist that women can be funny, then you need to turn that laughter on yourself and your failings.

Now you’ve exerted some control, let’s talk politics. You can’t? You’re too busy? Your brain is filled with calorie counts and thoughts of food? Something must be done.

I propose a manifesto:

Let cake be just cake and equality a reality.

Naomi writes for The Writes of Women brilliant blog. Go find her work there.


ANARCHY, WITCHCRAFT AND ART

ANARCHY, WITCHCRAFT AND ART

Artist Karen Strang talks to REEK about her latest paintings,
The Scottish Witch Trials Testament Series and what
inspired her work.

Who are you, Karen Strang?

I’m a visual artist / painter / anarchist working from Alloa in the Forth Valley of Scotland. It isn’t always easy being a flaneuse in the Central Belt! I take obsession with my subject matter to heart. Previously it was Rimbaud in the latter half of 1874 that rocked my boat. Currently I’m obsessing with the local Witchcraft trials of Glendevon and the Forth Valley. I see feminism as a transitional position, I’d be heading for an agendered non-speciest world, if that could exist.

What makes you a feminist?

Experience. Simple as.

What equality campaign is most important to you and why?

Too often it seems being born with a cunt automatically puts you into a livestock category. I am continually horrified by the treatment of women around the world. One has to start somewhere in addressing these issues. I do it with my paintings in the hope that what I express physically provokes a change in thinking. A starting point is the female gaze on another female. It seems a gentle enough approach until one realises the strength of reaction. Self-possession and recovering ownership of one’s sexuality in one’s own terms.

What inspired you to create the Scottish Witch trials paintings?

Over decades I have been fascinated by aspects of female knowledge of nature, which has been seen through history as a threat to order. The outcome of this fear, envy and misogyny is the epidemic of witch-hunts and in Scotland this was a particularly aggressive and brutal period, known as the Killing Times. I seek to redress the balance between the forgotten victim and the torture and murder which until recently has been swept into indifference or quaint superstition. More and more facts and numbers of victims are being unearthed. We may never get to know how many people were murdered under the excuse of religion and superstition for what was ultimately a culling under the socio-economic needs of a patriarchal system.

Do you have a favourite painting from this series? Why?

I am in constant dialogue with each of them as they develop. I work with a number of pieces that seek out their own conversations, creating an energy force. For example, the series of five paintings, “Tides”, rely on each other to create a dynamic narrative. So possibly, just for this moment, I would select “Jetsam”. Tomorrow it might be another.

What has been your personal experience of gender equality?

I was the first female school pupil at my comprehensive school to be allowed to sit in a technical drawing class. I spent five years attempting this. Finally I got to sit in the class but not to take the O-Grade. A small early victory for me against the State! But I still couldn’t wear trousers to school.

How do you feel about the way images of women are represented in the media?

I am not convinced that the abundance of staged selfies expresses self-ownership. A lifetime of gazing into the eyes of others as an artist makes these “portraits” appear to meld into an algorithm which caricatures sexual commodification, objectifying rather than opening a genuine dialogue with the viewer.

Are you a witch or a bitch?

Witch never bitch.

So what makes you a DAMN REBEL WITCH?

Society doesn’t fit me, I don’t fit society. (Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m a left-handed sinister sorceress!)

Several of Karen Strang’s witchcraft paintings are currently exhibiting as part of a collaborative show called “Seasons of the Witch” at Front Room Galleryin Alloa. A large solo exhibition of her witchcraft works, called “The Burn and the Tide”, will follow at the Lillie Gallery in Milngavie in February 2018, exploring the psychological as well as the factual effects of women accused of witchcraft.


WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

Tori West, Editor of Bricks magazine, spoke to the bitches about women in the media and her vision of how to do things differently ie better

Tell us a bit about what you do?

I always find this question difficult because it always turns into a long-winded answer, but I’ve recently settled for the terms publisher, writer or editor. I started BRICKS magazine three years ago and I just launched the platform Neighbourhood.tv for Village, a fashion communications agency in London. Both of them, although different, support emerging talent. I want to share the voices of people, regardless of their social following, those who I think deserve to be heard. I make content that I think needs to be made. I hate this entire ‘journalism needs to be click-bait’ attitude, screw the stats, I want a more honest media. I’ve also started organising day events outside of London, where I bring editors/writers from titles like Vogue and Dazed to network with creatives outside of London. I want to make the publishing/magazine industry less exclusive – there’s an entire world of artists and creators out there, outside this bubble and I’m determined to find them all!

How was it shooting with the REEK team and knowing the images have no retouching? You work a lot with the curation of editorials, was it strange being on the other side?

Yeah, it is actually, I get asked to model for things quite a bit but I’ll only do it if it’s a brand I truly relate to or if I love the photographer. I appreciate REEK because I know you won’t manipulate my body in any way. It must feel awful being a model and receiving the images back and you’re looking at an unrealistic version of yourself in the photograph.

Do you think it’s important for more campaigns and editorials to step away from retouching?

Yes, definitely! At the end of the day, if there was no retouching, we’d have a much healthier vision of our own bodies. What’s the point in marketing society’s – well I may as well just say it – man’s ideals and unrealistic expectations of how a woman should look? I don’t understand it. I relate much more to companies like yourself, you’re working with real people to promote your product, you’re not trying to represent them in your way – you give it back to them and allow them to choose how they’d like to be portrayed. That’s my idea of empowerment.

Tell us about what gender equality causes mean the most to you and why?

At the moment, what’s bothers me most is the gender segregation of sex education in schools. People are still confused on the differences between the terms gender and sex. I was taught issues and the logistics of hetero-sex only, but I grew up so confused about my sexuality because of it. I’m 24 now and I’m still not sure how I identify, but it wasn’t until a few years ago I realised that was ok, I didn’t need to be placed in a box, I still don’t need to answer yes or no to whether I’m straight or not. I think if kids were being taught same-sex education and the emotional relationship we have to our own bodies rather than labelling us ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ and sex is for straight people to make a baby, we’d be a lot less confused and more open to having conversations about it growing up. And also, same-sex marriage being legal in every single country, it’s still shocking that only around 25 have legalised it.

Do you feel women are represented well in your industry? Is there more work to be done?

No, not at all. We’re still valued on our outward appearances way more than our inward qualities.

What women have inspired you both in your personal life, career and style?

I’m so grateful that I’ve been surrounded by such inspirational, phenomenal women throughout my life. Every single one of them has motivated me in some way and made me feel more human.

What are your favourite smells and why?

The smell of a new book or a printed page, because it means new content.

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

WITCHES UNITE!


WITCHES BREW, BITCHES BREW BY RACHEL VETTE

WITCHES BREW, BITCHES BREW BY RACHEL VETTE

Beer is now considered the quintessential masculine drink, with some men even eschewing wine or cocktails for fear of their feminine connotations. So, it may come as a surprise to know that beer and brewing were once considered the sole domain of women.

Due to its low alcohol content and high concentration of nutrients (such as carbohydrates and proteins), which could be readily-absorbed in liquid form, beer was the drink of choice for centuries when clean water and nutrient-dense foods were scarce. Relished by parents and children alike, it was a staple of most meals and  since the home and everything associated with it were considered the responsibility of women—it was also their duty to brew beer for the family. As historian Marianne Hester notes, ‘women did the brewing of ale needed for immediate consumption by the household, and prior to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women also brewed ale for sale’ (Hester, 303). Women who needed additional income commonly sold any excess at local markets and the occupation of ‘brewer’ was, consequently, considered as an exclusively female one.

The formation of the guilds in Middle Ages Europe, however, saw the swift decline of female crafts and trades: removing women’s role in production and inserting men in their place. It was the dawn of a new economic system—capitalism—which created a struggle between men and women for the ability to make a living. Men were concerned with retaining dominance in the developing society, and excluding women from production was a good way of ensuring their economic dependence on men. Foremost amongst the trades taken from women was brewing, removing it from the household and placing it in the hands of male factory owners.

In order to ensure the complete transition of brewing from the hands of women to those of men, it was paramount to depict women as incapable of brewing; or worse, as doing so with malicious intent.

Enter, the witch-hunts. Witch-hunting was already well underway in Europe, and it became an easy way to denounce women who dared to subvert emerging gender roles. Soon, it was popular to depict the alewife negatively, and this theme occurs in a variety of literature, music and art of the period, showing her as a grotesque old crone of dubious virtue. These representations ‘undermined the position of the alewife by questioning her general trustworthiness, while at the same time allowing men to be seen in a much more popular light’ (Hester, 304). Fermentation had previously been thought of as a kind of magic, and now this association took on a much more sinister tone.

Interestingly, much of our current imagery concerning witches comes from these unsavoury depictions of alewives. Black cats, broomsticks, bubbling cauldrons and pointy hats: all were traditional tools of brewing that were turned against women to denounce them as witches and discredit their trade. Cats had long been used as pest-control, preventing mice and other rodents from spoiling the wheat, but now they became ‘familiars’: animals the woman could use to converse with the Devil and carry out her sadistic work. Broomsticks, used both to clean and to denote the location of an alehouse (a bundle of wheat tied around a stick on a building was a sign used since Roman Britain to display that beer was for sale inside—especially important in a society where only the aristocracy could read), now became marks of debauchery and women’s supposedly insatiable sexual urges. The image of a bubbling cauldron, used to boil the malt and hops for ale, was turned into a vessel where all manner of grotesque ingredients were combined to create potions of evil intent—notably included in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: ‘double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble’ (Act 4, Scene 1). The pointy hat, too, was co-opted. Previously used by alewives in the market as a practical way of making themselves seen in a crowd, its reputation soured, becoming something reputedly worn by women during their Satanic rituals.

Indeed, nearly every symbol we now associate with the ‘wicked old witch’ comes from this era and men’s frenzied attempt to discredit women and their economic independence. Gradually, women’s involvement in ale-making dwindled, and, by the beginning of the 19th century, brewing was almost exclusively done by men in large-scale factories for widespread consumption by a predominantly male workforce. Women’s contributions to the art of beer-making were forgotten but their image as sinful crones endured, relegating them to the pages of spooky children’s stories rather than history books, and beer drinking became synonymous with masculinity and the disavowal of all things feminine.

This modern conception, however, could not be further from the truth, and a crucial change is needed to reassert women’s their involvement in brewing to its rightful place. So, this Halloween, as you pass storefronts and houses riddled with cartoons of witches with broomsticks, cats and cauldrons, remember where they came from, and lift a pint with your sisters to commemorate the long-lost and much maligned alewives who gave us this eminent drink.

Rachel also contributes to The Fly Trap – check out their instagram feed.


REPEAL THE 8TH MARCHES

REPEAL THE 8TH MARCHES

REEK perfume speaks to people across the UK and Ireland who marched in solidarity with their sisters to repeal the 8th amendment abortion law. From toddlers to grannies everyone was out with one message, repeal the 8th.

“My body! My choice,” was chanted by thousands of pro-choice protestors as they marched from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square to Dáil Éireann on Saturday, September 30th. The streets of Dublin were filled with music, cheers, and an overwhelming atmosphere as members of the community came together to recognise the long years Irish citizens have lived under the Eighth Amendment, which criminalizes abortion.

“It was extraordinary,” said Charlotte Lee, a student studying in Dublin. “It was amazing to see so many people across all genders, ages, and nationalities turn out.”

Under the 8th amendment, women and their doctors are barred from ending a pregnancy by choice. Those who choose to have abortions must instead go to another country, taking on the cost of the procedure, travel, and lodging themselves.

Students from many countries came to support the effort spearheaded by Irish citizens, who have fought for over three decades to repeal a law, which they say causes much more harm than good and unfairly targets poor communities. A group of hundreds of students started in front of the Campanile in Trinity College campus in Dublin and marched across the city to meet the other protestors in Parnell Square.

The atmosphere was friendly, and excited. The theme of this 6th Annual March for Choice was Time to Act, and that’s exactly what was called for. The chants of, “Pro-life is a lie! You don’t care if women die,” were impassioned and yet hopeful. Calls for a separation of church and state called into question the legality and ethics of preventing women from choosing abortion.

The thousands who turned out to participate, in their matching shirts and colorful signs with clever slogans, believe the end of barricading women from reproductive rights is near. If today’s march showed anything, it is that the community support for legalizing abortion is strong in Dublin, and it truly is time to act. – Jennifer Seifried, Dublin

Dublin was not alone – the brilliant bitches below share why they were marching to repeal the 8th today. Thank you all for your wise words, pictures and superb sign making.

DUBLIN

 

“Once again, the people of Ireland marched to repeal the 8th amendment.

If the government thought that by announcing that there will be a referendum next May or June would appease the pro choice movement, the thousands who marched today told them that the many want true repeal, not another watery wording that will block safe and legal abortions from happening.

The loudest group were the Union Of Students in Ireland. With the youth on board, another fudge will be defeated.” Ultan Monaghan

“Today was the 6th annual March for Choice in Dublin and hopefully the last. Taoiseach Leo Vradkars announcement that a referendum might finally take place next year should mean that 30,000 won’t have to take to the streets ever again to march for women’s rights to abortion in Ireland. The sun was out and the mood was hopeful. People talked about last year and how the rain echoed the mood at the time, but this year it was more joyful, progress is being made, the citizens assembly have spoken.” – Sorcha Nic Aodha

“It’s incredible. Absolutely huge turn out. Amazing atmosphere so great to see so many men turn out.”Heather Finn

“One step. We stop. Another step. We stop. A few more steps and finally we’re on our way marching through Dublin city. People. People with handmade signs. People with bicycles. People with prams. People with walkers. Young, old, in-between, students, teachers, single people, families.

We rally through Dublin. There’s singing, drumming, stamping, singing, and optimistic conversation. People are seeing each other after long periods, catching up, discussing local work to repeal the 8th.

Finally we reach Merrion Square. There’s speeches, stories and singing. People laugh. People cry.

“Remember this feeling of kinship and comfort”. People smile, happy but knowing we haven’t won yet.

“Remember this moment”. Happy but knowing there’s work to do yet.

“Turn to the person beside you, shake their hand and say ‘I support you’. This is your congregation”.Gas Blue Hanley

BELFAST

As an American living in Dublin, I came to the march on my own, but as is always the case with Irish people, I was befriended almost immediately by two lovely women. The march was peaceful, with only a few religious counter protesters on O’Connell. Equality towards women (particularly women of color and immigrants) is in a shameful state in Ireland, but the massive turnout clearly shows that this is not how people really think, but is simply a holdover from a time when the church had a stranglehold on the country. Being able to witness, as a guest in this country, people rising up to demand these changes to bring Ireland forward was an honor.” –  Holly Smith

GLASGOW

“Glasgow is over 200 miles from Ireland’s capital but that distance doesn’t cause complacency amongst those who know there’s a fight to be fought. Irish, Scottish and many other nationalities stood side by side today to protest in solidarity with the women in Ireland. Who are forced to relinquish control of their own bodies to an oppressive state.

Every person has the ability to make a difference to the injustices they see others face. Today we saw this take shape outside Buchanan Galleries in the form of banners, flags and poetry with everyone in attendance doing what they could to tell the Irish government that words are not enough and that we demand action.

Chants of “Not Church, Not State, Women Must Decide Their Fate”  carried out across The Dear Green Place in reminder that People really do Make Glasgow.” Ellen Patterson

LONDON

“The atmosphere was beyond great, with people of all ages proud to be there. With chants, speeches and spoken word. One of the pieces brought me to tears, and I could see people all around me were emotional at the terrible realities facing women who have to travel for abortion, both physically and psychologically. To see so many people come out to support the women in Ireland to repeal the 8th was overwhelming. There was such a strong feeling of sisterhood and solidarity.” – Fleur Moriarty

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED 

https://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/repealthe8th/

http://www.repeal.ie/

https://www.facebook.com/repeal8/

#repealthe8th

STICKERS


We want to get sticky with you. Click here to order our repeal the 8th stickers for free!


DAREfest

DAREfest

Ashley Stein and Lou Mclean set up feminist, one-day event, DAREFest to encourage women into the music industry. It kicks off on 23 rd September 17 in Edinburgh. We interviewed them about their brilliant idea, the smells they love and of course, what makes them damn rebel bitches.

Tell us about DAREFest?

LOU: DAREFest is a one day event co-founded by Ashley and myself. During the day we will be running workshops aimed at helping all women break into the music industry and build self confidence and skills for music performance and feminist activism. In the morning we will have a feminist pin badge making workshop run by the Women’s Aid project Speaking Out- In the afternoon Ashley will run DIY tour management, then I will present ‘how to be a bad-ass’. The title is a bit tongue in cheek but what I want the workshop to demonstrate is that we can all be the bad ass versions of ourselves. Women are taught to be quiet and apologetic all the time, but you don’t have to be. It’s about finding that confidence, and I’ll be sharing techniques I’ve learned through experience to address sexism and handle confrontation.

ASHLEY: We are trans and non binary inclusive. Girls Rock School Edinburgh (where we met) enabled us to become empowered through music and from there we embraced the principles of making noise and taking up space to become more confident, capable and bad-ass; a skill set that we are eager to pass on to other women. Organising a tour can be really stressful the first time round because you don’t have a clue what you’re doing and it’s easy to get ripped of when it comes to fees. I used to be a freelance booking agent so know how difficult it is to organise gigs in other cities and what goes in to planning a full UK tour.

What inspired you to start up this project?

LOU: I was really inspired by the sense of community. I ran songwriting workshops for women and found that the all-female creative environment was productive and inspiring. So many of the songs the girls were writing were about feminism, or activism-related experiences: a lot about emotional abuse, about being sexually harassed, or underestimated because of our gender. I started thinking about the possibility of making an event for women in relation to music, but not about learning how to play instruments. But something so that women who weren’t necessarily musical could take the lessons we learned and use them in whatever way they felt they wanted to. When Ashley and I met, it was obvious we had really similar interests and plans. Our skillsets matched up and we decided to make it happen! It’s been such a ride and I can’t believe it’s happening this month!

ASHLEY: I have a degree in Music Business so my background is in events. I used to run a monthly band night for female identifying, gender queer and non-binary performers called Revolution Girl Style Now. In uni I organised a few panel-based events where I had women from the music industry talk to an audience about their experiences. Since then I had wanted to do that on a larger scale but had never found anyone else who I felt I could pull it of with. After chatting with Lou a few times we decided to go for it! We have both realised recently that the best way to get stuff done is to do it yourself. You have to create your own opportunities. Participants can expect to learn a lot and have fun. Hopefully the music industry can expect to have a lot of angry  women banging on their door ready to fuck things up and tear down their archaic tendencies.

How can people get involved?

LOU: COME TO THE EVENT! I can’t stress enough how important it is to show up. I think in these days of social media activism we all think that clicking ‘like’ and sharing will make a difference (and by all means please share and like our event and pages, cos this is important!) but activism is about showing up! We can change the world but the revolution will not be televised! We want to create a network of real live women to create art with, to write with, to make noise with and to change our communities for the better. If you can’t afford a ticket, or are anxious about accessibility or turning up to a room full of radge punks, drop us an email! I guarantee we will be able to help you out with discounted tickets or buddy you up with someone who will understand your fears.

ASHLEY: Aside from coming along on the day or to the gig: Right now we are trying our best to spread the word as far as possible so social media shout outs and retweets are great. Know the best place to put up posters? Let us know! Want to hand out some flyers – come get some! We are also open to ideas for collaboration with other feminist events or organisations so are happy to hear from people if they have an idea. Anything that sees us assisting other women, we are down.

What gender equality issues matter to you most, personally, and why?

LOU: I think violence against women in all it’s forms needs to end now. Sexual assault is hugely important to me in particular, and the perception of victims is so deeply rooted in our culture. We blame women and it is so disgusting to me to hear anyone, including other women, criticising or disbelieving women because they don’t fit society’s profile of a ‘good victim’. This is something I strongly believe needs to end. There has been research on society’s false perceptions of sexual assault since the 1980’s, really there is no excuse for the media to still perpetuate these falsehoods to the detriment of survivors everywhere. Let’s focus on the perpetrators, not the
victims.

ASHLEY: For me its gender-based violence too, specifically emotional abuse. I was in a horrendous relationship some time ago now but have only recently been in a place where I can deal with it. Before I was able to get counseling, music was the only way for me to express my pent up rage, if I wasn’t in a band I don’t know how I’d be coping. Also, having a community that I could go to and talk these things through with was so empowering for me. Sharing those experiences in a truly safe and inclusive space helped me build my confidence. I don’t know what I would do with out the support I get from Lou, the other women on the GRS committee or the girls in my band. They lift me up and make me feel powerful and supported. I hope that’s what women will walk away from Darefest with; a feeling of belonging and sisterhood.

What women do you identify with from the past and the present day?

LOU: Amy Winehouse. I relate to Amy so much, because she was a guitar-obsessed, singing, funny weirdo, who was very introspective and shy but had an overwhelming need to make music and get attention! She was brash, and not ladylike, and didn’t give a shit about what other people thought her writing should be like. Her lyrics are beyond anything and she spent hours creating them, which is my favourite part of making music. I love finding funny rhymes. Her style influences mine a lot too. I just love everything about her and I am still devastated that she passed away. I have a sign on my front door that says ‘Do it for Winehouse’ so every day when I go out, I’m reminded that life is fleeting, and it inspires me to keep writing and make good choices.

ASHLEY: Oooooh that’s tough! I’m gunna cheat and say Patti Smith past and present! I’m re-reading her and one defining moment in her life “The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passerby, my mother, the trees or the clouds.” Not shitting you, that exact same thing happened to me when I was about 12. I was on the bus to school and as we passed a field I could see through the battered hedge a swan run through the dirt and then take flight into the morning sun. It was fucking beautiful and I was overcome by my inability to describe it and I’ve been trying ever since.

What are your favourite smells and why?

LOU: The salty smell of the sea reminds me of my hometown of Kirkcudbright. I love the smell of muddy riverbeds in the summer, and the forest for the same reason. It reminds me of being a wild little kid! Walking past the chippy in winter is a great one. In fact, all of Edinburgh in autumn/winter smells fantastic. Really sharp, frosty air, decomposing leaves, smoky fires, and candyfloss from the Xmas market. Love it. ‘Chance’ by Chanel, as it reminds me of my mum. My nana’s house smells great, like cooking, flowers and cosyness! I also love the smell of petrol!

ASHLEY: I love lavender, I have some in a little bag with some smoky quartz under my pillow to help me sleep. Also that musty ass smell that you get in charity shops, the stronger the better! Reminds me of my gran. Sun moon and stars perfume, such a childhood smell. I think my mum had it and I loved it. And that smell when someone comes in from the cold? When my cat smells like that, it’s very familiar and nostalgic and reminds me of all my cats, past and present.

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

LOU: When I was in highschool I had a keyring on my backpack which said: BITCH: Babe In Total Control of Herself. I’d forgotten about it until I read this question and I now realise how important that mantra has been for me! I am very opinionated and quite frankly, that’s because I know quite a lot about different things. I’m also very sure of what I want, how I’m going to achieve it and how I am perceived (though sometimes I need my friends to prod me into relaxing for 2 mins!) So yeah, I’m a bitch! I do believe in the power of stating intention to make things happen… I’ve had some pretty spooky coincidences throughout my life so maybe I am a bit witchy. Hopefully Ashley can help me re-discover my witchy side, post DAREFest.

ASHLEY: Right now I am working on being both! Iv always been interested in witchcraft and have bought a lot of books on it recently. I’m teaching myself how to read tarot cards, which I love. On the bitch front, I have always been so scared to confront people on their shit for fear of not being liked. Recently however I have learned to deal with that and now that I know I can handle it I feel empowered and awesome. Witch bitch for life! That’s me and Lou’s next project; start a coven.

What advice would you give your past self about DAREFEST?

LOU: Ask other people for help earlier, you’ll be amazed how many people want to lift DAREFest up! Keep your head up grrrl!

ASHLEY: It’s going to be hard work but it will be worth it because you will be making a difference to the lives of other women. Slay my qween, slay.

What makes you a damn rebel bitch?

LOU: I’m confident and uncompromising about the need to empower women. I don’t care what you think I should be doing, or how I fit into your worldview. I want to be who I am, and use that to help other women. Confidence in yourself is the most liberating and rebellious thing you can do!

ASHLEY: I’m organised, driven, ambitious as fuck and ready to change the world.

Website – https://darefestedinburgh.wixsite.com/darefest

Eventbrite pagehttps://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/darefest-edinburgh- tickets-35303290091utm_campaign=new_event_email&utm_medium=email&utm_source=eb_email&utm_term=viewmyevent_button

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Portrait of Lou by Sarah Donley


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.


RECLAIMING OUR STREETS

MAJA JANOWSKA: RECLAIMING OUR STREETS

Maja Janowska, photographer, journalist and model, talks about the nightly terror of simply getting the bus to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My routine was failing.

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

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

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

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

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


WOMAN. A DANGEROUS BODY OF THOUGHT.

WOMAN. A DANGEROUS BODY OF THOUGHT.

I’m a poet and writer and in Scotland and Ireland I run Wild Women Creative Writing Workshops. All kinds of women come to these, with all levels of education and from all walks of life. And the one thing that astounds me time and again is their lack of confidence in owning and naming their own intimate body parts.

Though why should I, of all people, be surprised? After all, I was brought up by a Scots Presbyterian mother who thought the word ‘pregnant’ was rude. ‘Expecting’ was the preferred euphemism. And God forbid that words such as ‘nipple’ or breast’ should be uttered in daylight for fear of an immediate tumble into prostitution. You can imagine, therefore, that vulva, clitoris and vagina were so far beyond the pale I didn’t even know they existed till I got my hands on a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). (It’s pretty awful. Don’t buy it. It was all that was available in 1970.)

And here we are, multiple decades later, and I’m finding a fair number of women still squeamish about naming their own intimate body parts! (Not you, obviously. If you’ve visited the REEK website you’re well capable of shouting I LOVE MY VULVA at the top of your voice.)

But why, you may be wondering, do female body parts feature in my creative writing workshops? Well, that’s simple. The workshops are aimed at helping women find their true voice. The voice comes from the body as well as from the mind. That comes from lived experience in the physical world. A writer must be capable of writing anything she needs to write. If a writer cannot write from her vulva, write about her breasts, express the emotions of her uterus, explore her full female experience in all its complexity, she is limiting the range of her voice. She is operating on half power.  

A woman who is confident in naming her own body grows into a more confident woman, a woman able to take control of the language and influence it. A dangerous woman.

Names given to parts of the female body are often derogatory and objectifying. Think about it, even the term ‘old bag’ refers to the womb (and therefore the woman) being seen historically as no more than a container. An incubator. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale.

And as for ‘cunt’? Well, that’s got a long and colourful history! Some believe it’s related to a word for ‘wedge’ while others trace it to more elevated sources such as ‘priestess’. Whether you think it comes from Sanskrit or ancient Egyptian, or Norse, Irish or Klingon, it’s still the word that about 80% of women in any Wild Women Writing Workshop hate saying out loud. Yet it is a common and ancient word for part of their own bodies. By being taught from an early age to abhor this word, are they also being taught by stealth to undervalue their own intimate body, and by extension, themselves as women?

Inga Muscio says in her book, ‘cunt’,  “According to every woman-centered historical reference I have read – from M. Esther Harding to bell hooks – the containment of woman’s sexuality was a huge priority to emerging patrifocal religious and economic systems… Literally and metaphorically, the word and anatomical jewel presided at the very nexus of many earlier religions which impeded phallic power worship.”  Which is basically where we are today. A woman who ‘owns’ her cunt, who can talk about it easily and without fear or shame, who can even be proud of her cunt, is a dangerous woman. She is a direct challenge to the patriarchy.

But first and foremost I am a poet. That’s my preferred way to express myself. So here is a poem.  V****A, written, of course, with the help of my female body.

Magi’s new poetry collection, including V****A is just out. It is available http://www.luath.co.uk/washing-hugh-mcdiarmid-s-socks.html


DEMAND MORE ADVENTURE!

DEMAND MORE ADVENTURE!

The Museum of Childhood holds over 60,000 objects in its collection and the vast majority show a gender bias in one way or another.  Be it through colour, subject matter or images, there are messages to children about who they should aspire to be, how they should look and behave. This is especially represented throughout the book collection and is obvious in what has been produced for girls in the last 150 years.

Messages are often mixed – girls are encouraged to be adventurous, but also to make sure they look attractive and know how to catch a man – be it through obvious instructions in Jackie magazine about how to have glossy hair, or through nineteenth century moralistic fiction about how to be modest and god-fearing. It is often clear that once you’ve caught your man your aspirations for education, sports, solving mysteries and a career are to be put to one side.

You can track the history of attitudes to women and their place in society through the children’s book collection.  The books from the 1920s and 30s reflect the progress women were making in the post World War One era.  Some women had been given the vote, Amelia Earhart was performing aviation feats, Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel and Margaret Bondfield became the first woman cabinet minister.  However, girls and boys were still being informed of what was expected of their gender.

Herbert Strang’s Annual for boys in 1921 contains adventure stories, explains how ships and locomotives are designed and built, and features the art of wrestling.  Mrs Strang’s Annual for girls from 1923 also contains adventure stories alongside a guide to embroidery stitches and a story which has the opening line of ‘In the kingdom there lived a maiden who was not at all pretty and therefore could not have expected to marry a prince.’  Presumably this meant she had the freedom to pursue an academic career and find the cure for the common cold!

However there are many books of this era that encourage girls and young women to emulate the older generation who were pushing the boundaries for women, but after World War Two the focus shifts and the 1950’s girls and young women were once again encouraged into domestic settings, as men returning from war found their roles in society.

Sexism is not new, women have been fighting for a voice and for equality for centuries.  But what we predominantly think about in feminist conversation is the voice of women, adults – not necessarily how children are directed and moulded by seemingly innocuous toys and books.  The 1960s and 70s saw more and more focus on teenagers and their music, fashion and how they interacted with the opposite sex.  Magazines became the go-to oracle of advice.  Confusingly for girls Jackie magazines from the 1970s carried adverts for young women to join the Navy or Air Force, or study midwifery alongside articles on how to get a boyfriend and wear the fashions of the moment.

Today’s equivalent to earlier publications are no less gender specific. Hello Kitty is clearly targeted at girls with its bright pink cover and cutesy drawings, whereas footballing annuals, whilst possibly read by female football fans, have no coverage of women’s football and perpetuate the male domination of the sport.

In many ways the messages sent to children through mainstream books, toys and clothes have gone backwards in equality, rather than forward. Clothes shops have stands of pink and purple clothes for girls, and boys have the choice of dark blue and khaki. Similarly racks of children’s birthday cards are often stereotypically gender specific. Television talent and reality shows tell our teenage girls they should have false eyelashes and a fake tan to be successful.  We still have a long way to go to empower girls to know it is OK to be themselves and aspire to what interests and satisfies them – certainly in mainstream culture. This starts at a very young age. Of course these materials have to be judged alongside the wider social and family context, but certainly for the girl who wants-to-know most present-day materials don’t challenge the staus quo of gender stereotyping. We just have to hope that the adults around young children can help them to find more unusual materials or simply challenge the existing mainstream ones.