WOMAN. A DANGEROUS BODY OF THOUGHT.

WOMAN. A DANGEROUS BODY OF THOUGHT.

Scottish poet, Magi Smith, talks to REEK about womanhood alongside her poem “V****a”

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.


DEMAND MORE ADVENTURE!

DEMAND MORE ADVENTURE!

We speak with Lyn Wall from The Museum of Childhood about the issues with books and toys aimed at girls and why we should be demanding 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.


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.'

MY BLACK IS INFINITELY BEAUTIFUL

NINA MDWABA: MY BLACK IS INFINITELY BEAUTIFUL

Nina Mdwaba talks about her experience modelling as a woman of colour and how she is done with appeasing white culture’s beauty standards. We are with her, are you?

I was recently involved in a fashion show , where I happened to be the only model of colour. Don’t get me wrong I had a wonderful time and all the people were welcoming , I rarely felt like “the other”. But the closer we got to the show, the closer I knew I was getting to that time of the night I dreaded, where the mua and hair team came in.  

In that moment I knew that I would be made the “other”, the girl who had a face of glitter and bronze that barely showed on my dark skin. I don’t know if the mua team had not been informed that a darker skin model was going to be part of the team or (as I would expect from past experience) the mua and hair team didn’t really give a shit, but they didn’t have products suitable for me!

Now you may look at me and think, your hair is short, what were you expecting? My answer to that would be ,”not much” and to be frank that’s only because I’m used to the same tired , dismissive excuse of “you look great as is”. Well yes, but you have to imagine, when all the models were being fussed over with their sleek blonde hair ( as the show had been curated) I was seated with a face full of glitter and my natural (peroxide bleached) fro.

There was a bitter irony in the fact that one of the hair team members had luminous orange braids (just to throw some appropriation into the mix) but somehow had no idea what to do with a black girl’s hair, so I did my usual of running some water into my curls and that was me for the evening.

Growing up, I bought into the industry of weaves and chemically straightened hair, an industry that every black girl buys into because we’ve been assimilated into believing that the western aesthetic is the only aesthetic. My mother and her mother bought into it too – it’s what was taught to them.

Then I grew up, and the more I read about black beauty, the more I saw and the more I  became my own woman, I realised that I was no longer happy with adopting another’s perception of beauty, so I chopped off my hair and began to grow it naturally.

It didn’t solve my problems – if anything it made things more difficult. I found myself entering into black hair salons where stylists refused to touch my hair because they hadn’t a clue what to do with it now that it wasn’t chemically straightened. I was fed up , so I began to do the work.

I started watching YouTube tutorials, learning about protective hair styles and products that were good for my natural hair, oils and beautiful concoctions that made my curls pop and my hair glisten. I felt more at peace with myself, my appearance and my identity as a black woman. Something I didn’t know was being stripped from me.

It’s been 4 years since I’ve cut my hair and I still get the odd request from (white) people to touch my hair (it’s annoying but I don’t always mind). It’s also kind of sweet when they genuinely want to learn. I’m more than happy to teach people about OUR culture , OUR beauty and OUR natural hair.

It’s funny now I suppose, as I sit here writing this piece remembering the day I told my mother I had cut my hair. I remember the first thing that came out her mouth was “why, are you in mourning?” “Mourning?” I responded. As though something as tragic as a death would have to occur in order for a black woman to decide to cut her hair? I was dumbfounded.

Until I remembered that as a black, South African woman from a rich cultural background filled with traditions, one of which was that a woman/mother is expected to cut her hair when in mourning. Still, in a western setting my mother was unable to separate the two and in the same way, I was unable to put two and two together. I guess what it really came down to was that she too had been assimilated into the western concept of beauty – so much so, that even her own culture was secondary to the “norm” we’d been forced to adopt as our own.

So finally, I’ve reached a point in my life where compromising my Africanness and my blackness at my own expense for the comfort of the West is no longer an option I’m willing to entertain. This is for a number of reasons, but I also  endured a traumatising experience after New Year back home, in what my country supposedly refers to as “A Rainbow Nation” where “every race and diversity is celebrated”. A white man told me I wasn’t black enough because  of the lightness of my skin, referring to me as “mocha” He used horrible racist slurs around me in an attempt at what he probably thought was “banter”. He did this even after I asked him several times to stop, and reminded him that it wasn’t only inappropriate but offensive. I eventually walked away because I realised that you can’t change the mentality of a racist, you can only walk away and hope they haven’t left a permanent mark.

As such I’ve come to an informal agreement with myself that when I see fit , I will educate those who are willing to learn and when I see a wasted opportunity I will walk away. Some people are just not worth the effort.

Optimistically, I hope for a day where the colour of my skin, the texture of my hair and my gender will be a mere aesthetic and not a clarion call to stereotypes, prejudice and hatred. Because My Black Is Infinitely Beautiful.


An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Sarah Moore to accompany her LGBTQ article and poem for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

THROWING BRICKS THROUGH GLASS

SARAH ELIZABETH MOORE: THROWING BRICKS THROUGH GLASS

An unretouched image of Damn Rebel Bitch Sarah Moore to accompany her LGBTQ article and poem for REEK Perfume's blog platform 'Bitches Unite.'

To celebrate LGBTQ month we invited activist Sarah Elizabeth Moore to write a feminist poem.

Have you heard of Sutton House in the heart of Hackney? You may have seen it featured in the Daily Mail, which outlined how its current year-long programme has bastardised the sanctity of the house. Or that’s what they said. I think Sutton House has done something amazing. It took the audacious decision to use its status as a National Trust property to programme Queered: a 365-day strong programme of exhibitions and events in celebration of the LGBT community, its diversity and history. For this, I was asked to photograph portraits of Munroe Bergdorf, a beautiful and inspirational woman. To accompany these images -now on display in the house until Easter – I wrote a poem. I called my exhibition Throwing Bricks Through Glass. I hope it inspires you to keep on fighting. Solidarity, forever.

Throwing bricks through glass
There’s something to be said for intrusion.For trespassing in spaces that ‘don’t belong to us’.For visibility and glowing pride, making and taking history as ours.We fight for what we want – for what we deserve.
In our world, we worship and celebrate the marginalized.We create our own idols.We believe in the power of love and fire, of progress and politics and greater good.Of equality for all, not only what’s palatable to the heteronormative.
Adapted, adopted, we belong in this space.We belong here and now.A step through the mirror.
Marsha’s fist and Christopher Street.
We aren’t there yet, but on our way.
Take what’s yours.Take up space.Scream.Be visible, proud, vulgar, bold and brilliant.Be clever and calm and better.Fracture the ceiling that patriarchy has built to contain us.
Tear it down.
And we’ll keep throwing bricks through glass.Shattering it.
We are the energy. It’s us now.


WHO'S AFRAID OF VAGINAS

WHO'S AFRAID OF VAGINAS

by Ruth McGlynn

Feminist Ruth McGlynn muses on the power of perception of the vagina. 

Pussy, fanny, foof, flower, whatever you call it, it’s a part of us that is often kept under wraps. Seeing a pair of boobs on screen (even if those pesky nipples remain censored) is now a common occurrence, but representations of actual real-life vaginas are few and far between. As a result, there has arisen a skewed and unrealistic expectation for both women and men of what to expect from lady parts, and as a sexual organ, their only consistent representation is in porn.

Now we’ve all watched it in some capacity, and I’m stating the obvious when I say that porn vaginas are super-weird and un-vagina-ey (no offence porn ladies). But as a young girl, I stupidly thought, this must be what everyone looks like apart from me. I freaked out. I sat on the toilet with a pair of scissors and thought about cutting my labia off. I imagined what a perfect and lovely sight my new vagina would be to behold, and I honestly I thought it was a really good idea for 3 whole minutes. I then realised it was actually really stupid because I would literally bleed to death clutching these tiny severed flaps of skin in my cold, dead hands. Being the logical young woman that I was (still am) I set to work, seriously looking into labiaplasties. This was the more sensible, medically sanctioned option, in which my vagina would begin to resemble more closely the only other ones I’d seen before, both on the internet and in sex ed. I settled in my head that once I got a proper job, the labiaplasty would be how I would resolve all of my issues: I would finally get a boyfriend and get married and rose petals and rainbows would follow me wherever I went. For years I had the thought looming in the back of my head, and was very self-conscious about it.

Reflecting on it now, I thought those thoughts were just the consequence of me being an insecure teenage girl and nothing more. However, then this this video cropped up on reddit (https://vimeo.com/9924049). Although it’s from 6 years ago, it spookily validates my experience in a weird way- and I’m sure loads of other women’s too. The video explains that in Australian soft porn, any vagina that is considered to be ‘non-discreet’, i.e. if the labia hang down, must be censored and airbrushed because of legislation enforced by the advertising standards agency. The idea of a ‘non-discreet’ vagina covers labia that either protrude excessively, or are overly pigmented. These qualities are deemed ‘offensive’. As a result of legislation like this, more women are pushed into thinking that their vaginas are abnormal. And aside from the graphic footage of a woman’s labia being shaved with a scalpel, (or the term ‘discreet vagina’) what I find more disturbing, is the image of some creep airbrushing and photoshopping female genitals (possibly the most gross word ever, but weirdly appropriate here) until nothing but a so called “single crease” remains.

I don’t know if anyone’s vagina actually looks like this (there isn’t anything wrong with it!), but to me this is one of the more perverse and insidious ways which women are taught to devalue and even fear their bodies. I’m not saying this is a problem experienced solely by women – simply that this overt censoring of the female body, to the point which many women feel their own vaginas to be abnormal, and that their only viable “solution” is surgery, is a disturbing consequence of our societal pursuit of “perfection”.  If we’ve managed to at least begin to make in-roads into rejecting an unrealistic one-size-fits-all, Barbie-doll aesthetic when it comes to our bodies, then why are we still expected to aspire toward this when it comes to our pussies?

The media sometimes shows a variety of body shapes and types – and it has become clear that diversity is the order of the day when it comes to what many women, want to see. Do all bodies look the same? No. So it’s obvious that an uncommon, unrealistic and frankly unattainable ideal has attracted a degree of backlash. Yet this backlash hasn’t extended to below our waists. Why should it? It’s not like women sit around discussing their foofs the same way they might with other, more visible body parts.

For centuries the norm has been to ignore it – we all know we have one, so why can’t we leave it in peace? But when people start to regulate and censor, portraying a new normal which doesn’t exist (THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “NORMAL” VAGINA!) then a dialogue needs to begin. But if mainstream images are manipulated, when do women ever get to see normal diversity?

From a more official stance rather than my wild and disturbing anecdote, according to the NHS website, a labiaplasty costs between £1,000-3,000 and cites that:

‘It’s natural and normal for a woman to have noticeable skin folds around her vaginal opening and, in most cases, this shouldn’t cause any problems. 

A labiaplasty can be expensive and the operation carries a number of risks. There’s also no guarantee you’ll get the result you expected, and it won’t necessarily make you feel better about your body.’

Despite this advice- which seems discouraging whilst perhaps acknowledging the fact that many women who desire these surgeries aren’t entirely sure of their own anatomy- the number of labiaplasties performed on the NHS was cited to have risen 5 fold over the past ten years. (https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/rcog-release-reasons-behind-an-increase-in-female-genital-cosmetic-surgery-in-australia-and-the-united-kingdom-explored-at-the-rcog-world-congress/) And the number of these surgeries performed even significantly surpassed the butt lift in America in 2015 (http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/ASAPS-Stats2015.pdf). Many surgeons have cited the reasons for these surgeries being performed either as insecurity stemming from pornography, or lack of education as to what is or is not normal.

This marks another instance of inadequate education, or people being afraid to discuss natural bodily functions leading to girls feeling insecure about their bodies. And so the problem is being perpetuated by a number of institutions, and the lack of clarity surrounding these issues intensifies. Without women’s contributions, and proper education, these patterns will repeat themselves, and more women and girls will continue to turn to more drastic measures in an attempt to adhere to this societally constructed notion of beauty. Which is so stupid, because honestly vaginas are really lovely, the way they are. So please if you are reading this, don’t cut off your labia! (esp not with unsterilized scissors whilst sitting on the bog!)


ROOM FOR REBELLION

Room for Rebellion

An interview with Isis O’Regan

Feminist activist, Isis O’Regan talks about the Room for Rebellion project to support the Repeal the 8th Campaign in Ireland and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Tell us a bit about room for rebellion and the brilliant bitches involved… 

Room for Rebellion is two sister nights in London and Dublin supporting one cause. We want to see the 8th Amendment removed from the Irish constitution. All funds raised will be going to the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the Abortion Rights Campaign. We want women to have autonomy over their own bodies and put simply, choice. This means safe and legal abortions. And yes, on demand.

There are so many brilliant bitches involved! The eight DJ’s of course! (Eight for the 8th – geddit?) They’re all passionate, hugely talented and very generous to give their free time and talents to get us dancing for choice. As well as Rachel Botha, who is my woman on the ground in Dublin. It wouldn’t be possible without her!

What pushed you to get involved with the repeal the 8th movement in such an active way? 

In November, I went along to the first London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign meeting, which is being run by a group of incredible women including Hannah Little  – who I’d met through a mutual friend. Over 250 women and men turned up for the meeting each one as passionate as the next to bring about change in our homeland. There are a huge number of Irish expats here in London and we won’t shy away from the issues that affect the women who are our family and our friends.

I needed to start something as I am a firm believer in equality and I’m not going to sit back and just hope something will change. Educating people that this is happening right now in Ireland and also here in the UK too is a priority. The same draconian laws govern Northern Ireland and are punishable by servitude for life. I want people to be engaged and if that’s by shouting loudly and getting them on dance floors – that’s what I’ll do. Rebellion can take many forms and these nights are carefully curated to do exactly that! We must show our support for our sisters in Ireland and worldwide.

Do you feel there is a big change happening in Ireland? And if so do you think that same sex marriage legalisation has had a part in that awakening? 

Definitely, I think it showed how powerful we are when we stand together and the result has instilled confidence in our voices. ‘Strike for Repeal’ is following the women of Poland and is taking place on the 8th March. It proved to be successful there so I hope everyone gets striking in Ireland too. I’ll strike here! It’s very clear that there is a hungry generation eager to make a difference.

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

Viv Albertine from the Slits who is punk as fuck – I met her last year and my heart nearly exploded. I’m down with Vivienne Westwood’s climate change mission. Anna Cosgrave for everything she does with REPEAL and being the megaphone for young Irish women. Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Olson and Christine Tran who founded Discwoman. All the brains behind Gal-dem and Ladybeard. Big up Mhairi Black. Each woman in Sinead McCoole’s historical account; ‘Easter Widows’. My mates too, lol I’m cringe but they’re some seriously wicked gals with enormous talent and drive.

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

Who me? I’m shy… Ha! In all honesty when I’m passionate about something I just do it. Simple as that.


EVERYDAY FEMINISM

Everyday Feminism

Male feminist, Jonathan Ruppin, talks about the day he realised his privilege in being a white, middle class man and became an activist. Everyday sexism? Why not everyday feminism instead?

I was brought up a liberal middle-class Londoner, for whom equal rights – for people of any identity – was the only political position to take. I would have bristled at the notion that I was even capable of prejudice, and if feminism meant equal rights for women, then a feminist I most certainly was.

I was familiar with the litany of harassment and abuse to which women are subjected. I had often had cause to sympathise with female friends, but my apprehension was that sexism was the doing of people of another generation, another class, another political standpoint. My cohort – at least so I believed – did not tolerate the leering and sleazy demands of a boys’ club mentality.

Then a few years ago, I was at a party hosted by publisher Simon & Schuster, an occasion for booksellers to meet authors of theirs with books due out in the upcoming months. I chatted, with mild interest, to a couple of novelists and an historian, and quietly steered my way around the publicist trying to elicit interest in a reality TV star hawking a glittery, ghostwritten autobiography.

But then I was introduced to a woman whose book title I knew as a recurrent hashtag on Twitter. She was Laura Bates and her book, like the campaign she had initiated via a website in 2012, was called Everyday Sexism.

Laura didn’t speak of builders bellowing at passing women or boorish senior managers with wandering hands or braying cityboys in bars. She walked me through the structures of society as seen from a woman’s point of view.

Why do women find themselves losing out on promotions to less qualified men or getting paid less for identical jobs? Why is it still the case that the prominent figures in almost every field are mostly men? Why do toys specifically marketed at girls shy away from action, adventure and technology? Why are women subjected to so much more – and so much more threatening – abuse on social media? Why are such unrealistic, unhealthy and judgmental ideals of beauty imposed upon women?

Laura didn’t try to enforce her view on me, but simply allowed a pattern to unfold: the ongoing mistreatment of women in ways that pervade every aspect of society.

While society is hardly free of old-fashioned sexists, what I had failed to appreciate before this point is that much of the problem is unconscious bias, the perpetuation of deeply ingrained attitudes and stereotypes that went largely unchallenged until relatively recently. (Even from a purely legal point of view, women’s suffrage is less than a century old and the Sex Discrimination Act came into force only in 1975.)

Sexism comes from a position of power, like any form of bullying, so it is rarely a simple thing to confront. We may encourage women to demand fair treatment, but fighting back comes with risks: in the workplace, for instance, it may cost a woman a job she simply cannot afford to lose, no matter the theoretical protections of the law.

So what can a man do? Three things, I suggest.

First, and most importantly, we must listen. Too often, we can find ourselves explaining the experience of being women to women, instead of asking them for theirs. We need to move beyond sympathy and develop true empathy for women living under a persistent imbalance of opportunity and fair treatment.

Second, we should add our voices to those of women demanding fair treatment and challenge misogynist views wherever we encounter them. When those who are not the victims speak out, it reinforces the demand for change.

Third, we should champion Laura Bates and other feminist campaigners such as Malala Yousafzai, Caroline Criado-Perez, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Stella Creasey, holding them up as role models for young women. For young men too: if the women leading the reshaping of society are respected, it sets a precedent for women everywhere.

There is a broader principle here, of course. Just as those of us who are not women should care about women’s lives, so too should those of us who are not black or disabled or gay – or any identity at all – look out for those who are. A fairer society is a healthier and happier one, one where those with out power cannot be turned against each other by identity politics, where those with power can only retain it if they concern themselves with the wellbeing of us all.

by Jonathan Ruppin 


An image of the Women’s March in London to accompany an article about The Women’s March across Europe for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s blog.

WOMEN'S MARCH

Bitches Unite: Women's March #PussyGrabsBack

Today people around the world joined forces to stand up for equality at the women’s march in Washington, London, Paris, Edinburgh, Berlin and more. The atmosphere was infectious and inspirational. REEK. perfume’s activist team was at three marches in different cities. Here’s how it was.

LONDON

As we arrived thousands were already placed in Trafalgar Square. Signs and placards proudly held up high telling everyone what they were there to shout about.

“PUSSY GRABS BACK”“You can’t comb over sexism”“I’d call you a cunt, but you don’t have the depth or the warmth’“Queefs not trumps”“Nasty women unite”“If abortion is murder than a blow job is canabalism”

Women, men and children united in their anger and hoping to change a tainted world. We watched in awe as inspirational feminists stood up and got the crowd cheering, singing and screaming. Surrounded by effigies of Trump, Theresa May and signs proclaiming the atrocities faced by my fellow protesters every day, you’d think it would be a  reminder of all the reasons to give up. But it wasn’t. There was something that stopped me in my tracks. The humour. Instead of feeling angry at the terrible times faced by those I stand shoulder to shoulder with, I felt solidarity that this many people think that the world is ridiculous as I do right now. That we can all laugh together AND be angry.

EDINBURGH

Edinburgh’s Women’s March was organised by a 17 year old girl who thought that perhaps 40 people would turn up outside the US Consulate. Thousands pitched up instead – a rainbow of diversity with banners from political groups like Amnesty International, the Women’s Equality Party, Women for Independence to concerned people who had (by their own admission) never been politically active before. Speakers called for today to be a start of daily action to stand, in solidarity with Americans and fight for equality. The atmosphere was fun – women were there with babies in prams, hundreds wearing ‘pussycat’ knitted hats as police joked with the attendees and local choirs sang protest songs. The early morning fog lifted and the sun came out. Quickly, people found their voices and came up to the mike – one old man in his 80s told the crowd he’d lived through WWII and the only way to get through tough times was acceptance of yourself and others. The crowd cheered wildly as another, male feminist handed out golden acorns as a symbol that this movement will grow. Vonny Moyes talked about the right to diversity and an American woman who had never campaigned in her life, said this was the start for her – she had found her cause. Scotland knows Trump better than many countries – and longtime campaigners who protested his golf development in Aberdeen were present with personal tales of his way of doing business. ‘Roll up your sleeves,’ one woman said, ‘and we shall prevail.’

PARIS

Full of coffee, DAMN REBEL BITCH stickers in hand and with enough battery to last me a couple of hours, I headed to the Eiffel Tower. Sauntering alone in the sunshine, taking in the beautiful views I began to think I had possibly missed it. But as I neared the famous landmark I began to hear chanting from a few blocks away. Following the sound I soon came across thousands people of different ages and backgrounds following a brass band down Avenue de La Bourdonnais with signs in numerous languages. Some rude, some funny, but all relevant. I slapped a REEK “pussy grabs back” sticker on my cat-like hat and joined the crowd.

As we marched our way down the streets I couldn’t help but feel a kind of magic, a fiery energy. I was alongside people who felt the same as I, who wanted to make a stand. They danced, they shouted (mostly in French but I tried to join in) and soon I found myself talking to strangers about the dire situation we all currently find ourselves in with the recent inauguration. It’s obvious this hasn’t just affected America, but the world.

The march finished at the square just off Place Joffre, where the brass band continued to play everything from Baroque music to “This land is your land” which I found both slightly ironic and fitting. The sun slowly sunk behind the iron latice tower and I stood around taking the atmosphere in I watched teenagers climb the near by monuments screaming “fuck Trump”, people crying, rejoicing, taking photos…it was a mixed bag of emotions but I genuinely felt like I was part of something.

People say marching doesn’t do very much. Voting doesn’t do anything, the system is corrupt. I didn’t feel that today. I felt a surge of energy, a monumental rebellion in progress, women standing side by side abhorring the horrific laws pending and ludicrous opinions of POTUS. We won’t be ignored. Today’s worldwide march proved that.


Image of model for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s rebellious, feminist, unretouched, campaign.

THE AGE OF THE BITCH

Vonny Moyes: The Age of the Bitch – time for misogynists to feel our anger

Journalist, feminist and activist, Vonny Moyes, on reclaiming the word bitch as a positive thing. The age of the bitch is now. 

There are lots of things going on in the world right now, but it feels rather like we’ve been flipped inside out. There has been a lot to get mad about for quite some time, but this week The Bucket of Ignorance truly hath runneth over with grade-A sexist bunk. The fact that the negative stereotypes of the gender binary intersect with everything – politics, sport, journalism and beyond – mean that they are impossible to ignore. Now seems like a prudent point to stop and cogitate on the absurdity of where we find ourselves, as a supposedly advanced civilisation. If you want to quickly take the temperature of the current conversation, just type Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton into any social media platform. If you need something a little closer to home, try Ched Evans, and marvel at the number of men offering to rape women as punishment. This sort of on-the-sleeve vitriol has become normal.

Yet this – the sexual assault stuff – is the only thing so far that seems to have dented the Trump train in any way. Why? Because enough of us have reach the tipping point. This is one feather too many on the scale. For a lot of us,

2016 is the year the passivity bandwidth has maxed out. The year the patience well has run dry. We’re finally finding our ovaries and saying “this is not okay”. And yes, we really have to say this out loud, because even though it’s blindingly obvious to every woman out there, people still think calling it a joke vindicates it in some way. A prime example from just last week was Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates having to underline to Radio 4’s Justin Webb the danger of conflating sexual assault with compliments.

We’re all thinking how absurd it is that we need to keep having this conversation. We all know we’re conditioned to minimise and de-escalate, but somehow seeing this play out on such an enormous, hyperreal scale has prompted many women to speak up. This week Michelle Obama perfectly verbalised what we’ve all been screaming internally. If you haven’t seen her speech, I suggest you watch it – that your spouses and children watch it – because nothing has more elegantly vocalised the frustration of being female bodied and watching this car-crash play out. And not just the presidential election campaign, I’m talking about the culture of plain-sight misogyny this campaign has come to typify.

For most of my adult life, aside from on paper, I’ve played my feminism cool. The desire to be socially accepted has meant I’ve pushed down bits of me that would disrupt the niceties if I were to speak my mind. The thoughts and feelings have always been there, but I haven’t necessarily felt like I could bring them out. It’s a product of being shy-ish in person and the social conditioning that every little girl is taught. That subtle from-birth training to adhere to cultural and social norms. Be deferential. Be polite. Do your best to be liked.

But all the while, even though it’s against my natural instincts, I’ve found it harder and harder to bite my tongue. Every news story. Every microaggression. Every violent tweet. Every unwanted grab. Every loaded “sweetheart” or “darling” or “snowflake”. Every time my daughter is complimented for her looks and my sons for their intellect. Each has glaciated the surface of my personality, to the extent that I’ve moved from being the uncomfortable eyebrow raiser, to someone happy to pierce the atmosphere with a “no”. Significant when you’ve spent your life trying to be quiet and good.

Lots of other women feel this way. I refuse to believe any well-minded woman hears that sort of bilge 2016 has exposed us to and feels 100 per cent okay with it. Even if she’s trying to be a The Cool Girl or The Quiet Girl or The Good Wife. Feminists are not fringe. We’re just not easy to spot because of the caricature we’ve been given. The paint-by-numbers feminist who doesn’t wear makeup, probably has a raging bush, and wanders around screaming “I HATE MEN” while slapping them with Simone de Beauvoir books.

That’s so far removed from the truth. So many are only beginning to find their voices as a consequence of others speaking out. It’s a safety in numbers thing. As Caitlin Moran says: if you have a vagina and want to be able to decide what to do with it, congratulations – you’re a feminist. That matters whether you want to keep that vagina at home, or share it with others, or put it in The White House, or do whatever you like with it, while being free of aggression or expectation. Yes, as western women we’ve got a sweet deal by comparison. We can get an education. We can go to work. We can get an abortion. We’re probably not going to be forced into a child marriage. We’re fairly unlikely to be trafficked or have our children abducted by Boko Haram. We’re at little risk from female genital mutilation. We don’t face the threat of honour killings or acid attacks. So while here in the west, we’re mostly not dying, plenty of women elsewhere are. Plenty of women who can’t tell you how inconvenient it is to be raped or beaten or cut or killed. Even when they do tell you, we’ve created a culture where gender bias is so naturalised, they’re not always believed. So we need to be loud. And yes – we are angry. Anger is an appropriate response to the non-exhaustive list above.

THAT’S why I’m done with speaking out being an added-extra. I’m done with hidden feminism. I’m finished with being the plainclothes officer who only flashes the badge when it counts. I hope you’ll consider doing the same. Right now it counts. Society tells us to be quiet and pliant. We laugh off the dude that stands too close to us. We don’t smack away the wandering digits of the creepy guy on the bus. Instead of finding our voices, we freeze and accept, and feel dirty afterwards.

Enough.

This is bigger than us. We know feminism isn’t just for women, but we need to keep saying this aloud until it’s crystal clear. The fortification of the gender binary hurts all of us. It’s about freeing everyone from the expectations and inequalities of each, and creating the freedom to be yourself – despite what society tells you you should be because of your assigned gender.

This week I heard a brilliant phrase. Cheryl Strayed, the award-winning American author, described this growing refusal to comply as “The Age of The Bitch”. How perfect is that? This dismantling of the need to be liked that bridles us to keeping things palatable for others is what we need to embrace.

So ladies, it’s time to unhook ourselves from that conditioning. Your voices of dissent are needed more than ever, because it’s about to get worse. Now is the time for us to take action that will shape the future.

As The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle points out, however the US election goes, it’ll open the floodgates of misogyny that will reverberate far beyond politics, and far beyond the US. If Hillary Clinton wins, we all know the sort of language that will colour the political grievances. And if Trump wins, we have a man in the highest and perhaps most visible office in the world saying it’s okay to assault women.

Today I called something sexist bullshit in the street, much louder than a whisper, and you know what? The sky didn’t fall on my head. And what’s even better, it felt honest and real. So let’s be loud. Let’s be abrasive. Let’s dig our heels in and be that bitch.

 

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE NATIONAL NEWSPAPER OCTOBER 2016