Sexual Health with SH:24

SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

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

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

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

How did the organisation come about?

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

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

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

How can people get involved with SH:24?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the SH:24 website for more information… 


A Brief History of the Witch Trials

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 

WITCH TRIALS

It’s almost Halloween and we’re feeling witchy. Here is a brief history of the witch trials and one case we find particularly interesting…

Where it happened? 

In Europe the worst were witch trials were in Scotland and Germany. From about 1590 to 1670 at least 4000 people were killed in Scotland and some estimates go as high as 7000 deaths. 75% of them were women. In Germany it ran from about 1560 – 1670 and the numbers of those killed were higher – certainly over 10 000 people and some estimates go as high as 20 000. There were witch trials all over the Europe and America, famously in Salem. The Scottish and German trials were undoubtably the most far reaching and gruesome.

What happened after the trial?

Once they were found guilty, witches were drowned. It was believed that their bodies might rise from the dead, so the corpses were burned publicly. A lot of people believe that witches were burnt alive at the stake but this was quite rare. Some women escaped but in the main if you were accused you were convicted – it was very difficult to get out of. In many cases several charges were brought against individual women and they might manage to get out of some of the charges but not that of being a witch. 

Who were the witches? 

Mostly it was women on the fringes. Those without protection. So working class women and often older women were those particularly prosecuted. Anyone could be accused but those who were ‘different’ or who spoke out, perhaps fell out with their neighbours were more likely to be accused. Sometimes people with disabilities were targeted. Once a woman was accused she was questioned (and that included torture) to see if she would turn evidence on her coven. These women were terrified. Many turned in neighbours, family and friends just to stop the pain. 

Where can we find out more about witch trials? 

The court records still exist in archives – the handwritten notes from the trials. Parish records where they survive can also be helpful.This was a time before birth certification and so details of people’s lives were held by the church. Most archives are available to the public though you have to provide ID and follow the rules of the individual institution like only being able to take in pencils (no pens). There are also lots of witchy artefacts in museums – spell boxes for example and instruments of torture. If you’re interested in finding out the real nitty gritty about female history your local archives and libraries are a good place to start. 

Here is little about a witch trial that us bitches and witches  think is particularly interesting…

 There isn’t much information about the women prosecuted of witchcraft unless they were particularly well to do or the odd infamous case. Because most women accused of witchcraft were workers, we mostly don’t have many details about their lives – birth dates are out of the question, as there was no system of certification in those days. They have, however, left their marks in some places on the landscape. Take Kitty Rankine who was burned as a witch in Scotland in 1603. Growing up in a small village, Kitty was said to have second sight, which she inherited from her mother. When her mother died, Kitty found work at Abergeldie Castle and the Lady of the house consulted her, for her powers. Kitty would have been well advised not to play ball, but she screed (put water in a bowl and looked into the future) The Laird of the castle was overseas and she saw him sporting with other women. She told the lady, who was furious, and asked Kitty to raise a storm to kill her husband on his way home. Kitty refused, saying she didn’t have that kind of power. But as it happened, a storm did kill the Laird when he was on his way home and Kitty was charged with causing it and drowning him. The 400th anniversary of her execution was marked in 2003 by a bonfire on the Creag nam Bam (Hill of the Women) near Ballater, where she was killed. The wind on the top of the Creag is very loud and locals say it is the ghost of Kitty Rankine, screaming.

“We are the grand daughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” – an apt quote from Tish Thawer.

Although historical witch craft is often portrayed in the media there are still cases of women being prosecuted. In 2011 Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft. 

So we are the grand daughters of the witches that you weren’t able to burn, but we stand by the women still being persecuted. Witches unite. 

We want to highlight forgotten females from history. If you have a story you’d like to share get in touch with Molly at info@reekperfume.com 


Why The Witch Trials Are A Feminist Issue

WHY THE WITCH TRIALS ARE A FEMINIST ISSUE

Our head bitch, Sara Sheridan is focusing on Scotland’s witches as part of a wider project – Where are the Women? : an imagined female atlas of Scotland, which will be published next May. But why are the witch trials a feminist issue? 

Finding women’s voices from history is like treasure hunting. There I  am, in a sea of papers in an archive, digging for days and if I’m lucky, I come across a letter, a journal or an old book and wham, it’s like that woman is right next to me, telling me what she had for breakfast, or what she’s afraid of, or best of all, what she is dreaming about. I have been hooked on this kind of time travel for years and I’ve written a dozen novels, re-imagining those voices – amplifying them and melding fact with fiction. History is important. I believe we can’t fully understand our culture if we don’t know where we came from. The stories of the Scottish witch trials has always fueled my own feminist fire. 

When I founded REEK perfume with my daughter Molly we wanted to  memorialize amazing (and often forgotten) women through scent. I love the idea of perfume as a silent rebellion – no-one needs to know you’re commemorating forgotten Jacobite heroines as you swish by. For DAMN REBEL WITCHES it was important to us and our perfumer Sarah McCartney that the eau de parfum reflected the real lives of women from the witch-hunting era – outdoor smells of riverbank and crushed leaves as well as a whiff of 17th century domestic life – oak moss (used in medicine at the time), malt and hazelnuts. The resulting perfume is complex and it smells dark and kind of haunting. It was important that it was truly gender fluid – a smell that could be traditionally female and male at the same time.

People find the history of the witches fascinating and strongly identify with it. There is a ‘hallowe’en’ perception of witchcraft – a folklore version – which is seductive – more whore than hag, I’d say. Central to it is the idea that these women really practiced magic. As a storyteller, I understand the allure of that but as a historian I come back again and again to the reality. These were not women involved in a power struggle they had a chance of winning – there is no magic to their stories. They were terrified. Once an accusation of witchcraft went to a Scottish court it was difficult to get out of it. The persecution of the witches (in Scotland far more extreme than in most other European countries, with the possible exception of Germany) is a largely uncommemorated piece of our female history, and this is one reason why it is a feminist issue. Another is that it was extremely rare for men to be prosecuted – a handful of cases out of literally thousands. This is something that happened to women and in particular to women who were different – who spoke out, didn’t get on with their neighbours, who were vulnerable because of their age, infirmity, disability or sexuality. There are cases where the family of a witch was cast out after her death – banned from the local community. What happened devastated female life in Scotland for decades and sent a strong message to conform in all things.

This year, I embarked on a project commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland, reimagining an atlas of the country that does justice to the history of our women. I have been working in this field for two decades, looking at individual stories, but it wasn’t until I examined our history as a whole, I realized how many amazing women we have forgotten. Some are heroines – scientists, writers, sportswomen, actresses and activists – others were victims, like the witches. I was reminded of the words of the poet, Mairi Mhor nan Oran who exhorted us tostudy our witches as well as our saints’ and I began to look more closely at how we commemorate these women and what is left of their stories, fragments of which are available in contemporary court records. Agnes Finnie, a moneylender from Edinburgh who was drowned in 1645 while cursing the crowd ‘May the Devil blaw ye blind’. Maud Galt from Kilbarchen, Renfrewshire prosecuted as a lesbian (for assaulting her maidservant with what sounds like a 17th century sex-toy) as well being charged with being a witch. Janet Horne executed in Dornoch in 1727, thought now to be suffering from senile dementia, heartwrenchingly she had no idea what was in store and is said to have warmed herself by the fire that was being set to burn her body.

History is written by the winners, and Scotland’s witches were losers, every one. I believe, however, it is the sign of a mature civilization to recognize its victims. If we are looking for examples, we need look no further than Germany and Berlin in particular, where the city’s history weighs heavily on its built environment with raw memorials recognising (and apologizing for) its part in the Holocaust as well as telling the chilling story of the decades from the Berlin Wall going up until it came down again.

The cultural impact of commemorating our winners (and particularly our female winners) is huge – it affords, among other things, role models for a new generation because when you see that women before you have been judges and musicians, pilots and ground-breaking scientists, it seems possible or even normal to achieve your dreams. In commemorating our victims, however, the process is different. We must make a promise not to forget and more importantly, not to repeat our worst failings. In the witches’ case this needs to be done while navigating the intersection of folklore and history – there is glamour to the witches. The roots of the word glamour, interestingly, refer back to the magic of the faerie world, but unlike the faerie folk the witches are demonstrably real. They are our foremothers and we imagined them to be in league with the devil. We hunted them down, drowned them and burned their bodies. In the modern world witchcraft movement is about sisterhood and attuning to nature and it’s important that anything we say about the witches of the past, also respects that movement in the present.

I am not the only Scottish writer who is interested in highlighting this important issue. Drs Claire Askew and Alice Tarbuck are running Toil and Trouble, a six-week course of witchcraft history, theory and practice starting in November. Claire says “The lack of recognition for real, historical women accused of witchcraft was the main reason I wanted to run the course. We need to better remember them.” For me too, that’s what creating a whiff of our past was about – to silently commemorate the witches while still honouring the present. As a country, it’s time for Scotland to properly memorialize our 16th and 17th century witches – not with the scattering we have of monuments to the legend of individual women but something with gravitas, that recognizes what happened to thousands of our foremothers, and the impact that had on our culture.

This article was first printed in The National on Sunday newspaper on 21st October 2018.


SPILL STORIES GETS SMELLY

SPILL STORIES
GETS SMELLY

Who doesn’t love a spill story? From sex & power, secrets & insecurities to our all time favourite, finding home in food @spill_stories instagram account is enjoyably addictive. We speak to the boss bitch who shares all… 

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

Social media content is usually superficial. Often, the most challenging, real parts of our lives are invisible to others. Ironically, social media actually enhances isolation. Spill Stories is an online and offline community that uses honest storytelling to build real community among women of colour. Online, we feature series like Sex & Power and Secrets & Insecurities, where women share and connect over deeply personal, cathartic stories. Offline, our storytelling events and monthly writing workshops encourage relationships and genuine conversations. The profits from our May event, Truth & Travel, contributed towards 14 Hong Kong refugee children’s school fees.

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to start up spill stories?

Spill Stories was born out my own unhappiness. I live in Hong Kong, one of the major world metropolises, and it can be tough. The transience of the city makes it alienating. After a bad breakup and with nothing to lose, I took to my personal Instagram to start writing about some of my struggles. People commented saying they liked the writing. This feedback gave me the courage to start Spill Stories and create the community that I wanted through writing. The word spill in itself is how I believe stories are told best – honestly and unabashedly.

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

Everything goes back to my mom. She was the very first person who encouraged me to write by buying me a journal when I was 6. Her Chinese blog on WenXueCity has received over 8.3 million views to date. I have always been impressed by her ability to express herself confidently, craft a story, and command a room’s attention. She taught me the power of words, both written and spoken. When I first started Spill Stories, I got nervous but remembered the way she would shake off obstacles with nonchalance, like, “No shit, of course I can do this.” She’s got this stubborn confidence that many immigrants have out of necessity. How else can you defy all the odds to create the unknown – a life in a foreign land with no clear roadmap? That confidence has been passed on to me and drives my ambition.

How can people get involved?

People can write posts based on the current series, which is always announced in the bio. I also would love to collaborate with other women writers and artists of colour. I want to hear people’s ideas of how to make Spill Stories better. For all of the above, just DM me on the Spill Stories Instagram, or email me at spillyourstories@gmail.com.

What issues do you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

I am a Taiwanese American woman. This identity brings up all sorts of challenges that non-minorities and men don’t need to go through. How do I win respect in a room full of older men at work? How do I find belonging when I don’t fit in either in the States or Taiwan? How do I navigate the cultural distances that separate me from my parents? How can I find a significant other who can relate to both the Eastern and Western cultures I embody? I think about these questions every day.

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

I still see backwards sexual harassment ads in Hong Kong and Taiwan that tell women to avoid male assault when the ads should really tell men to stop assaulting us. I had an infuriating conversation about this where a woman, over a networking lunch, told me my ideas were inappropriate because some women also assault men, and my ad would assume men are the only party to blame. What? Of course women can assault men, but most assaults are by men. And more importantly, we should be demanding men don’t assault us instead of placing the burden on the women to avoid / navigate these actions. Fuck that. We didn’t stay in touch.

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

F(REEK)Y BITCH.

What are your three favourite smells?

Brownies in the oven, clean laundry, Taiwanese beef noodle soup. 

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Me? Ha. I’m a boss bitch.

Yes you are. 


Daina Renton FÉROCE

Daina Renton Interview

Daina Renton, the fierce editor of FÉROCE magazine, shares her bitchy, witchy truths, love of cats and favourite smells and spells… 

Tell us about your publication Féroce…

Féroce Magazine is a Scottish fashion/art publication. Féroce is the publication to submit to if you’ve gone outside your comfort zone as a creative. We prefer to work with independents. Féroce is a platform for artists to spread powerful messages with their work. Férroce wants to set a standard for what this industry should become.

What keeps you motivated while juggling photography and publication?

I understand that motivation is fleeting but self discipline can be cultivated.  Obsession is what drives me to multitask several projects. When I can’t discipline myself and require motivation, I think of my mother. I remember that she managed to raise me against all odds…and I feel motivated to work my ass off. If she managed that, I can manage this.

What does witchcraft means to you?

Witchcraft to me was a source of entertainment and distraction when I was in vulnerable or troubling situations as a child. The meaning of Witchcraft to me has since changed, but I realise after a long break from it that I was a witch from the beginning. There is Witchcraft in everything I do. It’s instinctive.

Tell us about some feminists that inspire you…

There are so many feminists that I find admirable. At the moment, one feminist who truly inspires me is Diane Goldie. She’s based in London. Her clothing, art, and poetry  are just infinite food for thought. When you’re ready to witness the brutal honesty of not only realising the patriarchy, but fighting it, consult her work.

What issues do you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Homelessness. I get really caught up in this issue. It is far too easy for people to walk past and pretend they don’t see a human being who needs help. Mental health symptoms that aren’t romanticised by books and TV shows. Addiction. That’s the easiest of all of them to ignore.

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

Because I have a Bachelors in fashion and marketing, I know too much to be angry. I know exactly why each decision was made. Offending viewers to evoke an angry response is a key trend in marketing and advertising right now. These aren’t ‘blunders’ or mistakes.

As a former marketing manager I would encourage anyone who is offended by an advert not to share it, because it was specifically designed to be viral. I always encourage people to watch adverts for Dove, and then watch the old adverts for Lynx. Dove and Lynx are owned by the same parent company. I hope that puts into perspective how sincere companies are with the messages they put out. They will say whatever it takes to get your attention.

What was it like being part of a REEK campaign?

A fucking dream come true is what it was! I’ve been stalking the shit out of REEK for a long time. To finally get to meet the awesome minds behind the brand and above all actually collaborate on something amazing – I wear it as a badge of witchy honour. I loved the atmosphere, and how genuine the team are. It’s a breath of fresh air as a misfit to work with like-minded people who just wanna change the world in their own best way.

What causes are important to you and why?

Recognition, representation, and equal opportunities for black and ethnic minorities. It’s important to me because it should be important to everyone.

Reusable sanitary products. I think Mooncups or Diva Cups should be distributed into low income households and even more so the homeless – even cheaper, and better for the planet than conventional sanitary products. It’s important to me because everyone deserves to bleed with dignity and if the world can be saved we should save it.

What is your favourite REEK sticker?

Witches Unite is my favourite sticker. Witches I mostly meet or hear of tend to be solitary practitioners. We’re all lone wolves in sheep’s clothing sometimes. That’s how I interpret the sticker; a reminder to us and a warning for ‘them’. Sooner or later…one day…the witches will unite.

Tell us your 3 favourite smells?

The smell of cats’ foreheads, garlic breath and Damn Rebel Witches. I think everyone is going to get sick of me talking about this, ha.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

I always say that you shouldn’t use witchcraft for any problems or tasks that could be easily solved through mundane means. I’m equal parts bitch and equal parts witch though truthfully. I’m resented like a bitch and feared like a witch. Both of those are just fine by me.

More about FÉROCE magazine here.


Sex Toy Still Life

Sex Toy Still Life
By Anna Wim

Artist and activist Anna Wim tells us the story behind her sex toy still life imagery, the causes that fuel her fire and of course some of her favourite smells…

Tell us the story behind these images and why you decided to use sex toys?

I have always been heavily attracted to sex and erotica, but it’s been a complicated relationship: on one hand, I am hypersexual and open about sex, on the other, my way to the sexual being I am now has been long and difficult. I’ve dealt with a lot of sexual frustration, questioning my own sexuality, and other taboos, which is why, I guess, I enjoy playing with everything sex-related in my work. I love that it makes people uncomfortable; this act of provoking (by something so normal and natural!) is just great.

It might not seem like it, but everything in my photos has a sexual connotation: I use fresh fruits and flowers which traditionally symbolize fertility, lust and/or sex organs. I always imagine I’m creating these opulent, gourmet table settings – only with a few sex toys thrown in!

Who do you hope will see them?

To be honest, I don’t really think of viewers when taking/publishing them. I just kinda put them out and hope someone will see them, but I don’t really think of who that could be.

What’s your favourite sex toy? Do you think that society is scared of the idea of women using sex toys outside of ‘sex’?

I started taking antidepressants a year ago and it’s made me much more sensitive to bodily sensations, and I’ve pretty much stopped using sex toys when masturbating so I’d say my fave toy atm is actually my good ol’ hand, haha. However, I once got the chance to try out Lelo’s Ina vibrator and wow, was that intense!

Sex toys in general are perceived as weird or dirty because they are seen as replacements for the “real deal”. Sex with others is supposed to be the best—or the only right—way of having sex, thanks to the reproductive, monogamous propaganda which  loads stigma on sex toys. And since women’s sexuality is seen as immoral on its own, it is no wonder it is frowned upon when it’s combined with naughty, disgraceful toys! (lol)

Tell us about a beauty campaign that made you feel angry or ugly?

I remember there used to be a deodorant advert when I was a teen which said something like “even though you might not notice it, others can smell you sweating”. I’ve always been self-conscious about the way I smell and that was just the last straw, really. To this day, I am insecure about that and always think others must be disgusted by the way I smell even if I only sweat a little or forget to apply perfume! Such bullshit, right?

Tell us something about yourself that you once perceived as ugly/unattractive that you now love about yourself?

Well, I used to think of myself as unattractive in general and that has (luckily) changed, so I’d say my whole body. But if I had to choose one body part, it’d be my Slavic hips – I am so proud of them now!

What advice would you share with yourself 5 years ago?

Take care of your mental health. Stop downplaying what you feel – it is all legit.

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

Um, there are too many to pick one! It’s the Black Lives Matter month in Berlin at the moment, and I really love what the local community is doing: lots of talks, screenings, workshops… Knowledge is power!

What are your three favourite smells?

Jasmine, pine, and lavender.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Both!

See more of Anna’s work here.

 


The Tree That Changed My Life

The Tree That Changed My Life
By Jan Ambrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–       Always be on time, be polite, be respectful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more about the retreat here


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

Eilean nam Ban project

Eilean nam Ban

By Ellen Patterson

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

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

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

What does the name mean?

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

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

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

How can people get involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVE IN PEACH (go cruelty free)

What are your three favourite smells?

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

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

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

Yes. Yes you can.

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


We Are All Activists

We Are All Activists
By Kennedy Younger Dold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Why Being Your Baddest Bitch Can Mean Allowing Yourself To Be

Why Being Your Baddest Bitch Can Mean Allowing Yourself To Be

Activist and REEK model Briana Pegado on coming back from being burnt out and why we all need to sometimes do less to achieve more. 

Without realising it over the last year I’ve been busy –  really busy. This year and a bit (4.5 months to be precise) sent me on a winding sabbatical, a healing journey, an exploration. Though I understand the inherent privilege I have to have even embarked on this journey, it wasn’t easy.It started with the breakdown of my health, the break up of a 4.5 year relationship, experiencing hidden homeless for 9 months, being broke (very, very broke), experiencing underemployment, breaking up with friends, the process of digging my voluntarily-run organisation out of a deficit, and recovering from soul-deep burnout. These circumstances are less important than the context of what I realised – that living and working in a feminist way requires us to embrace feminine energetic principles. Let me explain. Feminine energy in ancient traditions, astrology, spirituality, and some traditional religions possesses the qualities of process, slowness, being-over-doing, birth and rebirth, and allowing, unfolding. We live in a society that is dominated by masculine energy. The patriarchy prizes striving, ambition, hard strength, absolutes, doing-over-being, definition, and singularity. Particularly in a professional context,the ideal path is seen as focused – a constructed need for others to understand their position, status, authority, and power. I have always rebelled against this since I was a child. I had a natural instinct to do everything at once. I would pick things up, start them and leave them. I would experiment. I inherently understood that all of these interests were part of me – one not more important than the other. I could discard them and pick them up. The ability to do this did not lessen my inherent value as a human being. I was not defined by my interests and my interests did not define me. As I grew up I was told this wasn’t acceptable. I had to chose. I could do certain things as hobbies. I could be anything I wanted, but I also had to make a single decision about who I would be. Because of this, as an adult, I have been in conflict. A friend recently introduced me to the concept of a community of selves. The existence of multiple selves that have different desires, needs and character traits – they are multiple people / multiple parts – that can sometimes be in conflict. This dissonance causes inner turmoil. In order to get to the root of this inner conflict we need to understand what is causing it. This is a process of un-layering, unlearning and an exploration that can take a lifetime.The last sixteen months threw me into the depths of this exploration. I realised that I was disconnected from my feminine energy. I had been living in a way that was shaped by society and as a result I was out of balance, functioning too much in the masculine with my life dictated by outcomes, goals, and products. As I spent time working on myself and trying to feel less burned out, I started to do the internal work of healing. Burnout feels like you are living with your hands tied behind your back and a weight sitting on your lap. It is not the same feeling as depression nor anxiety, but, similar to these, you lose interest in things because you do not have enough energy to care. You can’t make the effort. Burnout is telling your body something very fundamental – it is telling you to simply be.In this period of being, I had questions I wanted to explore. I allowed them to fall into the background and to be worked out slowly. I started to heal from square one. Burnout forced me to strip out all the extra things I did not need – toxic relationships and work dynamics. I packed up all my possessions and moved them into storage when I left the flat I lived in with my partner. I left a toxic studio environment where I ran a social enterprise that was draining me because managing it was too big a task. I put the breaks on everything and while I worked out of deficit, things started to become more clear. I took time to read stories. I went to therapy. I worked with a shaman. I booked a trip to Bali. I consistently went to yoga. I spent more time doing my favourite thing – spending time by myself. I created a lot of space by doing this. I realised that I had allowed toxicity to build up until it weighed me down so much I broke.Toxicity comes in many forms. It comes from having no boundaries, from habits that are self-harming, habits we learn through experience and are reinforced by a society that is also toxic. I come from generations of women who have been through great trauma (this is the case for all of us.) The very nature of patriarchial society has a negative impact on us all regardless of our gender. Some of us are more conscious of it than others. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman who married a narcissist and as often happens, gave birth to a girl (my mother) who became a narcissist herself. For me, being raised by a narcissistic mother, comes with a host of complications – the most troubling of which is verbal and emotional abuse. When my parents separated when I was 11 and my father moved back to Angola, I was left unprotected. Adolescence is always difficult, but living with constant criticism, abuse, gas-lighting and manipulation hardwires the brain to accept toxicity. I coped by being an overachiever. I threw myself into art, sport, and every extracurricular activity. I reacted to my mother’s narcissism by developing into a highly sensitive empath. My anxiety in these years was at its height. I used to have panic attacks in the shower every evening before I put on my PJs to start five hours of homework. It was around the time my parents separated that my gut health started to suffer. My parents put this down to lactose intolerance. I did not understand my condition, nor did I have the confidence to advocate for myself. I struggled with poor self-esteem. More research is being conducted into ACEs or adverse childhood experiences, which suggests they are the single underlying cause of most addictions, most diseases including heart disease, many psychological conditions, suicide, and low self-esteem. There is evidence that suggests they are the single largest public health concern in our society.My burnout allowed me to unravel this trauma. I had spent nearly a decade in therapy but my burnout forced me to truly stop and reassess. Here is what I discovered –

  1.     I was doing too much.
  2.     I was doing too much because overdoing it and overachieving is how I coped with abuse.
  3.     Society reinforced my coping mechanism of overachievement because I grew up in a country that valued overdoing it, underpinned by a patriarchial system that devalued feminist, matriarchial and feminine energy.
  4.     I had internalised so much of my trauma that it was embedded into my perception of myself. My value was intrinsically tied to my overachievement. I viewed myself through others’ eyes.

This trauma laid the groundwork for an extremely toxic way of living and was literally making me sick. I was resilient and had lived with mental ill-health for so long that I ignored the warning signs. I could cope with depression and anxiety, if anything I was highly functional with both, but when my immune system started to break down and I hit burnout I finally listened.I learned that the only way to heal was to create better boundaries and a safe space for me to unfold and become my authentic self. In this space, I could revisit a younger version of myself. I could allow for complexity – the multifacetedness of my personality, and the beauty of my be-ing. In fact, the part of me that had been stewing in my unconscious, desperately needed rest and time to evolve in relation to who I am, who I was and who I was becoming. I was deeply served by my burnout.

I learned that things needed time to unfold, to be stagnant, to feel stuck. These principles are the exact opposite of society’s expectations.So the next time you wonder where life is taking you and you feel spent – remember the value of taking time out. Remember to notice how you are living. And remember the privilege of being conscious of this choice – to have the awareness to decide what is important. Your burnout can be the best thing that happens to you.

Briana Pegado is an Edinburgh-based social entrepreneur who specialises in process. She is one third of a creative collective called Povo that thinks and does in Edinburgh. She is the founder and director of the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival (ESAF). She is on the board of Creative Edinburgh and YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement. She is launching a new wellness company called Unfolding Abundance Co. at the start of 2019. Most importantly, she is a human being trying to work things out as much as the rest of us and tries to cultivate gratitude every day. You can follow her here