Venus Libido

VENUS LIBIDO

Illustrator, activist and all round boss bitch Venus Libido tells us all… 

Tell us how you got into illustration?

I started illustrating at the beginning of 2017 after deciding to move out of London to focus on my mental health. It was a great way to articulate my emotions and better understand why I was feeling the way I was. Very quickly it became my form of therapy. When I started drawing I would draw personal scenarios in which I had found myself in the previous year. Scenarios including my alcohol addiction, overdosing and just generally not being happy with my physical and mental state. I wasn’t sure if I should share them online until my partner convinced me that what I was drawing was important and others might find it helpful.

Where do you turn to for inspiration?

My Inspiration comes from my everyday experiences as a woman, dealing with my mental health and my journey to self love. I try to be open and honest about the things I draw and I keep a long list of ideas in my phone. Every time I have an odd thought or experience an uncomfortable feeling or situation I document it so that I can come back to it.

Who or what has pushed you to keep going?

My followers. I know my work has helped a lot of people feel not alone with their personal problems. I get a lot of messages from girls explaining how I’ve helped them go through difficult situations because what I draw is honest and relatable.

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

I have a few…

  1. Be more selfish
  2. Being alone is ok
  3. You do not exist to please others
  4. Your body is beautiful, continue to love it
  5. Masturbation is not just for men
  6. Talking is the key to recovery
  7. Everything WILL BE OK!

Who has inspired you the most in your day to day life?

I would definitely say my mum. I have watched her bring up 3 children with no help while also caring for my dad who has a disability. The strength she has to keep going everyday despite the amount of obstacles that have got in her way is truly inspiring. She’s a bad ass woman!

What was it like doing a photo shop free photo shoot?

Absolutely amazing! Firstly I was made to feel so comfortable and the team just made the whole thing so fun and beautiful! For me it is important to embrace who you are and photoshopping is a big NO NO.

Tell us your plans for 2019 so far…

I have a few things lined up including hosting a huge event with my fave girls at Women of Power and Sister Magazine. ELEVATE will be a amazing and empowering day. Full of workshops, talks and brilliant like minded brands. Come join in at the Curtain hotel in Shoreditch for a day of exploring how to find balance as a creative in work & business. 

I am also collaborating with a few of my favourite brands this year which I am super excited for. However my main goals are to do more traveling, more charity work, continue to work on my journey to self love and I also have some ideas that I want to film.

Oh and I would love to do another big animation!

Did you make any new year’s resolutions this year?

I made a list of goals and things I hope to achieve this year rather than things I want to change which include;

  • Move back out of my parents house
  • Go to LA
  • Make more animations
  • Watch more live comedy
  • Learn how to make the perfect Porn Star Martini
  • Mastrubate more 🙂

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

I am definitely a REEK BITCH! I took me a while to find my confidence but now I feel in control and no one one is getting in my way.

Describe your favourite REEK perfume in 2 words…

Sweet yet Spicy.

What are your favourite smells and why?

Lavender oil because it relaxes me and coconut and papaya because it reminds me of being on holiday. I also love the smell of burning wood and pizza ovens.

Want to see more of Venus’s work? Yeah we thought so!
Follow her HERE

Get your tickets for Venus’s ELEVATE event. A day of networking, panel discussions and brilliant brands (we’ll be there with free stickers and perfume too!)


Sonia Cooper

A SELF LOVE STORY

Sonia Cooper tells her story of self love…

Your message of body positivity is inspirational, tell us your story…

So what happened to me is that I was cooking pasta at a friend’s house, I fell asleep and when I woke up I suddenly remembered the pasta so a ran to the kitchen but I slipped and when I tried to get up I leaned on the handle of the pot (’cause I was still half asleep). All the boiling water and the pasta fell on me burning all my chest/breasts and arms. So 15% of my body had 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

What does the ‘body positivity’ mean to you?

To me “body positivity” is to learn to love and embrace your body no matter how it is and no matter what other people can say. Just love yourself.

What is are you working on at the moment?  

I want to finish my bachelor’s year to finally start my stewardess studies, to work on something I really love and be totally independent. I would love to have my Cabin Crew Attestation this year, but because of the accident I missed a few month of classes, so now I have to repeat the year. Still, that leaves me a year to finish my recovery and to undergo the two surgeries I still have to do.

Who has inspired you most along the way?

When I was in the hospital, my mum sent me a video of a young woman (who is also a burn survivor, of 40% of her body) talking about her experience some years ago and I cried a lot because she described exactly how I felt. She gave me the hope and the strength I needed to face the situation. Thanks to her, my confidence was boosted and I promised myself to never be ashamed of my scars. She is @douzefevrier on Instagram.

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

In general I dislike hair removal adverts which show women shaving hairless legs as if body hair doesn’t exist. I think it’s ridiculous because all people have hair on their bodies. And most people act like it’s gross or not normal and that doesn’t help to normalize it. It’s okay to shave if we want and it’s also okay to not touch it. Every woman should be free to choose for herself.  Those adverts are trying to make us ashamed of something normal. And ashamed of our bodies.

Are there any issues you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Yes, because every person has their own problems. But it’s not because someone has more or less issues that they have to be ignored. Many people have problems that they don’t want to talk about, maybe because they’re ashamed or because they think they’re not important enough. I think everyone should be able to talk about their problems without thinking they are going to be judged. We’re no one to judge other people issues.

Pick a slogan to put on one of our equality stickers?

Equality is something that should already be in our society, if we have to fight for it, it’s because the world has a big problem.

What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

To be patient and very strong to face everything.

What are your three favourite smells?

The smell when I walk next to a bakery, pizza and my love’s clothes (I love to smell his t-shirts when I wear them).

Witch or bitch?

Bitchy witch hahaha. But always witch.


In The Nuddy

IN THE NUDDY

We get the dirt about soapy plastic free success nuddy from founder Kassi Emadi. She wants you to lather up and get in the nuddy… 

Tell us all about in the nuddy and how you got into such a soapy venture…

We launched the nuddy range in the UK in July. Our products are vegan-friendly soap bars. We found that the majority of soaps and body washes on the market are not only full of rubbish, but also packaged using plastic materials. nuddy is proud to be 100% plastic free and created using only the best ingredients, right here in the UK. We use a vegan-friendly Shea butter base, so our soap is inclusive to just about every Tom, Francesca + Harriet. Since launching, the response has been amazing – we’ve been shortlisted in the ‘Best new British beauty brand’ category in the Pure Beauty Awards, featured in Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire and Refinery29, as well as making an impact on social media.

I was working in London as Head of PR at a creative marketing start-up when I first started working on nuddy. As a self-confessed soap bar addict – whenever I used to go out to buy a bar of soap from any large retailer, I’d find a selection of maybe 5 outdated brands on the bottom shelf. This literally broke my heart. None of the brands were even trying to form a connection with me as a consumer. I was totally uninspired. I couldn’t get my head around how or why we’d let this amazing product die a death. So, I decided to quit my job and move back home to North Yorkshire where  I started nuddy and developed my own brand of soap which I hoped, would transform the market, re-connect with consumers (particularly the millennial generation) and make soap bars cool again.

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

It sounds so cliche and almost unbelievable, but I genuinely had a ‘light bulb moment’ whilst I was in the shower. I was holding a bar of soap and I sort of just looked at it and thought ‘why don’t people love soap?’ From there my mind started unfolding all of these ideas. I jumped out of the shower, ran to my diary and started writing things down. I then rang my mum and started shouting ‘SOAAAAAP’ down the phone. I wish someone had caught all this on camera, cos I would have indeed been #inthenuddy

Your ethos and products are eco friendly, is that an important factor in all things nuddy?

SO important. We identify as a mission brand – we want to help change consumer behaviour when it comes to purchasing goods. The reason I created this brand was not only to bring life back to the market but to also start a movement. We want to encourage people to switch to soap when they wash, to reduce the amount plastic used when getting in the nuddy. It’s widely talked about that there’s an excess of water bottles and plastic bags – these are  common everyday single-use items. But what about the other plastic containers people are taking for granted – shampoo, conditioner, body wash?

What are the big problems you see women facing in business?

Fear and lack of self confidence, I feel, is one of the greatest. Most people are, unfortunately, exactly who they’re told to be – this is inbuilt from infancy and  people rarely break the mould. You’re told to act in a certain way and do certain things, in order to achieve x,y+z. For a long time, women were told that they couldn’t lead and influence – it wasn’t expected of us. Well some bloody great women broke that mould, and gave more women the confidence to do so. It’s important for the women who have found the confidence to encourage others to do the same.

Are there any issues you see people face in your day to day life that the world can find easy to ignore?

Mental health issues. I know there have been some amazing campaigns in the last year or so to increase awareness of mental health and the effort to ‘normalise’ and remove the stigma. This might suggest that the world is not ignoring it. But I still feel that day-to-day people do ignore it, and a lot of people just don’t get mental health and the effect it can have on a person. The mind is an amazing, powerful and beautiful thing. I don’t think we know enough about what our minds are capable of, good and bad. When I worked at my first job in London, I was told that I was being kept from progressing because I wasn’t as ‘happy and excited’ as I used to be. At the time I was suffering from anxiety due to certain life events, yet, at work I was performing better than ever. I felt so let down by the ignorance of my manager that I ended up deciding to leave, which was really sad. As individuals we should try to be better at understanding each other.

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

I used to HATE the old Yorkie adverts. ‘It’s not for girls’ – it still makes me angry because I used to love Yorkie bars and I can’t think of a more ridiculous and offensive advertising campaign to upset an 11 year old Yorkie loving GIRL. I still used to eat them though, just to prove a point. If I had social media back in the day, I would have been tweeting them pictures of me eating my Yorkie bar.

Are there any soapy facts we don’t know about? Tell us the dirt!

I love soap facts, there are so many. Ok, my favourite is that ‘soap operas’ are named that because the earliest dramas from the 50s & 60s were sponsored by soap making companies. Everyone uses the phrase, but honestly, I bet hardly any millenials know why.

What are your three favourite smells?

Real Christmas trees, nuddy mango soap and petrol… (I’m just being honest)!

EDITOR: a lot of people say petrol, including REEK co-founder Molly, you crazy bitches. Maybe we need a blog post about that… 

What nuddy soap would be the biggest bitch?

Less bitter than your ex – FACT. That’s our Pink Grapefruit soap. I love the phrase. Sometimes you just gotta be a sassy bitch, right? I know my ex is bitter, and I’m pretty sure that everyone else can relate to that too.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

My dad has always called me and my mum witches, so I’m going to have to say witch. Although if needs be…

Follow nuddy on instagram or get your soapy fix HERE 


Alice Dyba Wise Words

PAINTING WISE WORDS

Artist Alice Dyba gives us her bitchy/witchy take on the female form and the importance of daydreaming with smells and spells.

Tell us about some women who inspired you.

I am inspired by wild, creative, free women. Ground breakers, artists and misfits. Punk rock goddesses, Silver Factory Superstars, Women who refused expectations in different times in this world…

June Miller, Frida Kahlo, Edie Sedgwick , Anita Pallenberg,Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith, Alison Mosshart, Tracy Emin, Jemima Kirke… the list goes on!

How integral is body image to your art?

Body IS my art. Female form is present in pretty much all of my pieces. The nudes I am creating are the strongest. They have no clothes on but after one look you will know that they are queens of fucking everything. I LOVE painting women and got absolutely no desire to do anything else. Bodies in my art are distorted, skinny, crude … all those things, but that makes them perfect. I tend to play with female form, I capture the body in quite classical,academic way but then distort it with my natural need for strong lines, vibrant colours and a never-ending game with rules of anatomy. Some bones seem broken and limbs bend in unnatural ways which in the end feel right. There’s also a lot of movement involved so even though the subject matter may seem HEAVY and STRONG it gives it certain lightness… Think Courtney Love wearing pink fairy wings… That is the clash of heavy and light I’m talking about.

Which image you’ve created is your favourite?

Every new image is my favourite. Then I am done and I let it go freely to make other people feel. Whether it’s love or desire or horror or mixture of them all. I don’t cherish my work, I want to spread it around and if you decide to glue it to the wall like a concert poster I will be happy. I don’t make art to put away, I want it to live in different spaces, with different people. I adore the fact that most of my buyers are women. It gives me a feeling of complete accomplishment. There I am, celebrating the female form, with all these nudes but it’s not empty sexiness , created for some guy’s bedroom wall. It is for women who think it’s weird, beautiful, strong… That is what I am about.

As a female artist what are your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is the fact of just being female. There is very few women in history of art books. People I know from art schools are pretty much all dudes. So boring! The challenge for me, like many female artists, is to support each other against male domination in art world. Times are changing and I know that history of art books will be far more interesting in few years time. It’s so inspiring to see talented female artists online. It’s a complete explosion of uncompromising talent. From fine art to tattoo art.

What advice would you give yourself a year ago?

I would repeat like a mantra – Bitch, do not compare yourself with anyone. Ever. Be confident in what you are doing. You are talented and you got it. The future starts slow. You will get there.

More advice – you don’t need to be high or drunk to express yourself in art. Be healthy and strong, don’t try to be a Rolling Stone when you can be Alice Dyba.

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

I don’t want to have anything to do with ‘beauty campaigns’. They are worthless. Fake promises, perfectly shaved legs advertising waxing products, porcelain skins and I’m here with my breakouts. NO. Thanks. Women should be saved from that bullshit, especially young ones who might believe it and strive for unrealistic goals. I want to see campaigns with women with body hair and tattoos, like myself. Otherwise go away. I think women should be shown an alternative approach to health and beauty. Natural ways/ingredients. There is so much out there but we are bombarded with fake stuff. I want to go back to oils and herbs. I always try to share my knowledge with other women. If something worked for me it might work for you and it’s not made with half of Mendeleev’s periodic table. We all need some hemp oil in our lives right?

What smell sums you up best?

POWERFUL, STRONG, ORIGINAL, MYSTERIOUS, RAW, REEK. Smell is so important to me. I am low maintenance as hell but I am not leaving my house without a bottle of perfume. Smells help me in my daydreaming and going back in time. It’s magic. It’s incredible how one perfume can smell different on each person. Fascinating chemistry! I always put perfume on before I leave the house in the morning, it’s a ritual, a sort of a spell that can keep all the bad stuff away. It makes me feel strong, confident and complete.

Are you a bitch or a witch?

Although I’ve been called a BITCH many times I am definitely more of a WITCH. I’ve hidden some good spells in my paintings. See for yourself.

See Alice’s work here


Page, stage and poetry

PAGE, STAGE & POETRY

Iona Lee casts her poetic magic over us. From page, stage and poetry Iona tells us about the importance to hold the door open for the ones coming behind …  poems are spells.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Iona Lee and I am a poet, performer and illustrator raised on the beaches of East Lothian. I live in Glasgow with my pet rat Egon. I fell into the spoken word scene as a 17 year old, and it has gradually taken over my life ever since. I enjoy old pubs, new notebooks, Indian ink, Angela Carter and wild swimming. I have a pamphlet out with Polygon and I front a band called Acolyte.  

Was there a particular moment that inspired you to get into poetry?

Not quite a moment, more a culmination of many. I have been writing short stories and poems since I was wee. I cherished being read to and spent my formative years around performers, actors and theatre-makers so I have always adored stories and the many ways they can be told. I remember a storyteller with a clarsach coming to my school; she bewitched us.

The work of a performance poet oscillates. You have to be good at spending long periods of time alone, and then you also have to be outgoing and sociable, good at taking control in loud bars and venues. I think that my personality suits those two extremes and so while I accidentally fell into spoken word as an art form, I am realising with time that it is the perfect art form for me.

What issues do women face in your industry?

There are – roughly – two camps in the poetry world and you can live in both or focus more on one or the other. We call them ‘page’ and ‘stage’. The two are inextricably linked, but while they are related there are definite differences. Stage poetry has fewer gatekeepers, it has a more DIY feel (you could technically set up a spoken word night wherever you wanted) and so there are more marginalised voices. The ‘published poet’ looks more like the typical archetype of the older white man, though there are loads of small presses out there doing amazing work on poetic equality. As with all things, gender in poetry is an intersectional issue.

As a female performer your sexual attractiveness and your age, your class and your accent, your race and your confidence all feed in to whether people want to listen to your stories or not. It is important to hold the door open for the ones coming behind, and to remember the generations of women before who held the door open for you.

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

I feel cynical about most campaigns. Someone in a smoking area in a pub once told me ‘there aren’t countries anymore, there are companies’, and while that is a simplistic statement it has stuck with me. The grey area where feminism and capitalism meet is filled with insidious facts. Did you know, for example, that Dove (love yourself girls, you are all beautiful, look, this woman has a back roll!) and Lynx (women with airbrushed bodies and bouncing tits running at entirely mediocre men) are owned by the same company, Unilever?

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

I am in touch with my inner labia.
*Brilliant, REEK agrees this should be on a sticker. 

What’s your favourite word at the moment?

Ancient

What are your three favourite smells?

Blown out candles, damp forests and swimming pools.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch? 

A witch; poems are spells, and anyway I care far too much about what people think of me to be a bitch.

 


Scottish Feminist Judgements Project

SCOTTISH FEMINIST

JUDGMENTS PROJECT

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

Tell us about your project and where it came from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the place of activism within the law?

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

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

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

Who are the women who have shaped/inspired you?

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

 

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

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

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

What are your favourite smells and why?

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

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

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

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

What do you think makes a DAMN REBEL BITCH?

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

How can people get involved?

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

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


Sexual Health with SH:24

SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

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

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

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

How did the organisation come about?

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

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

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

How can people get involved with SH:24?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the SH:24 website for more information… 


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.