REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

Journalist, commentator, foreign affairs expert and full-time feminist, Robert Somynne writes about the amazing women of the Mexican Revolution, their struggle against the patriarchy, their rise amongst the Zapatistas and how their legacy was hushed up. 

A rifle strapped to her back, gunpowder and sweat on her palms, the sweat of the cartridge with bandoliers  strapped across  her  chest.  She  wears  a  flowing  skirt,  an open revelatory blouse and a  carefree expression  on  her  face.

This picture has been painted and mass produced on t-shirts, calendars, cigarette boxes, TV advertisements, movies, folks songs and art in Mexico and beyond. The Soldadera were the women  soldiers who  fought in  the  Mexican  Revolution  of  1911 to 1920. Mexico at this is time, as it still is the world over, was a patriarchal  society which constrained  women  and  limited  their  liberties in almost all aspects.

Women’s duties were, according to the mantra of the day, first owed to their families with the awesome power of the Catholic Church stifling any chance of equality with  men. The women who joined the revolution as soldaderas left behind these responsibilities as obligatory chains and by feat of arms made the case for equality with men. In the process images of rugged rifled revolution and sensuality overturned notions of what was decent and suitable.

Motivations to join the armed struggle were also motivated by class and ethnic diversity. Most soldaderas came from the so-called lower rungs of society.  Some were  the  indigenous or  mestiza, women of  mixed  indigenous  and  Spanish  ancestry, daughters  of  peasant farmers  or  merchants.

These women fought on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution with revolutionary rebel or federal forces. The word soldadera comes from “soldada”, or in English – soldier’s pay. This was originally because of male troops giving their wages to women to pay for food, clothes cleaning, and other services. But as the conflict raged many of these women would act beyond the domestic by seizing guns and horses when male forces made advances.

In fact, during the Revolution, soldaderas were considered so vital that leaders among the Zapatistas included coronelas (female colonels), an advance which made it inconceivable to send the women home as some wanted. Secretary of War, Ángel García Peña attempted to strip the women of their arms many male federal leaders warned that insubordination would break out among the troops.

After the revolution, worried that women’s liberation would disturb and fundamentally alter the agricultural and class system, the fighting role of the soldaderas was reduced and warped. The brave, strong woman with a cartridge belt cocooning her shell was transformed into the promiscuous harlot. According to the generals of the time, neither women or whore were suitable for fighting in an established nation. This new image was the “La  Adelita”, an image which forced women either to be pure and submissive or “sexually flagrant” and military ineffective.

Under no circumstances were women allowed to be sexual in charge of their bodies, arms and the project of liberation and nation building. Women’s bodies were too revolutionary for revolutionary Mexico.

Then came betrayal, with the new government stating that soldaderas had only fulfilled domestic roles during battle; tasks that they would have performed in their own homes had they not been following the troops. This ignored the many battles of hard fighting that women had taken part in, scouting missions and missions of espionage.

Whether because of cost cutting or good old fashioned misogyny, (the two not being mutually exclusive), the new Mexican government had betrayed its most effective aid. This would have a great impact of women’s economic progress and societal development in the nation.

But the general population were also at fault. They quickly lost their respect for female members of the military and logistical camp supporters. During the fighting, soldaderas were controversial. Before Mexico redesigned its military after the Revolution, it was obvious that soldaderas did not always include wives and family members. They were effective fighters too.

Yet by reducing the factual importance of the soldaderas and eliminating the idea that many of them had fought, the government could reduce the already insignificant amount of aid awarded to female veterans and re-establish male Catholic dominance.The government would go on to offer only a small amount of money and only to female relatives of male soldiers who had died in battle. Its refusal to offer pensions to female veterans, meant the role women played in combat was ignored.

The soldaderas’ image although twisted, remained a delicious embarrassment to Mexico for over a century. Socialists, liberals, anarchists and feminists would deploy the sexual power and martial prestige of the Soldaderas to great political and cultural effect.

In 2011, Puerto Rican artist Yasmin Hernandez finished her much acclaimed mural in East Harlem called “Soldaderas.” The mural, part of a planned grassroots regeneration of the New York neighbourhood, was inspired by Frida Khalo’s “Las dos Fridas” a painting that shows Kahlo holding hands with Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

Hernandez, a woman who is an example of latina excellence in art and life, said the mural is “a statement on the vitality of the changing neighborhood” and of “sisterly solidarity and passionately dedication to liberty”.

What have the soldaderas to teach us? To be shameless in your existence and to strive to overturn every limitation we encounter either cultural or political. But above all to be vigilant that women’s rights and efforts are not erased or sacrificed after a revolutionary fight.

Images by Agustín Víctor Casasola & Miguel Casasola, source.


THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

Documentary film-maker, veteran activist  and full-time DAMN REBEL BITCH, Leslie Hills, is determined to memorialise female history and one heroine in particular.

Here is the story of a woman I have been bringing from the shadows for the last couple of years.

On the wall of St Paul’s Church, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, is a plaque on which is written, To the glory of God and in grateful remembrance of the men of St Paul’s who fell in the Great War. One of the men listed is Margaret Davidson.

The friendly person on duty in the church when  I first saw the plaque, had been a member for many years but was not aware of Margaret’s name among the fallen. St Paul’s website notes that the plaque lists names ‘including one Margaret Davidson’ but comments no further. An appeal for information, through the website of the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, to the present rector, Andrew Swift, received no reply. I contacted the local Council who were extremely helpful and told me that people of St Paul’s were buried mostly in the graveyard on the High Street but could offer nothing more.

I searched for Margaret Davidson’s death on all the usual sites – casualty lists, Red Cross Nurses, Voluntary Aid Detachment or VADs (who were female medical staff), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – to no avail. The search was complicated by the fact that there are three other Margaret Davidsons, two of them well known, active in the field in Serbia and France. But all of these women survived the war.

At the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, I found the record of Margaret Davidson, a casualty of WW1. Most of the details are missing – except that she was in the Women’s Services, her unit name given as Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society, Scottish VAD Casualties. And the final identifier: on the line which is headed Other Detail, is the word “Bute”.

She is also memorialised in York Minster on a beautiful memorial to the women of the Empire who fell in the Great War.

Margaret Wood Davidson was born in Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, in 1896 to John Joseph Davidson, a gardener and his wife, Barbara Janet, Wood who married on 3rd January 1895 at Stitchell.

In 1901 Margaret, aged five, was living with them at Shakenhurst Hall, a grade II listed building with 13 bedrooms and an estate with 12 houses and cottages. John Davidson was a gardener and lived in the lodge. Margaret had a brother, John James, who was three.

By 1911 the family was living in Ardencraig Cottage, Bute. Ardencraig House and its lovely gardens stand, still, high on a hill overlooking Rothesay Bay. Margaret was fifteen, John James was eleven, a further son, George, was nine and a daughter, Agnes Barbara, born 29th October 1909, was one.

John and Barbara Davidson lost both a son and a daughter to the Great War 1914 – 1918.

On the plaque in St Paul’s church, Margaret is commemorated alongside her brother, John James Davidson. His war record, sadly, was easier to find.

John James, John and Barbara’s elder son, four years younger than Margaret, was a private in the 96th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry and died, in training, of spinal meningitis at Camp Hughes Training Camp, near Carberry, Manitoba.  He was 18. He is buried in Camp Hughes Cemetery. On the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial there is a page in his memory – admitted to hospital on 28th June 1916 and died of non-combat causes on 13th July 1916. The narrative comments that John James was farming when he enlisted at Saskatoon four months before his death.

He is not listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial pages but he, who died in training in Canada and did not see action, is commemorated on the Rothesay War Memorial on the Esplanade. Margaret, who worked in the field, is not on the memorial. He is also commemorated and his photograph included in the book held at the Bute Museum “The Burgh of Rothesay and Island of Bute War Memorial 1914-1919” She is not.

The National Records of Scotland show Margaret Davidson died in Ardencraig Cottage, on 19th August 1917. She died of a Cerebral Embolism, Valvular Heart disease and Rheumatism. She was 21 years old. One must assume, as she is listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial and in St Paul’s, that the conditions which led to her death were brought about by her service in the war.

Her father, John, notified her death. He was still at Ardencraig Cottage working as a gardener in 1925. He died on June 7th 1947, thirty years after his two elder children, at 8 Bellevue Road, Rothesay. The death was notified by Barbara Hansford, his younger daughter.

Barbara Davidson Hansford was married, by Kenneth Mackenzie Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, to George Stanley Hansford of Maidstone in Kent on 21st April 1937 in St Pauls, Rothesay.  She died at Redbridge in Essex in 2004, aged 94.  Her mother, Barbara Janet, died in Essex in 1960 aged 90. It is very likely that the last Davidson to live on Bute left in 1947 before the war memorial was erected.

Of George, the youngest child, there is little trace. Certainly none of the George Davidsons listed as casualties at Edinburgh Castle was born in the right place and there is no sign of his death in any UK record.

To my piece on the Buteman website there was a reply from a distant relative of the Davidsons. His family’s legend was that John James died bravely in battle – but that Margaret, known as Madge, also died on active service in the field. He was able to tell me that George whom he knew and liked, had gone abroad.

We met up in The Graveyard of the High Church and he showed me the Davidson’s gravestone on which the parents inscribed the names of three of their children.

Sacred to the memory of Margaret Wood Davidson 16655 Red+ VAD Died 19th August 1917 aged 21 years

also

Pt John James Davidson 204381 96th Canadians died 13th July 1916 aged 18½ years buried at Camp Hughes Manitoba

THEY DID WHAT THEY COULD

George Davidson NDD NDAR died 28th January 1941.

George is not on the lists of service dead in the National Archives and in the light of research, I believe that George was in a Spanish-speaking Navy, most likely the Brazilian Navy which was involved against German submarines in the North Atlantic.

George Davidson, seaman, is listed on the Rothesay war memorial under WW2 deaths. So, again, he is on the war memorial – and Margaret is not.

The Buteman put my notes on Margaret on the website but not in the paper, noting that the words were the author’s own – it is a small island. The Museum ladies in bemused fashion noted my interest in the memorial book. I visited the British Legion. David Boe of the British Legion Museum, on Deanhood Place, Rothesay, knows of Margaret but it appears only because he read a piece I wrote in the Buteman asking for information. He was singularly uninterested.

And why should I care? Because this is how history is written and unless we unearth the stories such as those on the Mapping Memorials site and the Sheroes blog and publicise the excellent academic work being done by feminist academics who are pulling the work and achievements of women into the light, our daughters and our sons will not know how influential and important the work of women has been –  almost always in the building and the bettering of our world rather than the dismantling and destruction of it.  

And also because I am outraged by the neglect of a woman who died because she wanted to do the right thing and was so casually disregarded and forgotten just because she happened to be born female. It is not good enough.


An unretouched image of REEK Perfume’s ‘Bitches Unite’ Tote Bag on Damn Rebel Bitch Nina.

MOUTHY BITCHES

MOUTHY BITCHES: THE BITCHES UNITE STORY

An unretouched image of REEK Perfume’s ‘Bitches Unite’ T-shirt on Damn Rebel Bitch Stephanie.
An unretouched image of REEK Perfume’s ‘Bitches Unite’ Tote Bag on Damn Rebel Bitch Tamara Turnbull.
An unretouched image of REEK Perfume’s ‘Bitches Unite’ T-shirt on Damn Rebel Bitch Leyah Shanks.
An unretouched image of REEK Perfume’s ‘Bitches Unite’ T-shirt on Damn Rebel Bitch Nina.

Our new totes and ts and how they’re the bitchiest BEST (and also perfume, of course)

We’re mouthy bitches at REEK. so when we started our blog four months ago, we wanted to shout about what we were up to as well as provide space for campaigners and our models. At REEK. we’d hate to objectify anybody so we always interview our models so they can talk about how they feel about their bodies. Our shoots are led as much by the women in front of the camera, as those behind it. It’s the feminist way. As far as we’re concerned, collaborations rock.
However, we’re not only campaigners, we’re also perfectionists. Our perfume had to smell amazing, which is why we commissioned award-winning indie perfumer, Sarah McCartney, to make it. We’re just as exacting about our tshirts and totes. All Bitches Unite products are ethically sourced, 100% organic cotton, high quality and printed in Edinburgh, only just round the corner from our office (so we keep our miles to a minimum). Mouthy bitches can be good bitches too, see?


DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH: SEX AND SMELLS IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Don’t hold your Breath: Sex and Smells in the Middle Ages

by Kate Lister

Academic and founder of the Whores of Yore blog, Kate Lister looks into the smell of sex in the medieval world. Perfume, history and just a little bit of naughtiness. 

In 1989 David Strachan proposed what became known as the ‘hygiene hypotheses’. Strachan suggested that we have sanitised our world to such an extreme that we’ve killed off bugs we need to develop a resistance to, and collectively weakened our immunity. Strachan’s work suggested we need muck to be at our best; or as a wise woman once sang, ‘if you ain’t dirty / You ain’t here to party.’ The hygiene hypotheses has been challenged over recent years, but one thing is true; despite Ms Aguilera’s protestations, we have never been less dirty, and more aware of cleanliness, hygiene and bacteria than we are today. From face wash for faces to special soaps for your ‘special places’, almost every part of our bodies has its own specialist cleaning product. Our homes are scrubbed, our clothes are washed, our streets are swept, our air is ‘freshened’, our odours are eaten, and our food and drink are manufactured within government specified guidelines.  A 2014 UK study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Southampton, showed that three-quarters of respondents had at least one shower or bath a day. Even if you are reading this sat in the same clothes you’ve worn for the last two days, with cornflakes in your hair and spaghetti stains on your tits; rest assured – as a society, we have never been so clean.

Which is why if I could transport you back to medieval Europe, the first thing that you would notice would be the smell. The middle ages have something of a reputation for being grubby, or ‘brown’ (a student of mine once explained; she’d always thought of the middle ages as being largely brown.) And this reputation is not without merit. Take almost any fourteenth-century city at random and you would have to sniff your way through an olfactory assault course of open sewers, animal waste, stagnate water, rotting food, refuse, unwashed bodies and collected filth. The Medieval world was far less sanitised than our own, but its people were not unaware of bad smells. Of course, they would have grown accustomed to niffs that would have your modern day germaphobe gargling with Toilet Duck, but as St Bernard wrote, ‘where all stink, no one smells’. Comparatively pungent they may have been, but medieval people were just as self-conscious of smelling bad as we are today. In his fourteenth-century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer gives us visceral portraits of his characters and smell is a key indicator of a pilgrim’s personality. Like many medieval authors, Chaucer links physical ugliness with spiritual ugliness, and he uses foul smells to signify a wrong ‘un. The morally bankrupt, Summoner’s breath smells of onions, garlic, and leeks; and his cook, a lazy, corrupt thief, is described as a ‘stynkyng swyn’ whose breath and festering sores are revolting. The hapless fop and forerunner of the metrosexual, Absolon, is heavily perfumed, ‘squeamish’ about farting, and chews cardamom and liquorice to keep his breath sweet. Absolon souses himself in the medieval equivalent of Linx Africa because smelling good was a sign of a higher social status. In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485), the poor Sir Gareth is cruelly told to ‘stay out of the wind’ by the Lady Lynette because he smells of kitchens and ‘bawdy clothes’. However, being aware of smelling like the privy on a tuna boat is quite a different thing from being able to do something about it. Bathing requires, at the very least, a river; but, more often than not, it requires bathing facilities and the means to clean yourself and your clothes regularly.

The Romans were famous for bathing. They established lavish bathhouses across the empire, as well as the infrastructure to support them. Public bathing had remained popular across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire (C.476 AD). But, the early Christian Church quickly pulled the plug on the communal soak. As the Christian faith clamped down on sexual freedoms, attitudes to bathing in the buff changed considerably. Not only did public bathing involve nudity, but heat was believed to inflame lustful senses. Theologians like St Jerome (ca 340-420) had anti-sex agendas that would make the Jonas Brothers look like Guns n’ Roses. Jerome advocated virginity as the supreme moral state, and urged women (in particular) to cultivate ‘deliberate squalor’ to ‘spoil her natural good looks’. Many monks, hermits, and saints saw washing as a sign of vanity and sexual corruption; filth was synonymous with piety and humility. Early Christian militants emphasized spiritual cleanliness over physical cleanliness, even viewing the two as inversely proportional; you could literally stink to high heaven. Saint Godric (1065-1170), for example, walked from England to Jerusalem without ever washing or changing his clothes. Ulrich, an abbot of Cluny, France and Regensburg, Germany (1029 – 1093) said: “As to our baths, … there is not much that we can say, for we only bath twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter.” Of course, just because a saintly squad of hardcore soap dodgers shunned the shower, does not mean that every medieval citizen felt the same; but whatever the early medieval washing rota was, by the ninth century, the Roman bath infrastructure had fallen to rack and ruin throughout Christendom.

It was the crusaders that brought the habit of bathing back to medieval Europe. Whilst the Christians were busy working up a stench that could be weaponised, cleanliness remained essential throughout the Muslim world. Medieval Arab doctors were far more advanced than the west and understood the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Medieval cities of Mecca, Marrakech, Cairo, and Istanbul all had their water and bathhouses supplied by well-maintained aqueducts. The Kitab at-Tasrif (C.1000) by Al-Zahrawi is a medical encyclopaedia that devotes entire chapters to cosmetics and cleanliness; Al-Zahrawi gives recipes for soap, deodorants, facial creams and hair dyes. Conversely, for all their ‘spiritual purity’, the crusaders stank. The medieval Arabian author of A Thousand and One Nights was one of many writers appalled at Christian hygiene; ‘They never wash, for, at their birth, ugly men in black garments pour water over their heads, and this ablution, accompanied by strange gestures, frees them from the obligation of washing for the rest of their lives.’ Happily, the Muslim habit of regular bathing seemed to rub off on the marauding crusaders, and bathhouses began to become popular throughout medieval Europe once more, and bathing became a serious business.

Fourteenth-century Italian physician, Maino De Maineri, wrote extensively about the health benefits of bathing and had guidance for bathing in old age, pregnancy and even when travelling. If you had the money, you could pay for servants to heat water and fill a wooden tub for one, but most people used the public baths. By the thirteenth-century there were thirty-two bathhouses in Paris and eighteen in London; even the smaller towns had bathhouses. It wasn’t just the habit of social soaking and an arse whooping the crusaders brought back from the Holy Lands; they had also learnt about the art of perfume. The Medieval Europeans have always valued a nice smelling plant, but oils, soap, colognes and exotic bases, like civet and musk, for perfume, were wholly new.  Rosewater, in particular, was the Chanel No. 5 of the middle ages. A donner à laver was a bowl of rosewater rich guests would use to wash their hands before dinner. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy owned a statue of a child that peed rosewater. John Russell’s fifteenth-century Book of Nurture has advice for preparing a good bath. He recommends ‘flowers and sweet green herbs’, breweswort, camomile, mallow, fennel and (of course) rosewater to scent the water. The first known perfume was created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary around 1370. It was known as ‘Hungary Water’ and legend said it was created by a hermit who promised the queen it would allow her to live for ever; its ingredients included rosemary, grape oil, mint and lemon balm, and whilst the Queen may not have lived forever, she may have at least left a lovely smelling corpse.

So, medieval people smelled a lot nicer than you might have expected, and we all know it’s much more pleasant to get down and dirty if you and your lover are not dirty (if you follow); but, for all their rub-a-dub-dubbing, the medieval folk were a metaphorically mucky lot. Historically, wherever you have had public bathing, sex has been working up a lather at the soapy heart of it. Of course, this is still the case today and you must do your homework before arriving at an all-night city sauna with your swimming cap, nose plugs and loofah (just me?). So closely associated are sex and bathing, numerous slang phrases for sex and sex work are derived from bathing; ‘lather’, as in ‘to lather up’ was sixteenth-century slang for ejaculation. The word ‘bagnio’, meaning a brothel, derives from the Latin ‘balneum’, meaning ‘bath’. Likewise, a medieval word for a brothel was a ‘stew’, which also derives from the bathhouses, where you could literally stew yourself in the hot water and steam. Sex work and saunas were closely associated, the word ‘stew’ became synonymous with both. In the twelfth century, King Henry II officially recognised the Southwark area of London as a red-light district; it was no coincidence that this was also the area of the city with the highest concentration of bathhouses. So concerned with being thought of as a brothel, that one new bathhouse in Avignon, around 1446, felt it necessary to announce their opening with a clear statement defining themselves as an ‘honest’ establishment.

Let everyone of whatever rank be aware that Genin de Geline or de Helme, otherwise known as de la Cerveleria, has established behind his house at Helme good and honest stews for bathing by good and honest women and that these are quite separate from the men’s bath of de la Cerveleria.

Sanitation was patchy, and Beyoncé’s Heat may have been a few centuries off, but the middle ages were quite discerning about a sexy smell. In the fourteenth-century Decameron, for example, Boccaccio clearly links sex and smell together.

Without permitting anyone else to lay a hand on him, the lady herself washed Salabaetto all over with soap scented with musk and cloves. She then had herself washed and rubbed down by the slaves. This done, the slaves brought two fine and very white sheets, so scented with roses that they seemed like roses; the slaves wrapped Salabaetto in one and the lady in the other and then carried them both on their shoulders to the bed . . . They then took from the basket silver vases of great beauty, some of which were filled with rose water, some with orange water, some with jasmine water, and some with lemon water, which they sprinkled upon them.

Le Ménagier de Paris (1393) is full of helpful advice on smelling attractive; Sage water is recommended, along with ‘chamomile, marjoram, or rosemary boiled with orange peel’. William Langham’s Garden of Health (1579) recommends adding Rosemary to a bath:  ‘Seethe much Rosemary, and bathe therein to make thee lusty, lively, joyfull, likeing and youngly.’” Delights for Ladies (1609) suggests distilling water with cloves, orris powder, nutmeg and cinnamon (because you’re worth it). And in a medieval forerunner of the lynx effect, the civet effect meant musk harvested from the glands of the civet cat became highly desirable; along with castor from the anal glands of a beaver, and whale vomit (ambergris); but, these were luxury items. If you really want to know the smell of medieval illicit sex, it’s lavender.

The word lavender comes from the latin word lavare, which means to wash. It has been used for thousands of years for its sweet smell. Unlike the more exotic and expensive perfumes, lavender grows all over Europe and is both cheap and readily available. Lavender was widely used in washing clothes, and washerwoman became known as ‘lavenders’; in fact, the word ‘launder’ derives from lavender. As historian Ruth Mazo Carras identified, one medieval profession that was especially connected to sex work was the washerwoman. Medieval laundresses were very poor, and had a reputation for making ends meet by dollymopping (subsidising their income with sex work).  Dante calls ‘meretrices’ (sex workers) ‘lavenders’ in his Inferno. Chaucer writes that ‘envy is lavender of the court’ in his The Legend of the Good Woman (C.1380), metaphorically drawing on the double meaning of being at once both dirty and clean. Walter of Hemingburgh tells a story of King John who thought he was seducing a married noble woman, but instead had been sent “a horrid whore and laundress.” The sixteenth-century poem “Ship of Fools” includes the following lines: “Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress / To wash and keep clean all my gear, / Our two beds together shall be set / Without any let.” Given lavender’s rather conservative and somewhat old fashioned reputation today, I personally take great delight in knowing that elderly women and aromatherapists the world over actually smell like a medieval strumpet.

But, the fun was not to last. Public bathhouses went into steep decline across Europe in the sixteenth-century. New medical advice suggested bathing weakened the body, and that cleaning the skin left it open to infection. Periodic outbreaks of plague and the arrival of syphilis in the fifteenth century certainly burst the bubble bath. As people became cautious about bathing, washing the body was replaced with wearing linen shirts; linen was thought to draw out and absorb sweat. Louis XIV changed his shirt several times a day and French mansions were designed without bathrooms, as changing linen was so popular. Bathing would not come back into vogue until the eighteenth century with the rise of the spa.

When Monty Python sent up preconceptions about the Middle Ages in Holy Grail (1975), the dead collector correctly identifies Arthur as the King, because he is the one who ‘hasn’t got shit all over him’. In 2014, beloved Python Terry Jones published his Medieval Lives where he sets about redeeming the Middle Ages from unjust stigmas; such as smelling of shit. Far from living in a ditch, eating twigs and rubbing themselves with sewage, the citizens of the Middle Ages actually smelt quite good; certainly better than the people of the Renaissance who believed bathing would make them ill. Medieval lovers valued clean bodies, sweet breath, regular scrubbing and an array of perfumes. They also knew the aphrodisiacal qualities of various scents, oils and plants. They enjoyed mixed sex communal bathing and invested in bathing infrastructure. Sex was very much a part of the culture of communal bathing; at worst it was tolerated, at best it was fully embraced and enjoyed. The medieval period was undeniably grubbier than our own; but, they embraced cleanliness as fully as they could, and their sex workers smelt of lavender.


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

WOMEN'S MARCH

Bitches Unite: Women’s March #PussyGrabsBack

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

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

LONDON

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

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

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

EDINBURGH

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

PARIS

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

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

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

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

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

GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

REEK. perfume ethos on cruelty free, animal products and use of synthetics in scent.

At REEK. we are cruelty free but that’s not that big a deal – in the EU it’s illegal for cosmetics to be tested on animals, so ours aren’t. China insists on animal testing cosmetics so we don’t and won’t sell our perfumes there. That’s a promise.

Damn Rebel Bitches also doesn’t use any animal products. Sarah McCartney, the award-winning indie perfumer who makes our eau de parfum uses natural and synthetic perfumery materials and follows IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines and EU regulations. The EU has banned or restricted anything that harms the skin or the environment, so no worries there.

Shocked at us using synthetics as well as naturals? Turns out that the materials most likely to give you a rash are the naturals, because they contain 300 to 600 different chemicals – they’re naturally occurring ones. So Damn Rebel Bitches is chock full of dangerous ideas, but nobody and nothing has got hurt making it or wearing it.

We include delivery because why would we add that on? It’s not a special offer or an inducement, it’s just the way we think things should be. We deliver via the Royal Mail and Interlink. We particularly like Interlink because they are carbon neutral.

Last of all we pay everyone the living wage. When it comes down to it we’re happy to charge more to ensure no animals are harmed or perfumers underpaid. That’s us all set to make a bitch feel good and you can take that to the bank.


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

VANILLA WARDS & GHOSTED OLFACTION

The Silver Fox: Vanilla Wards & Ghosted Olfaction

Beyond Fragrance for Women

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

Brilliant perfume blogger, the Silver Fox, writing about fragrance memories and the moving experience of being ill for someone to whom scent is everything.

The ability of our brains to recall memories from the archive of our collected lives is a wondrous and sometimes haunting thing.  In this social media saturated age, many of us are aware of the nostalgic recall power of scent, not only fragrance for women but perfumed waters, oils, woods, smoke and balms suffusing our days and nights with faces, places, and alumni that our brains have stored and associated with certain aromatic frissons. A zephyr of Ma Griffe by Carven, vintage YSL Opium, Dior’s violent and violet-soaked Fahrenheit, the swooning majesty of buttery, vanillic Shalimar, the orchard lure of mulled cider, anisic smears of chopped tarragon, crisp glossy magazines, dying books, just-popped toast, petrichor, apricot jam, cherry flavoured pipe tobacco, Imperial Leather soap, fading honeysuckle, ripe strawberries, tomato leaves, shimmering petrol on garage forecourts, tar and freshly cut lilac. Such diversity in things that dazzle and stimulate the limbic system, the area of brain, directly responsible for memory.

Sometimes the associations are not always what we desire: the melancholy odour of violets in a widower’s empty house, invisible tendrils of daddy’s cigar smoke that drift down through the years or the powdered aldehydes of Chanel No 5 that conjure up a beloved mother. A scarf plucked from a wardrobe can be haunted by roses, a sudden jolt back to a holiday when you were happy, laughing in unexpected rain, surrounded by love before he walked away with someone else, pulling the oxygen from your world. The resurrected roses embedded deep in merino and cashmere fibres are plain witness to the reality of that day he held your face in the rain and kissed you.  

I am often shocked and moved by olfaction, be it created, curated aromatics or the world moving around me. Bouts of illness have removed my sense of smell from time to time and this has been unnerving and disorientating. We breathe to live therefore we inhale and smell all the time. Actually pausing, to wonder, contemplate and take a little extra time to interpret and quantify our continual interactions with environmental pungencies. This I think is something we have lost or no longer care to do. We have forgotten how to interpret our surroundings properly and smell our own lives.

We all have our own distinctive odour profiles, gathered and nurtured as we live, mature, love, travel, suffer, fuck, hate, care, mourn, envy, crave, pity, cherish and touch. Everything we come into contact with will mark us. Some of us are more absorbent than others, soaking up odours like cacti in the deserts of our worlds. Others are more selective, sparse perhaps in their absorption, only occasionally registering olfactory hits. But as life’s weather rolls over us, we gather extraordinary amounts of emanations and whiffs that we catalogue subconsciously, sorting them into a system that suits our individual histories and lifestyles.     

Now, it is no secret to those who know me how much I love the scent of vanilla, in fragrances, food and as objects in themselves. Have you ever really taken time to look at the sensual mahogany sheaths that hide the delicious sticky paste of black seeds? They are beautiful works of natural art, redolent with sugared, warm sun and sweet tobacco rub. My mother put drops of quality vanilla extract on baking trays in low heated ovens so the scent of soothing nectarous vanilla would radiate into the kitchen and beyond.  When my brother and I were kids, she used to make a lot of chocolate chip cookies with brown sugar and walnuts; we loved them still warm and supple from the oven, chocolate oozing. That particular scent of vanillic cookie dough and golden sweetness is a defiant odiferous thread that has followed me into adulthood and my obsessive relationship with genuine vanilla base notes in quality perfumes.

Sadly my health is not terribly robust and I have spent a lot of time in hospitals over the years. This year I have had two bouts of surgery that forced my body and senses into strange and unfamiliar territories.  My sensory systems felt hacked.  For the first time in years I came to a complete halt. Strangely, these hospitals sojourns while traumatic were in their own way oddly consoling. I found the routine and surrounding colour palette of blues and whites immensely soothing and the demanded regime of analgesics and organised care seemed to assuage a troubled mind.  Throughout my stay I wore a vanilla scent, to anchor me, the solacing Cierge du Lune by Aedes Perfume, a composition inspired by a night blooming desert cactus, conjuring up the ghosts of votive beeswax candles burning in French night churches.  My stays were infused with this gossamer vanilla wonder, but despite the daily obsession with sterility I found the panoply of hospital scents fascinating and greatly soothing.  Pre-bloods swabbing, the cold rub of hand steriliser, the lactonic scent of wound dressings and iodine.   

The oddest thing of all was the shock of rubbered vanilla amid the sterile chill and plasticity of ward aromatics; manifest in the form of brightly coloured latex-free tourniquets scented strongly with some sort of artificial vanilla compound. Apparently flavoured to divert kids who might find blood taking distressing.  The odour from the slithering neon purple, pink and blue tourniquets was really hefty, a warm, dry powdered custardy vanilla with whiffs of play dough and fresh cardboard.  The scent was incredibly intense and lingered on my arm for hours afterwards. I would find myself drifting into opiate oblivion, curtains flickering like soft blue flames, my skin stained with a rubbery, weird sniff of vanillic dust reminding me of cookie dough air and warm distant kitchens, a baking tray with amber tears of vanilla extract; a faraway me hoping a golden scent might heal all ills.

By The Silver Fox
www.ascentofelegance.com


Image of perfume bottles used in a blog post by Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays.

NON-ASPIRATIONAL SCENTS

Sarah McCartney: Non-Aspirational Scents

Image of perfume bottles used in a blog post by Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays.
Image of perfume bottles used in a blog post by Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays.

Perfumer, Sarah McCartney’s observations on mainstream perfume advertising and how it plays on women’s desires and their insecurities.

Perfume advertising and branding is – 95% of the time – aspirational. Fragrances are attached to designers or to a celebrities and imply that if we just had this bottle, then we’d be a little more like a rich person, one step closer to their success.

Perfume companies rely on customers’ aspirations – their hopes that wearing a scent which is advertised by Johnny, or created for Justin or was once worn by Cary or designed with Tom in the room – will rub off on them. Brand owners launch a fragrance which is an abstract embodiment of their spirit. Spray on their scents and a sniff of their success comes as part of the package.

However, those perfumes’ sales are slowly but inexorably falling. Perhaps there are just too many. Perhaps they are gradually disconnecting from their customers’ worlds.

Then there are the niche brands whose perfume designers bang on about using terrifically expensive ingredients, or about their rich famous customers (who are quite often dead and unable to argue the facts, or royalty – Hollywood or traditional – and won’t stoop to argue), or rely on astonishingly costly packaging to get the point over. For the moment, these are growing.

Perfume houses with a history saw niche fragrance prices going up and decided to have a share of it; now you can find limited editions in smart stores of ranges which cost four or five times more than the same brands’ high street offerings. Either that or they buy their competitors. Often, niche brands are set up using venture capital funding with the intention of building a brand (without actually having to make any perfume themselves) and being bought out.

Designer and celeb brands tend to go in for fanciful, emotional persuasion: Truth or Dare, Sauvage, Twilight, Realities or Romance anyone? My absolute favourite abstractly named aspirational perfume is Marry Me.

Every now and again descriptive perfumes come into fashion again. Taking the gourmande trend to the max, we have Prada’s crossover from abstract to practical: Candy; it smells like sweeties. It’s popular because it smells familiar, and it absolutely nails it.

Gourmande fragrances smell like deserts. Why not? We like puddings. The rise and rise of the salted caramel fragrance has been an interesting trend to watch. (Salt has no smell, by the way, but salted caramel sounds groovier, don’t you think?)

Demeter / The Library of Fragrance has led the way in affordable “smells like the name” fragrances since in 1990s, some great (Playdoh), some middling (Jasmine) and one or two are appalling! (Pizza anyone?) Some border on novelty – Baby Powder, Waffles, and Dirt – but what they do is marvellous. You should all have some.

There are celebrity and designer fragrances which smell like puddings too, but they don’t go all out and say what they mean. They stick with the abstract aspirational names: Forever Glowing – a honey toffee from Jennifer Lopez, Fame – honey apricot from Lady Gaga in a bottle that looked like an alien egg, Royal Desire – mandarin, blackberry, marshmallow from Christina Aguilera.

This article first appeared on http://www.4160tuesdays.com/blog/ in May 2016.


Image of Damn Rebel Bitches Stickers by artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume on a model.

PAINT THE TOWN WITH BITCHES

Tara Nowy: Paint the Town with Bitches

Image of Damn Rebel Bitches Stickers by artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume on location in Lyon, France.
Image of Damn Rebel Bitches Stickers by artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume on location in Lyon, France.

Ex-model, Tara Nowy on inspirational fragrances, stickers and breaking the rules.

Damn Rebel Bitches immediately spoke to me. Not only because of the name but the history and story behind it, I loved the fact it paid homage to heroines past and present. As a brand, it makes a stand, recently releasing an unedited, unretouched campaign that received a lot of attention both good and bad. It has been declared the “first feminist fragrance” – that definitely appeals to me.

After working in the fashion industry for almost 10 years, I found it refreshing to see images of women smiling. To see the lumps, bumps and scars that define our lives, although many of us hide them. Dove had previously tried something like this (I am sure people have seen the ads) but it came to light that they actually cast their models and retouched the images before they went out. Which again created an uproar. Damn Rebel Bitches goes against the grain – it stays away from the half-naked supermodels running through the streets – a more traditional way to sell perfume! There will always be division in opinion but I have to admit some of the remarks made about the natural campaign saddened me and made me realise how disgusting the advertising industry can be. Warping our minds and giving many of us a false sense of beauty, it’s clear “feminism” and “self love” still has a long way to go. This made me even prouder to be part of the supportive Damn Rebel Bitch gang and I wanted to do my bit. I wanted to help spread the word.

Inspired by the images on REEK’s Instagram, I took to the streets of Lyon, stickers in hand, with one mission. Paint the town with bitches. I felt like a true rebel but one with a good cause. As I wandered around I noticed that a lot of the graffiti in Lyon incorporated women and not men, fair enough many were fictitious but why didn’t we celebrate the heroines of the past who fought for the rights we have now? Real women. When I first came across Damn Rebel Bitches I was told a fascinating yet disgusting fact that stuck in my mind. “There are more statues of men and animals in the UK than there are women”. How did this make any sense? Totally outraged I decided to make my own mark on these murals and I was doing so when a well dressed man stopped and asked what I was up to. In a panic and broken French I tried to explain (he didn’t look thrilled) but luckily he detected my accent and switched to English promptly. In a fluster I explained it was a perfume from Scotland, my home. I told him the history behind it and the valid reason for my vandalising what was, in effect, other vandalism. He was nodding with great approval and his stern face soon switched to a smile. I offered him a sticker and gave him the website details to which he said “my wife is a bit of a rebel, I’ll pass this on”. It filled my heart with joy at the notion that we may have a French lady joining the DRB gang. This small Scottish brand was already pushing boundaries and changing minds – not only of women but clearly of men too.

The REEK website says be heroic, unapologetic and passionate. Coming from a long line of outspoken, strong and forward thinking women, I feel I have found the perfume that represents me. The morals and ethics behind Damn Rebel Bitches are to be admired. The image it portrays is powerful and the scent, well it’s not only delicious with hints of blood orange and hazelnut but it reminds me of home. I wear it with pride as I establish a new home in France.


Flashing image of models for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s rebellious, feminist, no-retouching campaign featuring Damn Rebel Bitches, a fragrance for women.

THE MAKING OF

THE MAKING OF

THE REEK CAMPAIGN

How do we make our fabulous artisan scents and how do we promote them? Here’s how.

At REEK we consciously challenge the ethos of the beauty industry as it stands. Women deserve products that mean something – not just an endless parade of sanitized pictures.

So we have rules at REEK HQ when it comes to our campaigns.

1 We never retouch photographs of our models. Not because it’s trending, not because it’s edgy, but because who needs it?

2 We choose models of different ages, different ethnicities and different sexualities. It’s like life. Everyone matters.

3 Standing up for women does not mean denegrating men. Some of our favourite feminists are men. Feminism is not a gender.

4 We kick out against accepted and unreasonable ideas of what’s beautiful. We like hair, We like moles. We’re proud of our folds, creases, curves and imperfections. Bring us your scars and stretchmarks so we can share the beauty of your story shown on your skin. And lots of smiles, cos we’re celebrating.

5 We offer an all-female team on photoshoots so models feel comfortable.

6 We know that the facts are on our side. There is data about how badly women are memorialized. How badly they are represented and treated. We are committed to sharing those facts as a way of changing them. New facts are long overdue.

7 We celebrate the Damn Rebel Bitch inside all of us. Join us. Don’t be forgotten.