What Does Feminism Mean Today?

Over centuries feminism’s presence in popular culture has been contested. Amidst a great shift in a how the movement exists in mainstream media, what do popular portrayals of feminism mean for women’s experiences of liberation today?

Holly Charlotte Campbell hosts a free interactive discussion and feedback group to inspire critical and collaborative thinking on feminism today.

Your voice, opinion and experiences are important. This is a comfortable, constructive and respectiful space for you to share your thoughts and receive valuable takeaways to inspire your own projects, career aspirations and academic work.

ProjectFEM’s next event is open to UAL students only.

Limited spaces available, please secure your space here: https://bit.ly/2RraZT7

10th October 2018

5:30-6:30pm

Free tickets: https://bit.ly/2RraZT7

Room: T1003

London College of Communication

Elephant & Castle
London
SE1 6SB

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How To Vote Towards Gender Equality on June 8th

Author: Holly Campbell

The state of politics in the world today can seem, at best, murky. It can be difficult to know who to trust or which party really upholds women’s interests. With the government calling on us to vote again on 8th June, we need to make some sense of the chaos and quick.

So, where do we start? Last month, Theresa May announced a shock snap election (despite promising to not hold one until 2020), in which she was debatably driven by her parties’ lead over Labour. An election win would enable the Tories to more easily pass their favoured Brexit related legislation. The announcement provoked calls for ‘progressive voting’, with the Green party tactically pulling out of crucial election seats to help Labour topple the Tories. This is in the context of the UK’s unrepresentative first-past-the-post electoral system, where the number of votes cast for a party does not determine the number of seats they will win in parliament. No wonder many of us are suffering from ‘world-whelm’! It’s enough to disaffect us from politics altogether, which is what we saw with the sense of ‘Bregret’ from voters who cast a protest ‘leave’ vote in the EU referendum but regretted it once the economic reality had set in.  If there is one thing we have learnt from the UK’s political turmoil, it’s how powerful your vote actually is. As 2018 marks 100 years since women were granted the right to vote and with women’s rights at the forefront of activism today, we must recognise that every vote makes a difference. It is important now more than ever to make the right decision towards gender equality on June 8th.

Amongst this political pandemonium, here are 3 ways that you can vote towards gender equality in the upcoming election:

  1. Vote for a party who show that they are actively challenging issues that affect women. This is how the main parties have voted on women-related policies:
Conservatives LibDems Labour Green
Abortion
Independent support for women seeking abortion – counselling services, guidance etc. (07/09/2011) Against Against Against Against
Decriminalising Abortion for up to 24 weeks gestation (13/03/2017) Against For For For
Sex selective abortion made illegal (23/02/2017)  For For For For
Domestic Violence
Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification) Bill (24/02/2017) For For For Not present (Copeland by-election results on same day)
Finance/Tampon Tax
Increasing min. wage to £8 (15/10/2014)  

(Women are more likely to work part-time than men and therefore be paid less than the min. wage than jobs held by men)

Against Against For Did not vote
Cost of Living (26/10/2014) incl. more free childcare for working parents, higher min. wage Against Against For For
Finance Bill (included abolishing the Tampon Tax) (26/10/2015) Against Against For For
Equal pay transparency (14/12/2016)  For For For For
Tax and Benefits – Gender Equality Strategy to Improve Position of Women (14/12/2016) Against For For For
Poverty
Reducing Dependency on Food Banks (17/12/2014) (1 in 5 parents struggling to feed children) Against Against For For
Ending Rough Sleeping (14/12/2016)  Against For For Did not vote
Pension
Equal pension age for men and women – delaying some women reaching state pension age from 60 to 65 (18/10/2011)  Against Against For For
Transitional arrangements for women adversely affected by state pension age increase (24/02/2016)  Against For For For
Slow increase in state pension age for women (30/11/2016) Against For For For
Political Action
Authorising Demonstrations in designated areas (07/02/2005) Inc. demonstrations for women’s issues i.e. Women’s March 2017 Against Against For No seat
Reduction of Voting Age (20/07/2016)  Against For For For
Gender/Sexuality
Equality Act – defining discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (19/03/2007) Against For For Not present
Same Sex Couples to Marry (21/05/2013) Against For For For
Education
Abolishing tuition fees (14/09/2004)  Against Against For No seat
Scrap higher education student grants for loans (19/01/2016)  For Against Against Against
Environment
Control of Ozone-depleting Substances (11/03/2009)  Against For For No seat
Environmental protection following EU removal (12/07/2016)  Against For For For

2. Vote for a female MP, regardless of party, in support of gaining more female representatives in parliament. This could work towards equalising the disproportionate amount of men currently upholding seats. Here is how the gender imbalance in parliament looks at present:

Source: http://www.womensequality.org.uk/why-we

However, whilst a representative proportion of women in parliament may constitute equality this does not necessarily mean that those women will vote in favour (or at all) of women-specific legislation. For example, Theresa May did not vote for equal pay transparency, whereas Jeremy Corbyn voted in favour of this policy.

3. Vote for your local Women’s Equality (WE) party MP. Founded in 2015, WE do not yet have a seat in parliament, but have achieved fledgling success by gaining over 350,000 votes across 4 areas in their 2016 election campaign. There are 7 WE MPs standing in the 2017 election, a party founded on the principles of equality with objectives on ending violence against women and equalizing opportunities, representation and education. Find out more about WE here.

Ultimately, how you vote is your choice and there are multiple ways that you can use the upcoming election to vote towards gender equality. Whichever route you think most effective, between tactically toppling the Tories or backing your local female or WE MP, don’t let the bewildering landscape of British politics deter you from having your say, use your vote on June 8th.

Why We Need to End Period Shaming

 

Author: Holly Campbell

You’ve likely experienced somebody’s overt disgust at the sight of menstrual blood or had your views devalued because you are “on your period” – an insult used to disregard a person of any gender as irrational. This culture of shame is sexist and used as a tool to maintain the subordination of women. We need to talk openly about periods to empower women, support positive experiences for trans-men and encourage safe and environmentally sustainable sanitary products.

The social anxiety around women’s menstrual cycles is exhaustingly intrusive. Period shaming means that whilst women are dealing with pain, cramps and expensive sanitary products, we also have to manage our periods with utmost secrecy too. This consensus of shame and embarrassment means public conversations around menstruation are avoided and challenging concepts to include trans-men is nowhere near considered. The menstrual cycle is an inherently natural and biological function, yet we live in a culture that associates periods with weakness and irrationality – traits historically associated with women for the convenience of patriarchy. This oppression devalues women and marginalises trans-men.

Period shaming limits open conversations around menstruation and the potential for positive action to combat related social, health and environmental impacts. Period, vagina and tampon are not shameful, dirty words. However a patriarchal society has created a culture that squirms at the sound of them. We need to challenge this for honest discussions around the environmental and health impacts of sanitary products. We use on average 11,000 tampons in our lifetime, all dumped in landfill taking centuries to degrade. Furthermore, manufacturers are not legally obliged to disclose ingredients, meaning many consumers are unaware that their sanitary products contain harmful toxins. In third world countries, periods are utterly unmentionable and women resort to using unhygienic rags. Homeless women are crippling in period pain on freezing cold streets and cannot afford the luxury of sanitary towels – despite the British government providing free condoms to all citizens. This cultural ignorance further marginalises trans-men. Through removing gender from menstruation and discussing it as a biological function, we contribute to their inclusivity. However, whilst this conversation is being had, it is not broached in mainstream conversations.

We can take action to unload this stigma by talking openly with our peers about our experiences – asking a friend for a tampon should be as easy as asking for a tissue! We should not have to bear the burden of cramps, expensive sanitary products and cultural shame in addition to confronting those who perpetuate that shame. However, in the name of those deeply affected by the stigma, we can make it our responsibility to enact defiance, from proudly asking your friend for a sanitary towel in public to starting a campaign.  Rupi Kaur uses art, the free bleed movement is uses protest and recently, Madison Beer used her celebrity platform to challenge period-shamers (below).

When we talk openly and confidently about our menstrual cycles, we reclaim power and ownership of our bodies. We own vaginas, use tampons and we have periods. Let’s call it what it is and normalise what society cannot seem to accept.

 

Review: Ethical Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week 

London Ethnic is a marketing company who offer a platform to aspiring designers, offering them support in the entire design and marketing process. The concept was founded by Saumen Kar who has a degree in business but was struck by issues of ethics and sustainability within fashion when reading a friends essay. ProjectFEM reviews London Ethnic’s LFW show for upcoming designers…

A stream of catwalks flaunt throughout the Chelsea-based venue, kicked off by Urban Roots’ cultural and religious inspired SS17 collection. Designer Ruth Woldesalasie uses left-over textiles and upcycles vintage to create bespoke and unique pieces. The collection was traditionally feminine with soft, sheer, floaty materials and lace and pearl adornments. The brand vision mixes cultural, eco and urban styles and casts an ethnically diverse range of models. However, each piece was draped over the delicate skeletal frames of these women, with their bones showing through their skin which was uncomfortable to watch. One older model had been cast compared to the other young women; her long silver hair was fitting with the mysterious and airy feel of the collection. The sheer materials showed the younger models’ naked bodies underneath, however it was difficult to decide whether this was an empowering ‘free-the-nipple’ moment of embracing the socially censored female body, or a rehashed convention of the stereotypical feminine ideal. If you are young, able-bodied and thin then it is acceptable for your body (as an idealistic commodity) to be shown.

Urban Roots SS17 Model on London Ethnic’s LFW Catwak

When asked about how women influence her brand, Ruth stated “I am a totally free person… and I am not dependent on anyone because I am a woman who runs my own business”. Ruth recognised that many women are forced to be dependent on men and she hopes that “[she] will be a good example to women”. The fashion industry has been acknowledged within feminism for being one of the the first industries where women can advance to higher level jobs than men. Ruth is acknowledging that in an economic sense, she is empowered through the independence of owning her own business which is inspiring to other women, yet her brand is still perpetuating the skinny ideal within the fashion industry.


Urban Roots’ SS17 Models Backstage at London Ethnic’s Ethical LFW Show

Second walk of the night, was Saba’s SS17 Gothic Romantic collection. Again, the collection was rooted in ethical and sustainable manufacturing and consisted of staple day and cocktail dresses with lace detailing and fitted empire lines. Saba aims for stylish and comfortable fashion for women aged 20-40. During this walk, models looked healthier than the previously ultra-skinny models and it was actually more comfortable to watch and explore the clothes, without wincing at the sight of bones poking through skin. Initially we were hopeful to see some body-size diversity on the runway. However, speaking to founder Saumen after the show, he explained that this was a commercial brand so the sample size could be up to a size 10. This is fundamental in the issue with the fashion industry reproducing the skinny ideal; high-fashion sample sizes are set at size 6, whereas commercial sample sizes are 8-10. This is because commercial collections sell to the general public who are more likely to buy something that they can see themselves wearing, and with the average UK woman being a size 12 she is most likely to buy clothing that is represented on models closer to her size.

Saba’s SS17 Models Backstage at London Ethnic’s Ethical LFW Show

London Ethnic’s ethical LFW show delivered in terms of promoting ethical and sustainable fashion and casting ethnically diverse models, however the long overdue need for size and ability diversity still remains. It seems that female representation and challenging detrimental norms is an afterthought for designers, it’s only a consideration once they are questioned about it . The body-size of models cast is dictated by which marketing ideal must be projected by a high-end or commercial brand and the patriarchal capitalist fashion system is still standing strong. Designers have the power to assert the sizes of their models, show organisers have the power to cast models over a certain size and we have the power to demand change. It is promising to see ethical fashion well cemented within the mission of brands and designers, but when will body diversity be top of the agenda… or on the agenda at all?

 

Author: Holly C x

Reflection: ProjectFEM’s Feminist Fashion Catwalk and Exhibition

High on the buzz of the debut ProjectFEM fashion event, Founder Holly Campbell reflects on the day, thanks all involved and offers food for thought for the next epic event…

The event was truly a success. After months of planning and exasperating hard work Danielle, Annie, Georgie and I managed to pull together our first event working late nights and weekends around our full time jobs. We emailed until our fingers were numb, persistently pitched for funding and flyered until we ran out of places to go; it all paid off on the day and we seamlessly improvised through unexpected challenges.

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The Team: Annie (Media), Holly (Director), Georgie (Stylist), Danielle (Event Manager at Cargo)

We welcomed guests including the Women’s Equality Party’s Sophie Walker and Catherine Meyer, plus size model Jada Sezer, activist model Rain Dove and America’s Next Top Model’s first gay contestant Cory Wade. All of whom were incredibly passionate about the cause and recognised the necessity of opening a conversation about the detrimental impacts of fashion around gender, beauty, diversity and representation. Sophie Walker gave a captivating speech about WEP’s #NoSizeFitsAll body image campaign, in which a fundamental component is to pressure London mayer Sadiq Khan into withdrawing funding from London Fashion Week for shows that do not cast at least one model of size 12 or above. Our audience were reassuringly engaged and opened up further important conversations around body image and fashion. Take action here.

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Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, speaking on 09.09.16

Then the show began! Our models were beaming with confidence and excitement and it showed. Designers included Gudrun & Gudrun, a sustainable knitwear brand and Neon Moon a feminist lingerie brand. Each look made a statement through visual culture in terms of gender and beauty.

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VIPs at the ProjectFEM event, 09.09.16

Diversity and representation are our fundamental aims and integral to our values and mission. We were successful in achieving racial diversity amongst our cast of models and we had a range of genders and ages. However, we recognise that we did not capture a cast as representative as we had hoped. We had two recruited plus-sized models and a model with physical disabilities, but at the last  minute they pulled out which was out of our control. This meant that we did not manage to represent physical disability in the show, whilst invisible disabilities were present amongst our cast.

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Catwalk Finale, 09.09.16

Upon reflection, as much as we advertised through social media, flyered and put out casting calls with a diverse modelling agencies, we struggled to capture the amount of transgender, age and ability diverse models as we wanted. We were inundated with applications from models from ranging ethnic background but found it a real task to reach those with broader ranging underrepresented qualities. Starting the project we thought individuals from these groups would eager get involved. Upon reflection, this challenge shows that if there is no consistent mainstream space for these people then how can there exist an aspiring population of models ready to jump at our adverts? We advertised with a diverse modelling agency but that brought us only young, slim and ethnically diverse models. Diversity is more than that.

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Models from the ProjectFEM Catwalk, 09.09.16

This exemplifies the need for us to continue our work in advocating true human representation within fashion. To achieve that we need to provide opportunities, hope and change for human beings who are completely unrepresented by the fashion industry. We need to give them the space to become models in the first place, to pressure fashion week organisers, designers and advertising agencies to allow equal space for these models. We cannot simply widen the goal posts of idealised beauty by having racial and size diversity, we need to reinvent those ideals from a deeper grassroots level with the radical value that we are all beautiful, all races, abilities, genders, sizes and ages included.

We cannot merely broaden the goal posts of what or who is considered idealised beauty, we need to revolutionise what we are told beauty is. If people outside the stereotypical ideal are not represented then they are unlikely to aspire to become models. We must provide that empowerment and a platform for them to do so. We have learnt a tremendous amount from hosting our first event and our values, drive and integrity has never been stronger!

Feedback from models following the event:

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Feminist Fashion Catwalk & Exhibition, Friday 9th Sept, Shoreditch London

We are hosting our first event under ProjectFEM.

Experience a truly empowering and inclusive fashion culture with diverse and representative models and ethically and socially responsible designers.

We are working with the Women’s Equality Party’s #NoSizeFitsAll body image campaign to combat the ideals perpetuated by the current fashion industry.

Let’s join forces and create the change we NEED to see in the world! 

Tickets: http://bit.ly/2bJPjvB

Our Top 5 Change Makers for Diversity in Fashion

To highlight those in the world of fashion who are championing diversity and positive change, we have selected our favourite change makers to showcase the positive action being taken in the industry today…

  1. Lorde Inc.

Lorde Inc., a London based modelling agency, were established in 2013 by 26 year old founder Nafisa Kaptownwala. The agency recruits only models of colour to encourage racial diversity within the industry. As highlighted in our London Fashion Week article, non-white models are severely underrepresented demonstrating a deep-routed racial imbalance. In an interview with Nylon Nafisa criticises the lack of authentic diversity in alternative agencies, and aspires to normalise non-white models by making them readily available for hire with the aim of making models of colour a principle part of fashion, opposed to the tokenised or culturally appropriated representations that we see all too often.

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  1. Rein London

The high-end brand Rein was established in 2015 by London College of Fashion graduates Rebecca Morter and Gemma Vanson, with an explicitly feminist focus on ‘celebrating the female form, inspired by and for women…exploring clothing’s ability to empower’. Rein use visual culture through their designs to challenge social constructions of acceptability with revealing cut-outs and sheer materials. Furthermore, the designers value ethical manufacturing through using only local and sustainable sources. In Rein’s short history, they have already had much success including debuting at London Fashion Week in 2015 and dressing established women such as Lady Gaga. Rein’s success makes us hopeful that we can pave the way for feminism within fashion, not only through designs, but in explicit associations with feminism, sustainability and social action.

  1. Rain Dove

Androgynous model Rain Dove identifies as agender and has modelled for both men and womenswear collections such as Chromat and Malan Breton.  Not only is Rain breaking boundaries of gender on the catwalks, but is also using their knowledge and experiences to advocate for gender diversity within fashion. In an interview with Buzzfeed Rain says: “The gender thing doesn’t exist; it’s a social construct you don’t have to fit into… I model as all genders. I model as a human being”. Rain takes a refreshingly critical stance on gender constructs and fashion; season by season we see designers construct and reconstruct the idea of gender, of androgyny, femininity and masculinity, but Rain is using their voice to evoke positive change for more genderless clothing campaigns. Rain recognises the power fashion has to change the world and is using their platform to encourage that.

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  1. Claire Barrow

London based designer Claire Barrow debuted her work at London Fashion Week 2013. At just 23 Barrow caught her break when one of her iconic hand-painted leather jackets was featured in Vogue. Not only are we inspired by Barrows journey of running a business alongside a degree as well as maintaining her creative work at just 23, but her ‘do-it-yourself’ ethos which reflects British subculture is culturally and politically engaging.  The inspiration from Barrow’s artwork ranges from feminist statements within girl gangs to recognising the prospects for young people today. We highlighted Barrow in our London Fashion Week article as the only designer to use a plus-size model, and to represent ethnic and age diversity. Barrows used male and female models to showcase her genderless collection, and continues to make political and current statements through her work.

 

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  1. Lucy Jones

In 2015 Lucy Jones won the Womenswear Designer of the Year award for her Seated Collection, which consists of accessible clothing focusing on aesthetic and comfort for wheelchair users. The collection was inspired by a fashion assignment which aimed to change the world; Jones recognised that people with disabilities are overlooked within fashion and wanted to make accessible solutions. To achieve this, Jones researched over 100 people with disabilities, all of whom felt marginalised by the fashion industry. Jones began to notice and solve the issues of accessibility faced by wheelchair users and their clothes, such as reinforcing sleeves and altering the cut of trousers. Jones believes that disability should be considered in a designers approach to design from the outset, as most wheelchair users have to simply make do with uncomfortable and impractical clothing, compromising either style or accessibility.

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Positive and genuinely representative images of race, disability, age and gender is fundamental to diversity within fashion and ultimately to the self-esteem of those observing and participating in it; from watching the catwalks to reading fashion magazines, the singular idealised image of accepted beauty which still permeates the industry is problematic, especially for young women. If fashion does not authentically reflect ethnically diverse, disabled, non-binary human beings, they are further marginalised from a culture which has such propensity to empower and change the world. The change makers highlighted are fundamental to sustaining positive and authentic diversity in the fashion industry, and we must value and champion those choosing to use their voice to create an inclusive culture.

Author:  Holly C