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Soft Matter



Soft Matter

Designer Rebecca Halliwell-Sutton Editors Bex Ilsley Cerys Thorne Bella Jones Rebecca Halliwell-Sutton 3


Strange Candy Bex Ilsley 8

Girls Sophie Hinchliffe 26

Check Your Privilege Claudia Carvell 10

Aurora Lucie Crewdson 28

Blush Ruby Robinson 12

Devaluing Femininity Anne Thériault & Rosie Woods 32

Why Pink? Rebecca Kay 16

Pink Emily Buckley-Jones 40

What it Means to be a “Woman”, Considering Not Wanting Breasts Claudia Carvell 18

Coping in Copenhagen Nina Hodgson 42

34C Anon 19 Keep Looking Forward Sarah Lukes 20 Fairy-tale, Fantasy, Female Sexuality Bella Jones 22 Playthings & Chocing on Candy Ali Noggle 24


They Said It’d Be a Man Claudia Carvell 44 You Can’t Say No Whilst You’re Sleeping Claudia Carvell 45 Dream Series Sian Leyshon 44 Virginity as a Social Construct Robyn Nichol 48 Cute As Fuck Holly Astral 49

Soft Matter

Zoe & Jen, Ecstatic Blake Peterson 50

Mother Nature Natasha Cartwright 68

Food Corie Denby McGowan 52

To Peel so Anew Charlotte Cullen 69 Craft Charlotte Cullen 70

Submission Texts from Curtis 54 Digital Collage Aimee Walker 55 She Know’s What She’s Doing Saffa Khan 58 Cringe Anon 60 Gorge & Tangle Carys Fieldson 62 Embarrassment Cerys Thorne 64 Blowjob Lips Nina Hodgson 66 A Girl Is A Gun Adelina S. 67

The Tower of Meat and Stone Joseph Curle 72 Gender Schmender Amy Johnson 74 Laurence Philomène 75 ‘Boys can wear pink’ Nina Hodgson 76 Mascfemgay Jon Henry 78 They/She/Him & Untitled Carina Ripley 80 Don’t Kiss Me Karolina Lawnicka 82


Negative reactions to ‘pink’ and feminine art intrigue me. It reminds me of my 13 year old self, mocking the pretty blonde girls in teen films and girls at school in pink tracksuits with ‘juicy’ stamped across their bums on non-uniform day. During this phase I refused to wear anything feminine, instead hiding beneath a baseball hat to hide my acne covered face with nirvana vibrating down my eardrums from my Walkman. I quietly felt above it all. Those thoughts stayed with me for some time. We see pink and hyper feminine as inferior and frivolous. It seems that masculine is the norm and anything else is substandard. Pink is the only truly gendered colour, think of all the corporations, brands, apps that adopt blue as their colour. Blue does not scream BOY, it’s just blue, but heaven forbid if all those apps on your phone screen were to turn pink. Its no coincidence that the one colour in my wardrobe that has grown in recent years at the same rate as my interest in feminism, is pink. I’m not afraid of pink anymore now that we know gender is a spectrum and binaries are just archaic constructs waiting to be broken. I now feel free to experiment with femininity without qualms; it is for anyone to play with. Barbara Kruger was spot on when she emblazoned ‘your body is a battleground’ across her poster for the Women’s March in Washington in 1989. Being female identified is still a battleground, there are so many fine lines to traverse; from objectification v.s empowerment in embracing your sexuality, enjoying buying into advertising, beauty products and fashion whilst knowing we’re buying into consumerism and the ideal woman. Navigating social media and being conscious of the online persona we project, mirroring the media we consume. The internal debate of succumbing to gender stereotypes or simply embracing and celebrating femininity, to name just a few. The publication and exhibition has come out of our frustration with these fine lines that we’re teetering across. The artwork and articles in Soft Matter explore the many nuances that underpin femininity; performing identity, gender, the grotesque, body image, sexuality, sensuality and embarrassment. Soft Matter was inspired by the wealth of talented female identifying art collectives such as The Bunny Collective, The Coven, The Arduous, Clandestine Collective and World Wide Women Collective and the driven, ambitious women that lead them. As well as online spaces and platforms that have evolved into DIY publications for people to connect and showcase female creative talent like Girl Get Busy, Peachy N Keen, The Le Sigh, The Pulp Zine and Rookie magazine - an online space that truly empowers teenage girls. Our aim for the show was to bring some of these creative people together from around the world, the U.K and also showcase home-grown talent from Manchester and the north of England. To celebrate the art that’s being made by young women that grew up in the wave of 90’s girl power and are starting to change the art world. Some may call it a trend but we call it a movement.

Rebecca Kay Halliwell-Sutton Editor





Soft Matter sprang from our group debates and discussions about the relevance of the celebration of ‘femininity’ in relation to the idea of gender as a societal construct. I have not yet decided where I stand when it comes to making work that looks ‘feminine’. I identify as female and I dress and present myself in a typically feminine way. The crux of the problem, for me, lies in the idea that referring to this overtly in my own work and in the curation of an art exhibition only serves to reinforce a rigid gender binary that is ultimately unhelpful for gender equality. From this position, do we create and curate to represent femininity as a source of power, or should we be looking to transcend a gendered worldview altogether (and in turn, subvert the stereotype that women only make work about themselves)? I believe that as artists, it is so very obviously vital that we challenge patriarchal culture and that we ensure that the work of women (or indeed, any group marginalised by the prevailing social model) is not trivialised and dismissed. One way of doing this is to reject the idea that our work can only be taken seriously when it doesn’t look too girly. Instead, we can deliberately inject the gallery space with typically ‘feminine’ work - work which is pink, work which is delicate, work which employs the use of crafts like embroidery - because these things can be used to make very valid statements and should be given as much weight as any masculine marble sculpture or concrete block. And yet, I am conflicted. I had stopped to wonder if in making work like this, female artists are reinforcing the same stale gender roles that must be eradicated if we are to progress socially, politically and spiritually. I am keen to avoid becoming part of a type of whitewashed, cisgendered feminism which alienates other voices. I hope the work and writing we have chosen for this show and book can act as a springboard for a discussion about these issues. I suppose these questions came from the need I have to analyse everything I do. I am always so full of doubt about whether or not I’m ‘getting it right’. I am so very aware of being watched. I am so very self-conscious. This image was my attempt to reconcile these thoughts and feelings on a personal level. I am at once intrigued and repelled by my own hypocrisy - to be intellectually opposed to the rigid construction of gender and yet still to obsess internally (and fairly constantly) about whether or not I’m

feminine ‘enough’ to be ‘pretty’ (thin, young, attractive). My resulting work employs a girly visual language, but I aim to interrupt that with enough strangeness to act as an antidote. I hope it reflects the twisting of my thoughts and my relationship with my self-image. I also hoped to reach a conclusion on my conflicting thoughts about whether or not to show my body in my work - not just because of the countless hang-ups I have, but also as the result of conflicting feelings about whether or not it is empowering to do so. The internal conversation goes like this - don’t I want to be seen as more than just my outward appearance, to be listened to instead of just looked at? At the same time, I see how my body can be used (particularly in the context of posting this work online) to make a statement about the censorship of breasts on certain social media platforms and the notion that they are somehow more offensive than a bare male chest. I am naturally flat-chested (and about halfway through making my peace with that) so it seems funnier still to me that my chest could nevertheless be censored, despite its lack of breast tissue, purely because of my assigned gender. This is all such difficult territory to navigate in a world where certain body parts are already so sexualised. I think about all these things, wishing that everybody could be comfortable with themselves and that every body type could be seen as beautiful… yet still editing myself, still cloning out my wrinkles and spots, smoothing out the lines of my body to become a flat and symbolic ‘other’ - painted, deadened. It is an intellectual exercise, I’ve said, which comments on the way Photoshop and the Internet can affect self-image and the construction of identity… but secretly it is also because I am not comfortable to show myself as I really am. I am ashamed. I am too nervous to make work with my body which is raw or real, I prefer to hide behind layers of artifice. Under the surface sheen, it’s about how much I worry about ‘getting it right’. Because I am a performer at all times, under that eternal, relentless gaze. I don’t know what I’ve internalised, but it is leaking from my mouth.

Words Bex Ilsley


Words Claudia Carvell

Check Your Privilege

Whilst growing up as a white, middle class, cisgendered, [assumedly] straight, able-bodied, healthy female, in a majority-white, middle class area where everybody aspired to look the same, nobody ever referred to my privilege, or challenged me to check it. I remember being told what a “lucky girl” I was at Christmas and birthdays, and recognising off my own back that I had a lot to be thankful for, but I never considered how my advantages were a parallel of others’ disadvantages, and how our differences weren’t just coincidences.


The idea of checking your privilege is based upon the reality that some groups are more systematically empowered than other groups. For instance, in the Western world, these dominant groups are white, patriarchal, middle (to upper) class, heteronormative, cisgendered, able-bodied and healthy. These are the groups that typically go about their daily business with the most ease, the ones with the most privilege. The reason my privilege was never brought to my attention was predominantly because my parents, peers, teachers and the like were equally unaware of theirs, in the sense that they were not explicitly aware – it was not something they discussed or even mentioned. The invisibility of privilege- the way it is neither acknowledged nor challenged, is part of its problem. We stand, in our ignorance, in an even more privileged position because we are able to enjoy our advantages without recognising why others are not able to do the same, and how we are implicitly enabling this difference. To take one of the most prevalent indicators of privilege: race, I will quote Peggy McIntosh, author of ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’, to explain how I too viewed my relationship to racism: “In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognise racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.” White people are told by the default of their education that firstly, racism is a thing of the past by not analysing the way racism is still built into our society, and secondly, that racism is the result of individual behaviour, not the result of a conglomerate of institutionalised systems of oppression that structure Western society and make it difficult not to discriminate, such as the media and the government.

I want to quote McIntosh’s article again to get across another idea about race, specifically whiteness “Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us.” So privilege in this sense is being within the ‘us’ of dominant society, which is founded on the belief that ‘we’ are the centre around which everything else revolves and is catered for. Take the majority of films for example. Most, if not all, of the characters the assumed audience are asked to identify with will be white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied (and we might as well admit, attractive). Copy and paste that list to apply to adverts of most kinds, mainstream romance novels and western song lyrics. You can even apply most of the list to things such as self-help books and advice leaflets. The point of checking your privilege therefore is to become aware of how society is allocating you, and the rest your group ‘unearned advantages’ (to borrow McIntosh’s phrase) which is in turn empowering you, whilst disempowering those left out of this group. The way in which these social categories can combine in varying ways to create advantages and disadvantages for the people inhabiting them is called intersectionality. Becoming less ignorant of the ways in which you possess and wield your privilege is important because it enables you to step aside, let the systematic disadvantages of others be known, and enable their perspectives to be prioritised. That also means listening to the experiences that we, by definition, cannot experience and therefore can never truly understand, and become aware of the various different viewpoints which are routinely eclipsed and ignored by your own.


Blush, Lush, Coral, Rose, Fuchsia,

Words Rebecca Kay 12

Photography Ruby Robinson




Why Pink? It is the colour of me, Caucasian skin, Pink in the sun, Pink in the dark. The colour of my birthmark below my left nipple, The colour of my scar below my stomach, Where I was opened up my insides spilling pink. Flesh, womb, ovaries and tubes, we are all pink inside. Each brain, delicate, malleable, pink. Pink is pleasure. Warm cheeks wet lips, The colour of his, Pressing against mine. and my mouth. and his mouth. The colour of life, Soft blue pink babies, pushing through dark pink red canals. It’s the colour of you and me, and him and her.



What it Means to be a “Woman”, Considering Not Wanting Breasts In our fight for gender equality (including equality for those outside of well-known categories such as genderqueer or gender neutral) we should recognise how we talk about breasts, and the assumptions that are habitually made which align the identity ‘woman’ with a desire for breasts

Not all women want breasts, not all women want big breasts, and not all women feel erotically or otherwise attached to their breasts. For some women, they experience a combination of all of these breast-related feelings all or some of the time. I am aware that this is a common feeling for transgender men, but it is also a feeling sometimes felt by those who identify as a woman, or who do not identify as either. My issue is with the claim that if you don’t want your boobs, then you want to be, or see yourself, as a man. I think this dependence on a gender binary in terms of attributing oppositional characteristics to each, is a really gender-normative way of viewing the term ‘woman’, and not all that helpful for gender equality. Susan Herr, after discussing why she chooses to bind her chest on Dapper Q, states that “at the same time, I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want male genitalia. I want the word ‘woman’ to be more inclusive, or for folks to be more comfortable with those of us who exist on the edges. Everyone’s experience is unique and that’s mine, as it exists today” — and I second that. Similarly also, if someone with breasts who identifies as a man does not wish to bind, regardless of their cup-size, this should be a non-issue as well. It should be as acceptable for a woman not to want their breasts to be visible, or not to want them at all, or to don any characteristic deemed ‘masculine’, as it should be for a man to have breasts or anything else labeled ‘feminine’ and still consider themselves a man. In turn, this should be as


acceptable as any cisgendered, gender-normative person, with gender-normative expression, to be just that. On top of this, people who identify as neither male or female, both, or somewhere in between, should be able to comfortably express themselves with any combination of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and ‘male’ and ‘female’ features. What are we achieving otherwise, aside from policing people’s gender expression and identity, and limiting them to what hetero and gender-normative culture considers acceptable conduct? Categories are useful, helpful and essential for some people, and therefore it is even more important that they should have the freedom to self-define. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not a fan of limiting anyone’s gender identity or expression to anything, but I’m human - I wasn’t brought up this way (in a utopia of open mindedness) and therefore maintaining a completely open mind is a constant work in progress. However, for me, it goes like this: gender policing is like presuming that when you see the word ‘woman’ or ‘man’, the image that comes to mind is the way it always is, or always should be. This is about as ridiculous as claiming that when I say dog, or cat, or bird, the visual you’ve having (of an Alsatian, Tabby or Blue-tit, for example) is the same one as I’m having (Dalmatian, Moggy, Robin) and that yours is in some way superior to or more accurate than mine.

Words Claudia Carvell 19


Words & Collage Sarah Lukes

Keep Looking Forward

‘Keep Looking Forward’ is inspired by adolescent feelings of thinking I have to conform to the medias portrayal of female models (womanly, big bust, etc) and the reality of looking the same at every age (boyish, plain, etc). Learning to become comfortable, growing mature or more feminine in my own ways. ‘Enter The Void’ conveys the emptiness of being alone vs. the overwhelming feeling of being connected to everything. 21


Fairytale, Fantasy, Female Sexuality,

Words & Art Bella Jones

The fairytales you’re told as a child romanticise your notions of an actual human relationship. However, as you get older, these idealised concepts are either destroyed or dispelled leaving you, as a woman, feeling isolated and disappointed. The female in my work is placed into these hallucinogenic settings which depict her being ripped apart, distorted, and put back together by this world. They represent the confusing and complicated notions surrounding female sexuality. By depicting a female isolated in her own dream-like land, I wanted to question whether she still experiences fully what it truly means to be woman. Does the absence of the male make her genderless, does she just exist? Can the woman ever be separate from the man when it comes to her sexuality or is she constantly destined to feel lesser when a man is absent? Alternatively, when the male is removed, can she fully become who she truly is as a woman? Instead of diluting her identity, does it alternatively strengthen her understanding of her own existence? My work concerns the issues of both longing and liberation by depicting a female in a fantasy world of her own becoming lost in this sense of who she is. The liberation she feels from her own body and yet the constant longing for another. My work both tackles the woman’s break from a male orientated experience of love, relationships and sex in uncovering her own self. But it also reflects my own personal experiences as both a single female and a virgin.


PLAY THINGS Play Things is a collection of ceramic sculptures designed to appear soft and inviting. They are characters and toys as well as art objects. The objects draw their form from a variety of sources, including traditional ceramic forms, however their surface is plastic, a non-traditional approach in ceramics. They are intended to appear ambiguous, yet vaguely familiar.

Sculptures by Ali Noggle 24


Choking on Candy is an ongoing series of miniature objects made from polymer clay. They reference edibles such as candy as well as toys and manufactured objects. These pieces are meant to exist as collectible art objects, each representing a different character, similar to action figures or other memorabilia. Each piece is an individual made completely by hand, not exceeding 3� in any dimension. 25

‘GIRLS’ by Fashion Designer Sophie Hinchliffe

GIRLS is a project born from frustration and fun. I wanted to show women’s roles in the footballing world, a traditionally male dominated area and an underdog attitude to boot. It began with an inspiring trip to the National Football Museum where Stuart Roy Clarke’s images inspired an every day sports aesthetic. These ideas then collided with my annoyance at Genarro Gatusso claiming there was no place in football for women. GIRLS is a project that aims to show the women’s footballing world in a positive light and encourage women and girls to take up a sport no matter gender bias.

Words & Photography Sophie Hinchliffe 26



Collaboration with Photographer Lucie Crewdson, Designer Sophie Hinchliffe, & Stylist Sophie Benson. 28




We Need To Stop Devaluing Femininity Words Anne ThĂŠriault Make-Up Lucy Blake 32

Photography Rosie Woods

Model Maddie @ Jadore Stylist Lauren Reyhani



‘‘We feminists tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, which is for sure an admirable idea that should be tackled with enthusiasm. But as we move towards viewing gender as more of a spectrum, we need to make sure that spectrum includes the colour pink.’’


We Need To Stop Devaluing Femininity The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. A few months ago, my four year-old son went to a classmate’s birthday. The party was superhero-themed and the loot bags were packed with cute little superhero trinkets, including temporary tattoos. One little girl, let’s call her Izzy, put hers on immediately.

tattoo, but balked at my son’s appreciation of My Little Pony. It’s less about enforcing rigidly defined gender roles on boys and girls, and more about straight up misogyny. Anything regarded as “feminine” is still seen by men and women alike as occupying a lower status.

“LOOK,” Izzy yelled, running up to everyone in turn. “IRON MAN. SO COOL.”

We see the devaluation of femininity play out in tons of different ways. For example, there’s the whole trope of “you throw/run/play like a girl,” not to mention the fact that “girl” is routinely used as an insult among boys and men. Women are advised to tone down their femininity—less ruffles, less makeup, less flashy jewellery; more dark suits with clean lines—if they want to be taken seriously at their jobs. And while the backlash against the hyper-gendering of little girls—the iniquitousness of Princess Culture, puffy skirts and a colour palette that veers strongly towards pink—is very much needed; there is occasionally an anti-femme tone that creeps into the discourse.

The other children and parents in attendance oohed and ahed over her forearm. Every single one of them showed their admiration and approval for her Iron Man tattoo. Later, as we parents were watching our cake-smeared kids run around in a sugar-induced frenzy, one of the other mothers turned to me and said, “Isn’t it funny that [your son] loves My Little Pony so much? I mean, he’s such a boy.” Not really knowing how to answer, I said, “I don’t think it’s funny. It’s a good show.” “Oh, sure,” she said. “It’s just that it’s so girly.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this episode, along with all the other weird remarks people have made about my kid’s love for all things Rainbow Dash. I’ve also been contemplating my own internal biases about women and how I view them within existing power structures. And while I know that I’m not saying anything huge or revolutionary here, I’m still going to go ahead and put it out there: We live in a culture that simultaneously claims to embrace the equality of men and women and at the same time seriously devalues femininity. Little girls are, for the most part, taught that women can be anything. This is a message that we try to instil in them from day one. However, what they aren’t taught is that people who dress, think or act in a traditionally feminine manner can be anything. The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Like, sure you can be a girl and write code, but you can’t write code while wearing a dress. You can chair a meeting, but not while wearing sparkly hair clips. You can repair a bicycle, but not while wearing lipstick. Everyone knows that lipstick prevents people from being competent. The flip side of all of this is that we shame any boys (and, to a certain extent, girls) who participate in activities or behaviours that are seen as being more “feminine.” I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who think they’ve somehow failed at feminism because their daughters like lace and Barbie dolls; it’s much rarer to see the parent of a boy upset because his love of Batman and Star Wars doesn’t sufficiently challenge gender roles. This devaluation of femininity is why everyone was fine with Izzy’s Iron Man


The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with pastel colours or fluffy little tutus; problems arise when we use these things to push certain gender expectations on girls. For example, Amazon sells a “medical kit” that comes in shades of pink and mauve, which is super sucky on one level because it sends the not-so-subtle message that girls need some kind of special girl equipment in order to be girl doctors. But on another level, there is nothing objectively wrong with a pink stethoscope. When people ask “Why can’t girls just play with a regular doctor kit?” I always wonder why the pink kit can’t be the “regular” kit? I mean, I know why, but it’s frustrating to constantly see the more masculine-leaning version of any given toy being hailed as the status quo, while the feminine version is pooh-poohed as being silly and unnecessary. Gender equality doesn’t mean that everything has to be androgynous. It means that all the girly things we’ve been taught to have such disdain for should be seen as being just as good as all the masculine stuff we self-described patriarchy-hating folks continue to embrace. The way forward isn’t to teach girls to be more like boys—that’s just the same old patriarchal shit of privileging masculinity over femininity. Instead, we should be teaching all kids that wearing skirts and loving pink and wanting cuddly baby dolls are totally cool and fine ways to be. There’s nothing inherently bad about being femme; problems arise when we try to enforce femininity on people as a means of oppression. We feminists tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, which is for sure an admirable idea that should be tackled with enthusiasm. But as we move towards viewing gender as more of a spectrum, we need to make sure that spectrum includes the colour pink. Originally published on





Emily Buckley-Jones


Coping in Copenhagen by Nina Hodgson A young woman slumped on the hostel sofa, a large backpack leaned with similar lethargy against her side and a Kindle perched unread on her knee. The overnight bus that she had boarded at 2am in Sweden with red wine fuelled independence had sapped all such confidence as she was dumped at 7am in Copenhagen. The loose blue jeans and plain white t-shirt that she had donned with an attempt at effortless Scandinavian chic had, on the other side of the bridge, morphed into the sort of outfit that her mother would have called ‘practical’ on a hiking trip in the 90s. The casual lick of mascara was now gone and her skin had reached that wonderful combination of greasy and dry that can only be caused by the recycled air of travel. She longed for a shower. After being informed that she couldn’t check into her hostel until 2pm she had lounged in the communal area surrounded by socially charged travelling youths ping ponging off each other with oh cool yeah nice to meet you’s and what are you planning to do today’s. All the sort of idle ‘banter’ that fostered quickly cobbled friendship groups in drunken desperation, loudly playing Never Have I Ever at the top of their lungs to assert their dominance in the hostel. She dragged herself out to the city centre convinced that she would be able to ‘get her bearings’. Instead she moved like a zombie through crowds of people and with every fleeting glance of a passer-by or interaction with the barista, crafting her caffeine hit, she became less confident in her ability to be alone in a foreign country. Finally ascended the stairs to her ten bed dorm she felt safe in the assumption that at gone 2pm everyone would be out exploring and she would be able to shower and nap before having to interact. She pushed open the door and was greeted by a smorgasbord of Swedish body parts. Thick wide backs loomed down on her from top bunks and long, hairy legs jutted out from under single duvets.


At the end of the gauntlet of men’s boxer clad bodies there was a table upon which stood shot glasses and an array of empty bottles. One of the blond heads turned to reciprocate her ‘hi’ before all 8 faces faced her. She put her bag on her bed and swiftly retreated to the safe haven of the bathroom. After her shower she wandered back to the den of men, clambered in to her bunk and nodded off to sleep to the lullaby of Swedish mutterings. She awoke to the sound of them and the smell of them and the overbearing feel of them surrounding her. They were still there, no one was up, no one dressed, there was no escape. She looked at her watch, it was nearly 5pm and she began to wonder what the hell she was going to do. Would she have to lie in bed pretending to be asleep to avoid the awkwardness of sitting in a room full of friends drinking together? No she was going to have get herself up and get down to the dreaded free hostel dinner and make some friends. It was one of those days that the thought of being brave terrified her. Weary from her travel and her awkward social interactions she didn’t even want her new bunk buddies to see her puffy, naked face. Suddenly something inside her shifted and she sprung out of bed with a new found resolution. She delved into her backpack and carefully selected one of the marginally feminine outfits from her traveller’s wardrobe, grabbed her make-up bag and entered the bathroom. Once she had wriggled into her dress and tights she began crafting an alternative face. Smoothing out her skin, lining her eyes and staining her lips until she felt wonderful. There was nothing wrong with the old face. She loved that face, she’d worn it all day long unassisted and there was no way she was going through this hassle tomorrow. But tonight it was the ritual, the precision, the power. It was 10 minutes of solitude to compose herself. She was ready to perform her most feminine, assertive and exciting self.

Photograph Ruby Robinson 43

Poems Claudia Carvell

I’m sitting on the edge of a memory. Can’t quite grasp The centre scene But I know you’re in there somewhere. The familiar smell when it rains In Manchester Makes this journey feel like The one I used to take Down the alley-way to your house During the kind of hours I promised my mum I’d never walk alone in. Couldn’t quite pack light. So if a cat ran past my path And I mistook it for a man, It could have been a woman, But they said it’d be a man, I had to run. With one bag on my back And one in my hand Like a pack-horse Towards the light Of your bathroom window. Sometimes I’d call ahead and You’d be a smudgy figure Behind the frosted glass But sometimes Like this time It was just me and the cat. 44

They Said It’d Be a Man

Watercolour & Pencil Sian Leyshon

You Can’t Say No Whilst You’re Sleeping

Holding you in one arm, my hand slips into the trough of your waist between the peaks of your hips and the base of your ribs your head is on the right hand side of my chest whilst your arm glides over to the left You’re asleep for sure as you jerk and kick to the beat of tonight’s nightmare Another you-can’t-say-no-whilst-you’re-sleeping man Another it-makes-no-difference-that-you’re-mydaughter dad And as you readjust your pose my fingers land in the grooves on your back: scars I’ve wondered over a thousand times As I press my lips against your forehead, I feel like my kiss might have penetrated your knee-deep sleep But your scrunched up face of fear tells me otherwise he has you now and it’s my job to help you find your way home.



Watercolour & Pencil Sian Leyshon


Virginity as a Social Construct The prospect of losing my virginity made me feel physically sick with nerves. What if I did something wrong? What if I wasn’t satisfactory? What if my boyfriend actually wasn’t sexually attracted to me at all? This nervousness was rooted in the fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was nineteen. This isn’t necessarily unusual in society, but all of my friends were in ‘on and off ’ relationships from around the age of fourteen/ fifteen, some of which were sexual, and I constantly felt uncomfortable and even embarrassed about the fact I’d not had a boyfriend. I initially produced a simple sculpture piece, titled ‘First Time’, almost as a form of self analysis about my thoughts and feelings about losing my virginity. However, I’ve recently become interested in the transition from being a ‘little girl’ to a young woman, and the role that your sexuality plays in this. For me personally, losing my virginity was one of the key events that I felt captured this transition.

Words Robyn Nichol 48

Virginity is just a social construct, it means absolutely nothing. It does not define your value as an individual in society, and it certainly doesn’t affect your personality, talents or achievements. I genuinely have no interest in whether someone is a virgin or has had multiple sexual partners, it shouldn’t change your opinion of them whatsoever. There was so much emphasis placed on young females at my secondary school about the fact that they had to be sexually active. If you weren’t sexually active at the age of fourteen or fifteen and you didn’t actively try to get a boyfriend (obviously the fact that some individuals might be gay or bisexual etc. wasn’t taken into account at all), you were automatically labelled as “frigid”. I was never particularly interested in having a boyfriend at secondary school. The idea of having one made me feel incredibly nervous (which is totally normal), but I didn’t have any real interest in relationships. I tended to focus more on myself, my friends, and my school work. While I had the confidence to do this at the time, a lot of young teenage girls don’t. They feel incredibly pressured into relationships and feel that becoming sexually active is the only thing they can do in order to be accepted. Girls that I was close friends with who were sexually active used to share some really awful details with me about what they had to do in order to look ‘fit’ for their boyfriends, and to maintain their relationships. This mainly involved shaving off all their pubic hair and constantly having to modify their school uniforms to make them more sexy. A lot of horror stories went around my school about certain girls as a result of an unachievable perfection expected of them from boys, and I feel that this supposed perfection derives mainly as a result of the popularity of porn among teenage boys. These horror stories included things like “they had sex and she had skid marks in her knickers” or “she’s really bad at sex, I just say that she’s good at it to her face because she’s fit”, to name a couple. One of my close friends was in a sexual relationship when she was fifteen and after they’d broken up, her ex-boyfriend decided to reveal to people at school that she didn’t shave her pubic hair. Everybody was discussing this and laughing at her behind her back. People shouted truly horrible things at her on the corridor about her ‘hairy fanny’ and how she ‘needed to go shave’. I’ve got no idea whether this was true or not, but it really doesn’t matter. There’s far too much focus centred on pubic hair being disgusting, unnatural and repulsive amongst young teenagers, and this opinion is again largely derived from porn. If your partner refuses to be sexually active with you because they can’t stand the sight of pubic hair due to it being ‘unnatural’, then they aren’t mature enough for you to even bother wasting a minute of your time on them. I can’t even count the number of times that I was labelled as “frigid” in secondary school just because I didn’t have any interest in relationships with sexually frustrated, immature boys. It’s totally okay for you to forget about sex and relationships until you feel comfortable enough to explore them. Your self worth isn’t defined by how many relationships you’ve had or at what age you lost your virginity, it’s defined by your self awareness and ability to put yourself first.

Art Holly Astral


Blake Peterson

‘Jen & Zoe’ 50

‘Ecstatic’ 51


Food by Corie Denby McGowan

Food is a derisory exploration and reconstruction of the extremes found in commercial advertising and the media, by taking into consideration how commercials can control and lure in audiences to essentially ‘sell’ their products using sexually infused material. Food also encompasses ideas that highlight the link between Art consumption and the manipulative marketing of our consumerist,capitalist culture. Aesthetically, Food presents highly eye-pleasing and mesmerising colours, presented within a highly exaggerated, grotesque paradigm. Food also attempts to recreate the sense of pleasure and indulgence in experiencing Art , whilst conversely attempting to engage the viewer in the same sense of intrigue that captivates audiences through advertising and the media. Themes of inter-sectional feminist theory are predominant within the work. By taking into consideration gender associations, stereotypes and the representation of women, while strongly highlighting how women are treated within the fine art spectrum


Submission; Texts from Curtis


Digital Collage Aimee Walker




‘She Knows What She’s Doing’

This is a project I did last year based on personal experiences and on times when I first started making art work which wasn’t illustration based, and it opened an entirely new world to me. At that time I was struggling with sexuality and cultural/religion/ family issues and I still am till this day. Thanks to the internet, I didn’t feel like I had any restrictions/rules, however I still felt the need to almost hide myself away/use social media privately due to online trolls etc.

“She Knows What She’s Doing” represents the ideology of a confident female’s online persona & her freedom to explore without having any restrictions. Many young and self-reliant females on the Internet are labelled as “foolish” and “unintelligent” in society for simply having the power to publish and share what Words & Art they want, with whom they want, on social media Saffa Khan platforms.



‘I was sat in a meeting whilst we were discussing and arranging, I was preoccupied with my menstruating. I could feel myself bleeding and became very aware that my security blanket of a pad probably needed to be changed. Believing my body couldn’t possibly do me any injustice, I decided to push through and focus. When the meeting came to a close I sat up from my relaxed slumped poise, feeling slightly damp and apprehensive. I moved away from the seat slowly as if it were a wild animal when in fact it was just brown plastic covered in a sheen of brilliant red blood. My face decided to mimic this colour.’

‘I was completely smitten with this guy who in hindsight was completely using me and was most probably not at all smitten with me. We met only under certain conditions; we had to be nearly drunk, it had to occur on a Friday night and only in the grotty pubs of small town northern England of which I resided. One particular Friday night we were... or should I say he was swirling his tongue around the bottom half of my face whilst fingering me in a pub carpark, whilst I heard one of his mates yell some encouragement. Undeterred by this we headed to a nook of the carpark where there were some steps that lead to an old building which seemed like a good a place as any to give him a blowjob, midway through the act I heard the clip clop of heels and what sounded like a handful of people walking past us, I decided it would be better to carry on and keep my face hidden than attempt any kind of dignity. To this day I will never know the people that witnessed my slutty behavior, and whenever I walk past that fated spot I still get chills, not the good kind.’


‘ The first time i got drunk was on cider with my friends at the park (because inside I’ve always been a chav). I was meant to be staying at my friend’s house and be back for half 11 it was past 12 and we were still in the middle of nowhere. We then got a frantic message off my mum saying my friend’s mum had gone round to my house crying saying she didnt know where we were. My parents eventually found us and took us both home. My mum tried to tell me off when i got back but i was so pissed and couldnt stop laughing, so she sent me to bed. The seriousness of the situation only came to me when i looked down at my somehow blue feet, i was petrified that someone without my consent or knowledge had dyed my feet. It only came to me the next day that i was wearing green shoes and id spent the whole night in a wet field. I eventually had to go round to my friend house with flowers and apologised to her mum, and cried. 60

‘I was being wingman for a guy friend of mine who liked this girl. All night I made her dance with us and even danced with men that tried to get on her, eventually it was just my friend, this girl and I. Later in the night she puts her arms round my waist and says you’re really hot! I respond with ...what? She reiterates what she’s just said and I turn to my guy friend and say oh I think she fancies me and not you, never mind. This same situation happened again months later with the same friend but this time with a guy. Long story short I’m not a very good wingman as I’m just so irresistible to both genders!’


‘I was chatting away drunkenly to a girl at a party and we were bonding over shit one night stand’s I mentioned a pretty disappointing encounter from a few months previous and she informed me that was her new boyfriend.’

‘I was 18 and living with my dad and our cat Belle when this happened. My boyfriend (at the time) had stayed the night after we’d been out drinking and he left early for work. I went off to school and my dad was home. I forgot to shut my bedroom door that morning, which I’d usually do to keep the cat from rooting around in my bin. My dad was awoken by the sensation of a used condom being dropped on his face by Belle as her creative request for breakfast.’

‘‘On the way out to a party, we were pre-drinking at mine. When everyone was leaving I was organising everyone’s sleep over stuff to make more space in my bedroom. I noticed lots of scrunched up tissue in my friends bag, and thought to myself why has she put rubbish in her bag instead of in the bin. So being the nosey fuck that I am I attempted to take the tissue out of her bag and put it in the bin. I found out that the tissue was actually wrapped around a used tampon and she had put it in her bag because we don’t have a bin in the bathroom. I washed my hands and joined everyone ready to go downstairs. I never did tell Sara about the incident, and learnt it’s probably best not to route through other peoples things.’’


Drawings Carys Fieldson

Spillage ‘Theatrics: An overly dramatic presentation. Histrionics: an excess of emotion. Both words imply a surplus, something too much, and both words are often used to describe, indeed to criticize, women’s behavior. Even little girls are accused of excess. Consider this parable: at breakfast one morning, a little girl filled her bowl so full of cereal it spilled on the table. When her mother exclaimed, “That’s too much! Put some back,” the little girl replied, “Too much is how much I want.” Unlike the just right bowl of porridge that Goldilocks chooses in the children’s story of the three bears, a bowl of porridge neither too hot nor too cold, this little girl’s “just right” is not representative of the golden mean of socialization; instead, her desire demands an excess or surplus.’ Becky McLaughlin (2002: 68) ‘Sex Cuts’ in Jane Sexes it Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire (2002) Johnson, M. L. (ed.) Four Walls Eight Windows, USA



Indian ink on paper



‘Crimson’ Pen on paper and glitter

Cerys Thorne

Embarrassment is indiscriminate. It is something that everyone encounters. My work is a documentation of this global feeling. I’m creating an autobiography of personal embarrassing situations. The pieces aim to be sensual and intimate, letting you explore private areas of my life. Opening myself up to the public, and liberating myself in the process. Embarrassment is genderless, ageless, raceless, however this doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. This feeling is something the majority experience, yet is still seen as a personal and unique flaw. I want people to feel more comfortable in uncomfort. I wish for us to begin to relish in our blemishes, intertwine them with your being, your persona. These fragilities make you real, unapologetic human being. Society finds the notion to want to show any weakness in our fantasy beauty standards difficult to understand. I find it difficult to understand ‘perfect’. Imperfection is realism. 64

Collage Digital print on paper



Blowjob Lips

She sat looking across at him. Handsome. Funny. They had been getting on so well, better than you could imagine, asking each other thousands of questions and hurtling into an intimacy that she hadn’t felt in months. “Did you always live in the same place growing up?” “Favourite colour?” “Do you like the film Submarine?” She had tried quite hard to look nice, jeans and a top that were just the right amount of fancy and she had done her makeup like she used to for a night out at university. A smile played upon her lips at some joke of his or her own, feeling close to him and happy. “Do you like having big lips?” he asked. “Because men can be really sexist about things like that.” “I guess” she replied “You know, blowjob lips… I bet guys say that to you all the time.” No one had ever said that to her in her whole life.

Words Nina Hodgson 66

A Girl Is a Gun

A Girl Is a Gun With a button-down skirt A Girl Is a Gun And her smile is not flirt A Girl Is a Gun Walking the streets on high heels A Girl Is a Gun Not the one for a tease A Girl Is a Gun And a lover in disguise A Girl Is a Gun With no rose-tinted sight A Girl Is a Gun With an x-rated vision A Girl Is a Gun Even if it’s for pleasure A Girl Is a Gun When it hits the gaze of a boy A Girl Is a Gun Fires up when catcalled A Girl Is a Gun That no one handles with care

Words Adelina S.

A Girl Is a Gun - And my lipstick is a signal flare


Mother Nature

by Natasha Cartwright 68

To Peel so Anew by Charlotte Cullen I’ve watched the serpent slither from its skin with such grace but I can never achieve this. I have tried. But my new skin is never supple and the old skin breaks and crumbles and sticks and scabs and makes such mess. I’m sorry, I’ll clean it up later. Just please wait until I’m done. Finished and soft and supple and fresh and light and then it will be so much better and I will know how to clean it away just so. But I understand, I can see that it’s getting in your way, ok, I’m sorry, I’ll clean it now. But it turns to ash when I move it and it tastes like chalk in my mouth and now it feels so, so inviting, like a cocoon. I know this cocoon and it knows me and if I can just lay here for a minute I will feel whole again because this process is hard and tiring and my new skin isn’t ready yet, it blisters and it sores and I never had these kinds of problems with the old skin before, but now this old skin is just ash and all I can do is lie here and pretend that it is all ok and you can watch me and pet me, and

that is ok, because I have forgotten how to exist within this rupture and you sustain me: you feed me figs. Black figs. Shrunken and bitter, and I lie here, because what else can I do? I lie here and watch as Marissa and Alex fall in love and permeate their skin with this newness and I am jealous because I could never entice such depth, for ink to dispel all the layers of me that are left, because I do not know them and they do not know me, and who knows what could change and to shed like this is so hard but maybe one day I will reach a fresh layer, one that doesn’t blister and swell, and maybe the layer I shed will not crack and peel and scab, and maybe it will be light and soft and new and on that day I could not have that stain because although it was everything once it could never be perfect and it could be no longer because if it was so, I would not need to peel. And I will always need to peel. [how I envy such rupture.]



“Gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning” - Judith Butler

To be continually becoming; that is the true craft.

The consequential paradigm of the becoming figure is one posed upon the female; a construct of perpetual transition and of a wholly unnatural being. If one is not born a ‘woman’, as cited by Simone De Beauvoir, then what is this ‘woman’ figure? How do we understand it, perpetuate it and how is it we do not see the falsification of its pageantry? Furthermore, within our virtual culture, how do we understand the physical significance of our metaphysical interactions which lead to this material construct, this material becoming?

To be crafted we must first accept that we are not whole and that transition is necessary to facilitate our progression. It is hoped that we become. That we will become something: Something based upon the parameters previously set. Our task is to learn this craft, these skills as laid down before us, yet we must also appear fresh. Could there be anything worse than to not be new? Our newness gives us worth. Therefore we do not become, our becoming is what defines us, it is continuous and constant and we must learn to become with such craft that it does not allow us to have become at all.

b. The membership of such an occupation or trade; guild.

3. a. An occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or skilled artistry.

2. Skill in evasion or deception; guile.

1. Skill in doing or making something, as in the arts; proficiency.


craft (kr ft)

To become, one must first acquire the skills necessary for such craft.

We are malleable, ready to be crafted.


Words Charlotte Cullen


To be continually becoming; that is the true craft.

For this, our femininity, we must imitate until we acquire such craft that we become the consequence, for there is no original to what we seek. I think I should say all the way through this is my way of doing things, it may or may not be the right way but it works for me.

One is not whole without their virtual being, but what does this mean of oneself as material, and how does this entice such becoming?

There are lots of different methods for this technique, there’s no definitive right or wrong but the way I am going to show you, in this tutorial, works well for me. I enjoy combining this technique and I’m sure you will too once you have learnt the skills you need and because it’s fun to create something while you learn we are going to use a real project that is interesting and fresh and which I also hope will inspire you to produce your own piece of work, with all the satisfaction which goes with creating something unique.

We do not become, our becoming is what defines us.

Is this craft skill or guile, and how does one obtain it? We search for meaning within a post-Internet landscape, appropriating, decontextualising, perpetuating. We create ourselves from the fragmentations of the virtual omnipresent, only to be undone and to become again.

And that is why I have put this tutorial together for you. I can’t be in the same room as you, I may even be half way across the world from where you live, but I hope you will agree that this is the next best thing; and you don’t even have to offer me a biscuit. I know that many people find the idea of changing quite scary and perhaps they’re not too confident about the whole idea; and that’s the subject of this tutorial. Like a lot of seemingly complicated processes it’s easy when you know how; and even easier when you have someone to show you how.

To become, one must first acquire the skills necessary for such craft.

The Tower of Meat and Stone

This is the tower, of meat and stone/ Climb the steps, and hear her groan/ You can’t come down, there’s no way known/ This is the tower, of meat and stone. Gender has always been a strange thing for me. ‘For me’, that is, not ‘to me’. I’ve always understood the concept, but in the same way that I understand maths. It’s an abstract thing; it’s drifted around my head but never really connected with anything emotionally; I feel as much for being male as I do for division over multiplication. I guess you could call me a-gender, but again, I’ve never really felt the burning need to identify with that either. I am gender-apathetic. The Tower of Meat and Stone is a speculation on what gender feels like to others. That is, those who fiercely identify with being male or female. Perhaps I’m cynical, but it’s always seemed to me like supporting a football team; you buy the kit and buddy up with the fans, a whole community built around the arbitrary decision that you would pledge your loyalty to this side or that.

Words & Art Joseph Curle 72


Gender Schmender One Christmas when I was around 10, I requested K’NEX as a present after poring over the Argos catalogue to choose presents, as we all know Father Christmas has free and direct access to their warehouse. My request was shot down by my mother, because K’NEX ‘is for boys.’ Now this statement has troubled me long enough for me to remember it and continually bring it up in discussions of gender a decade later. Why couldn’t I make that super cool ferris wheel like the kids (male kids) did on the adverts? It’s not like I was going to build it with my clitoris. I believe my mother made these comments out of fear for me and not ‘fitting in’, because the closer we get to our teenage years, the divide between boys and girls is slowly widening. We are directed toward more appropriate interests, like cubic zirconia encrusted jewellery (a cornerstone of my pre-teen Argos purchases). From myself and my friends’ experiences, sleepovers with the opposite sex as we entered our teens were deemed inappropriate as sex is automatically assumed. The assumption that friendship between boys and girls is not trusted in this way is harmful, but it is the gendering that goes along with it that does the most damage. I don’t believe anyone, least of all children, should be made to categorise themselves in a way that isn’t certain; our height, weight and age and all those other things people make us write down on forms are all facts, gender is not. Gender does, however, make up a large part of our identity throughout our lives. People like to put labels on things and they do not necessarily mean harm, but we must constantly be aware that the physical does not represent the internal. Gender neutral upbringings are the ideal in allowing children to explore their identities, however for this to be general practice seems like a utopian dream, although it should be noted more and more people are doing it this way.

Words Amy Johnson 74

However, gender neutrality risks eradicating the power people find through the gender they identify with, or the strength they find through not defining themselves. Without gendering we wouldn’t have had great cultural treasures such as the Girl Power the Spice Girls brought to the nineties. Feminist awareness and participation is thankfully on the increase, largely due to its online presence, and a huge part of it is founded upon women embracing the idea of being as women. Of course, feminism is for everyone, including men, and those who are neither genders, both, or none. It would be wrong to deprive a positive source of power via the eradication of gender. We must be careful to avoid a feminism and embracement of womanhood that is covered in pink glitter and only celebrates conventionally attractive thin women with hairy legs. Furthermore, a detrimental side to this exists as the exclusion of transgendered women by some supposed feminists is a very real issue. Gender is not founded in what we are born as or labelled as by our parents and it is not our place to decide how other people feel about themselves. Male exclusive ‘lad banter’ is another issue, casting a plague on young men who may feel the only way to perform masculinity is through vitriol and crassness. A balance must be created whereby gender isn’t necessarily necessary but it is also great if people want to use their categorisation of themselves for a positive outcome. A divide is not helpful, but a harmonious continuum of gender, upon which people can place themselves when and how they choose, seems like an appropriate alternative. Raise children in an environment where if you do call them a he or a she or otherwise, they know there aren’t any clothes, activities or hobbies that they cannot have access to, that everything is open to them. Never question anyone when they tell you they are a man even if you don’t think their outward appearance suggests so. It is a comfort to see that the world is changing, what with the introduction of third genders on passports in countries such as Australia and Nepal. I attend a university where a large amount of toilet facilities are for people of all genders, and who knows, maybe this Christmas my mother will buy me some K’NEX

Photography Laurence Philomène


Boys can wear pink, girls can wear blue, I reject gender binaries, and you should too I have a dog . His name is Ralf, he is a boy. He is a boy but he used to wear bow in his hair. It was because his long, shaggy hair that got in his eyes so that he couldn’t see the woods for the trees. (This is not a philosophical statement he literally would walk into trees.) At Christmas time he sometimes had baubles on his hair bobbles. People would often make comments about Ralf’s bows, how pretty he looked, but poor old Ralf – the other dogs will make fun of him– so girly! Bows are for girls, for crying out loud. Girl dogs wear bows. Not boy dogs. Wait, what? This is insanity, he is a dog and he can´t see. Although Ralf is now going for a shorter more modest hair style in his old age. He is still very pretty and often encourages remarks such as ‘oh she is so lovely, what is her name?’ Obviously I always correct them, ‘he is a he!’ After all he is a boy. A boy dog. Hang on a minute! He is a dog, dogs don´t care about gender binaries. My Mum is an artist and part of her business is to do dog portraits. She recently did one of Lucy, her next door neighbour’s Shih Tzu. Lucy looks a little bit like Ralf and many people have commented on her Facebook page saying that ‘he’ looks lovely. Mum hasn’t done anything about this yet, but I’m assuming she will … imagine if Lucy saw! She’d be mortified. Hold the phone! This is insanity. She is a dog. She can´t read Facebook and I hardly think she is aware of the human obsession of hegemonic gender ideals. She is just doing her thing, chasing the UPS truck.

I believe looking at the way we treat our dogs, or our pets in general, is an excellent way of highlighting our cultural obsession with gender policing. That is the way in which we constantly attempt to force things not only into a gender, but into a specific gender norm that we have created. It also allows us to highlight the difference between biological sex and gender. The fact that our biology, our genitals, have nothing to do with the way we construct our identity. We construct genders for our children and ourselves in the same way that we do our pets and therefore gender cannot be linked to biology. I am as guilty as anyone for this. As I said, I automatically correct people, tell them that Ralf is a boy but just imagine the looks I would get if I said ´I know for a fact that Ralf is a male of the species but he has given me no concrete indication of the gender that he identifies as.´ The gender panic we are thrown into when we are discussing a being that has unidentifiable gender, such as a small baby or indeed a dog, is identifiable by our need to paint baby rooms pink or blue or dress them in dresses or miniature tuxedos. This obsession with fitting beings into two concrete, identifiable gender roles is what can become damaging to people who are not cisgendered. That is they identify with a gender that doesn´t ´correspond´ to their sex. As it can also be for people who are gender neutral and don´t wish to identify with either one gender. This is because it is perceived to be out of the cultural norm for someone with male genitalia not to perform masculinities in the way our culture sees as appropriate. If we recognise sex and gender as two separate aspects of human existence, without gender policing our society, it allows people the freedom to create their own identity. We should also award the same respect to dogs. #letdogsbedogs.

by Nina Hodgson



Mascfemgay by Jon Henry Over the past month, I have been trying out the dating scene. I’ve been set up on blind dates, met folks at bars, chatted on Grindr, and talked to old flames. A common point of inquiry concerns my gender expression: Are you Masc or Fem? I never know what to say at this point. How does one define ‘Masc’ or ‘Fem?’ I have read enough Judith Butler to know that gender is a performance. It typically goes that the other person wants a masc partner. I have meditated over how I would categorize myself. Then I realised: it is sexism & transphobia. Typically the fem is viewed as weak or a traitor to gay men. If one is super fem then there is a typical retort: why don’t you just transition? I have a gender identity of male and typical express this through male fashion. Outside of fashion as a form of gender expression, I am at a loss over how I express myself based upon traditional ideas of gender expression. I drive a late 1980s manual transmission Bronco, which seems pretty butch. I majored in Studio Art, which some may consider fem. My family owns a farm and I work there when not in school, which is considered macho. I don’t own a comb, mirror, cologne, make-up, or beauty products. Based upon traditional gender role ideas, I should fit into the Masc line but typically get pushed over into the fem category due to my voice, lack of sports knowledge, and mannerisms. Folks categorise me as a fem gay boy. Yet this fem gay boy can gut a deer, paint a portrait, drive manual transmissions, cook, separate the whites and colored clothes, cut off a cow’s testicles, shoe a horse, and plan a protest. In my case, the internal struggle to categorize myself and my inability to due has led me to question the system, which assumes labelling is necessary to begin with. This process has led me to better understand the complexity around gender, gender identity, and gender expression. The social constructs around gender are just that -- artificial and malleable. I have decided not to allow myself to be constructed but instead to deconstruct this binary. Using the masc/fem paradigm to decide someone’s strength, worth, and importance places value onto those socially constructed categories and stereotypes. This paradigm continues to reinforce our society’s sexism, which devalues femininity and women. Gay men may complain about the lack of ‘manliness’ amongst fem gay men but straight men make the same complaints about any gay man. Aren’t we all gender rebels, benders, and traitors in someway? Dorothy Allison recommends “class, race, sexuality, gender and all other categories by which we categorize and dismiss each other need to be excavated from the inside.” Therefore, let us mediate and reflect about how we choose partners and the basis for our judgment systems.



Poetry by Carina Ripley

They/She/Him I pinned some balls between my legs And chucked a skirt on top. Then all day long, I walked around And no one even knew.


Untitled Those people scare me. Not the boyish ones, Who are big and strong and manly. not the girly ones, Who are pretty and awnd dainty and sweet. The other ones. Who don’t fit the tiny little boxes, I made for them.


Karolina Lawnicka 82



Soft Matter Publication  

The art & articles in Soft Matter explore the many nuances that underpin femininity; performing identity, gender, the grotesque, body image,...

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