Diss Talk: Reading oneself in Lisa Hogan’s ‘The Woman Who Watches Over the World’

By Anna Trowby

A year ago, as the effects of the pandemic started to settle in and we were all locked down in our homes, I was just beginning to prepare research for my third-year dissertation. As was the case for many students, the term was severely disrupted by Covid-19 and the mock exams that I had been preparing for were cancelled. As inconvenient as these developments were, it gave me more time to think about what I wanted to research for my dissertation. I knew that I wanted to study something that would push me out of my comfort zone and engage with ideas in literature that I had not previously thought about before. After spending the entirety of second year writing a turgid dissertation on T.S. Eliot, I wanted to occupy myself with something more peripheral – something that would make me feel impassioned about English again. I stumbled across inspiration for a topic when I was perusing the English Faculty Website’s suggested authors for the Postcolonial paper. It struck me as odd that the suggested American and Canadian authors were almost exclusively white – wouldn’t it have made more sense to centre indigenous voices in this syllabus, given that they were the main targets of colonialism by Western forces? As a result, I decided to write about Native American literature. Over the next year, I read various works by indigenous authors, studied indigenous postcolonial theory, and tried to write sensitively and compassionately about a culture I became deeply invested in. 

It’s worth noting at this point that I am not Native American myself. I am of indigenous heritage, my mother being an indigenous Buryat woman from Southern Mongolia; however, as with any other indigenous person, my background does not make me privy to adopt other identities as my own. Indigenous identities are often collapsed into one another as if they are indistinguishable, but with 350 million indigenous people in the world, it is not possible to treat ‘natives’ as interchangeable. I was therefore careful not to displace the Native American experience with my own, and I was also aware that I should treat indigenous Americans and their various tribal nations as societies and cultures in their own right, as opposed to feeble projections of the Western imagination that conceives the indigenous as ‘other’. Conscious of my own position as someone from outside of this culture looking in on its literature and traditions, I challenged myself to dispel my Western-inflected lens when writing.

I discovered many exciting authors whilst researching this topic. Some of my favourite writers include Zitkala Sa, Layli Long Soldier, Tommy Orange, Jake Skeets, Joy Harjo and Louise Erdrich (I particularly recommend Erdrich’s revelatory novel, The Roundhouse). I ultimately decided to write about The Woman Who Watches Over the World, a memoir by Linda Hogan. The memoir is a painstaking documentation of Hogan’s life, which intersperses autobiography with Native American history, religion and ecology (Hogan is an ardent environmentalist). Although I cannot fully identify with Hogan’s struggle, the way in which she wrote about pain and the difficulty of survival for those who, as Audre Lorde writes, were ‘not meant to survive’, spoke to my own history of endurance. I come from a difficult background, and to discover a Native American writer who was reflecting on indigenous survival was revelatory for me. Writing about Hogan’s memoir was, at times, incredibly painful; it was only two years ago that I started to think of myself in indigenous terms, and analysing the way in which Hogan writes about survival excavated my own journey of self-discovery. Hogan’s memoir was instrumental for me in coming to terms with myself, and I am so grateful to her for that. I must again emphasise that I am by no means claiming Hogan’s Native American identity as my own. Rather, I have a strong affinity with her reflection on the difficulty of endurance for indigenous people, and the way that she incorporates historically dispossessed voices into her narrative, namely when she writes about her troubled daughter, Marie.

Reading and researching Hogan’s memoir not only taught me about the variety of indigenous literature and Native American forms of storytelling; it taught me essential truths about myself, and the sheer difficulty of overcoming trauma. The memoir is by no means an easy read, but it is a testament to the complexity of the human spirit.

Image: Black Mesa State Park by Christopher Gabbard

Failing to pack

By Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle

I am packing my second-year room. I feel nostalgic for everything that was, for every piece of fabric, small paper note, mismatched earring. 

I chance upon old objects I barely touched: a red notebook I brought in France and didn’t have the time to fill; the toothpaste my ex bought me whose taste I hated that I stashed in a drawer; the yellow poncho my mum thought I would need that I never took out of its plastic wrapping.

Piles of newer objects too, summer piles, from days after exams when time flows differently. Days spent laying on the grass, chatting. The Grantchester pile – towel darkened by river mud, bathing suit, sun scream. Five-pound bright pink cap I wore once. 

Flowers on the road to Grantchester.

The pile of dresses I wore this June, when the weather softened and putting together outfits felt like too much effort.  

On shelves, high-heeled boots, neatly aligned below my favourite books. The Hemingway novels I read in Lent when descriptions of Spain, paved streets, and whiskey felt like a nice escape from claustrophobic Cambridge. My favourite Romain Gary, La vie devant soi, the most touching description of love I have ever read. Social outcasts huddled in a small, stinking Paris appartement, and when one dies the other covers her in perfume and makeup, until he is forced out of the appartement, into a world where she – the prostitute that brought him up – can no longer protect him.

A lot of objects I wouldn’t have bought were it not for lockdown. Memories of being in Cambridge in Lent: a calmer, sweeter rhythm, less to do, more cooking, kitchen chats, and walks. The chequered board I would bring to hall when I got weirdly obsessed with chess.  

A large French press I used once this year when we had breakfast on a Selwyn rooftop. Blanket spread out, fear of porters, sticky pastries. Memories of my friends smoking on that rooftop, extending the break; memories of watching the morning melt into the afternoon. 

Too many clothes, given I wear the same ones all the time. Hard to decide which ones to take home, which to leave in storage.

By now, my room’s floor has disappeared under open suitcases. I have lost all concentration. I end up on messenger.

I don’t know what to do. I have too much stuff

In Lent, one of my friends got weirdly into minimalism (her own chess). She was watching documentaries, reading articles, and talking about the class privilege that comes with selecting what belongings one keeps, but also, the mental peace that it brings about.

Surrounded by stuff, I understand her fascination. It feels like none of these clothes or books matter. It feels like this year, this stuff, helped me grow, and now I can live independently from it – like they are crutches I no longer need.

I know I have to pack, and then put the boxes in the Selwyn storage, and then go to London and not miss my Eurostar.

But I have stopped packing, because packing feels too tedious and strangely emotional, like being forced to close off a part of my past I am not ready to let go of.

I leave my room to go join my friends. It is 1AM, so if we stay up until 4AM, we’ll hear the birds; at 5AM, we’ll see the sunrise. Then I can pack, then I can leave.

View from Castle Mound that morning, 5:02AM.

I don’t want to spend the night reminiscing about my second year, about the different terms, the habits I took on and then shed, the essays, the people, the nights out. Trying to figure out what mattered, to remember the highs, the lows. 

I don’t want second year to be over.

I want to see one last Cambridge sunrise before I leave the country. 

Make one last memory.

Header image by author – ‘View from my room’

The curse of choice

By Ceci Browning

At eighteen, it feels as though all of our choices are still ahead of us. Most of them, anyway. While Cambridge is not a big city, it is a lot bigger than the schools we are coming from, where the couple of hundred people who make up the sixth form feel like the only other people we will ever know and could ever love, and so we brim over with excitement at the fact that it is a place full of strangers. The problem, however, is that so many of these strangers who stroll past us every day, these new friends and potential lovers, are crippled by this new sensation of infinite options. And for those among us who resist the pull of choice, those who know exactly what we want, the simple act of asking is not enough to overcome the curse that has befallen the others. We are forced to live with the fact that in our modern society of Instagram squares and Facebook friend requests, everyone is running in opposite directions. Nobody wants to commit to anybody else, for fear that there is always someone better.  

A couple of weeks ago, over a smashed avocado bagel and a stack of blueberry pancakes in a café garden, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about exactly this. We don’t mean to, we sort of slip onto the subject accidentally, but once we arrive it feels as though we are meant to be there, and I glow a sort of orange colour with the satisfaction of being understood. She gets it, my friend. Both of us know what it feels like to have been let down by somebody simply because they are afraid of picking just one person.

Both my friend and I expected to turn up at university, break a few hearts, kiss a few frogs, and then meet the person that we would waste away our three years in the city with. After a couple of failed attempts, we imagined, with people that had odd taste in music, or were too busy earning their blue in some obscure sport, or lived at a college on the other side of town, we would fall accidentally into relationships with people who were none of these things, people who had been looking for us just as much as we had been looking for them. We were without doubt that it would unfold like this. Everyone meets their significant other as a student. Right? Everyone gets to slow dance at May Balls and share brunch on Saturdays and do inappropriate things in their gowns after formal dinners. It will happen eventually, we thought. Like our parents before us, and their parents before them, we will meet someone at university. Yes, eventually, the person who we’re going to see in our early twenties alongside will present themselves. 

I thought it would be easy, she says. 

Me too, I agree. 

But a few days earlier, leant over the shoulder of a different friend in our shared gyp and watching as he swiped through Tinder, I had discovered something. Left. Right. Right. Right. Left. Right. Right. Girls wearing mini dresses at formal dinners. Girls playing sports with swishy ponytails. Girls in patterned flares and round sunglasses. Beautiful girls, all beautiful, but just not quite enough to notice the difference between them. Not in real life, but on this app, certainly, the girls are just cut and paste copies; he knows that if he gets bored of one, there are plenty more smiley rectangles in the stack just waiting for him. He will never run out of options.

The problem, I propose to her that morning, through a mouthful of squishy green avocado, is that there is too much choice. 

My friend sighs, then wipes the maple syrup from her plate with one neat sweep of her fork, and pushes the last bite of pancake into her mouth. 

Of course the guys we want don’t want us back, I announce to her across the table. Why sleep with one girl when they could sleep with ten? Why settle for us over and over again when they could easily have a new girl each week of term? 

Both my friend and I had been seeing guys who were one foot in and one foot out. My friend went on a handful of dates with hers, to bars and to pubs, as is expected, but also for coffee, on alcohol-free daylight dates. That’s normally a good sign, she insists, brow furrowed. They got on well, she tells me, really well, talking and laughing about each of the things they had in common, and she had let herself begin to think that maybe it wasn’t just sex. What was missing after all? Was the jump from the point they were at to some kind of commitment really that far? But instead of sliding slowly into a relationship, her almost-boyfriend slid in the opposite direction. Instead of memories shared, she was left with a stony silence. She was left with walking past him but not quite saying hello. She was left with unopened Facebook messages and deleted texts. 

Mine was different from hers. He told me upfront that he didn’t want a relationship. And that was okay. Really, it was. Wanting to be in a relationship and being able to manage a casual arrangement are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think that very often they occur at once, since we settle for casual until we find serious, just to pass the time. We may hope that casual turns into serious, but we keep looking, just in case. We hedge our bets. We gamble. 

But there was something special about this guy, I relay to my friend. She touches my arm gently. She nods her head and looks straight at me, hazel eyes wide. I know this look. It is a look which says, I know, I get it, I’ve been there too. I realise I do not have to tell her the rest of the story for her to know what will happen, but I carry on regardless. 

It felt different, I say again. I too thought it might be more than just sex. Him and I talked. Properly and earnestly talked. He was gentle and thoughtful and kind, and for the first time in a long while I felt comfortable opening up to somebody, letting them see the sad blue-grey parts of me that weigh me down when I don’t rush through life fast enough. More importantly, he had opened up to me too, casually but cautiously. I sensed there was a lot standing between him and how he really felt, but was honoured that I had been allowed to see at least the edges of it. For a little while, it was as if we were the only people in the entire world. 

And then it all goes pear-shaped. He panics. My friend’s guy panics. Each realises that things have gone too far, that the relationships are too real, and their fight or flight responses kick in. Yet again, we both feel the strain of time, acutely aware that it is another chance gone, another person we have put our love and our energy into only to get nothing back. We wonder why they didn’t like us enough to put both feet in. We wonder why they didn’t want to at least try. 

That morning, over breakfast, my friend and I, between us, succeed in putting two and two together. With so many options to choose from, no wonder they don’t want to jump into relationships. They are young men, dripping with vigour and confidence. At the flick of a wrist, the press of a button, they can have new, brighter, more mysterious versions of my friend and I. And why would they not do so, since whoever they end up in bed with, how do they know that there is not somebody slightly funnier, a little more sporty, just a fraction better looking waiting in line? 

Of course, there are the lucky ones among us who have found significant others, and are painfully happy in their neat pairs. I have not forgotten these individuals, but for now I am choosing to put them to one side. At eighteen or nineteen, it is understandable that so many students want to ‘play the field’, trying different kinds of people on for size. I think this desire lives in all of us. It is the curse of modern dating, and it is very difficult to root out – this awful but glittering thought that somebody else is always waiting. Somebody whose voice you haven’t heard, whose mouth you haven’t tasted, and whose body you haven’t touched. Firsts are exciting, I know, but when will firsts get boring? When will those running away from the people who care about them realise that endless choice may be more harmful than helpful? Getting into a relationship is not going backwards. Picking one person, and letting yourself be their person too, is not giving up. We forget, letting somebody care about us, especially in this spiky, unforgiving academic environment, is actually the best thing we can do. 

My friend and I pay for our breakfast and then walk slowly back through the centre of town. It is still early morning, so the streets are mostly empty. Pigeons roam the pavement. The sun shines. King’s chapel sits regally. We are still single, that has not changed, but we are okay. We are recovering, albeit slowly, from our most recent round of heartbreak. The awful curse of choice is not going anywhere, but we can accept it now, because we are sure that one day, one bright shining day, just like this one, somebody will pick us. One day, properly and wholeheartedly, in a week, or a month, or even a year, somebody will choose us over anyone else.

Photograph taken by the author.

Medical Herstory: An Interview with founder Tori Ford

Interview by Hannah Lin

Cambridge alumna Tori Ford is the founder of Medical Herstory, an international award-winning youth-led non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about gender health equity through storytelling and undoing stigma. Despite spending just five months in Cambridge during her MPhil (cut short by the pandemic), Tori joined 10 different student groups, was Women’s Officer at Robinson College and volunteered at Relate, a sex and relationship therapy clinic. Having joined Medical Herstory myself as a volunteer during lockdown, I am so excited to share my conversation with Tori, where we talked about her experiences with healthcare and how this led to the launch of her platform.

Why did you start Medical Herstory and what were your original ideas or expectations? 

Medical Herstory is really born out of my own lived experience. I had been living with chronic yeast infections, which are very common and very unpleasant, for many years and I was just feeling so alone. I felt I was living with so much shame and stigma and although I talked to so many doctors, it felt like no-one was listening to me. I decided to write about this in a newspaper at McGill University – it made the front page and I then heard from so many other people that had eerily similar experiences of being disregarded within the healthcare system. A platform really didn’t exist to share these stories (when my story came out, it had a bowl of fruit on the cover when I was talking about desanitizing and sterilizing women’s health experiences and I was not happy about that!), and that’s why I created Medical Herstory. I really wanted to create a space where lived experience would be prioritized, where we could support and uplift other people’s stories, where we could tell them that they’re not alone. Since then, it’s grown into an international movement – we now have 70 volunteers across 24 universities in seven different countries. My intentions were never really to start a global movement; it was really about my own personal frustrations and wanting to get my word out there knowing how alone I felt, and wanting no-one else to feel that way. 

From your perspective, what makes storytelling such a powerful tool in achieving Medical Herstory’s goals in advancing gender equity and undoing shame and stigma?

Storytelling is really at the heart of all medicine – when you go to the doctor, you tell an emotional, vulnerable story and then you see your narrative transformed. It can be really dehumanizing and unsettling to see your story just get taken away from you, especially if you’re being dismissed or if you have a chronic condition that’s not being taken seriously. Medical Herstory works really hard to counteract that by taking these stories and honouring them in such a different way. We believe these patients and authors. We give them a space free from shame, stigma and sexism to tell their stories, as well as the support to do so. Beyond that, storytelling just humanizes a lot of these issues. After I shared my story, the most common feedback I got was ‘I’ve never seen this talked about, I’ve been living with this for years’. As much as statistics can help drive home how universal these issues are, hearing an individual voice is really freeing, not only for the person telling it, but also for those who get to see themselves reflected. 

How do your experiences as a Cambridge student feed into the work you do today? 

I’m really lucky that the Health, Medicine and Society program at Cambridge is interdisciplinary, so I entered with a real tight focus on history and very quickly found Medical Sociology. I had no idea I would write my dissertation on chronic yeast infections, but I produced a dissertation that I was so proud of, and it was also so cathartic and healing for me to speak to patients living with this condition and to hear their stories on such an intimate level. I ended up winning one of the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards and that was shocking to me because here I was, talking about vaginas at one of the top universities in the world, and not only was it being accepted and welcomed, it was being celebrated. [laughing] That was probably the biggest power move in my life, getting to meet the Vice Chancellor and talk about my vagina, and the award just really showed that our work is being celebrated and that we’re on the right path.

Looking back at the process, what are you most proud of achieving? 

I’m most proud of giving space to other people to share their stories and hearing from them how impactful it’s been and how they’ve had a positive experience working with us. Seeing how big our volunteer team has gotten has been amazing, as well as seeing the turnout at our Zoom events, where people take time out of their days to have difficult conversations, hear other people’s stories and hold that space for them. I’m just so proud to have created that community. Internationally, seeing our work featured by UN Women within Sweden and CBC in Canada has been really fulfilling as well.

Do you ever feel disheartened by anything you come across in the process of doing your work and research? 

I’m so happy that the message is universally embraced, but I’m so disheartened that so many people are going through this. So many women and gender diverse people are facing dismissal and although I’ve been able to create this momentum, it’s based around a lot of pain. Because the whole organization is so personal, being based on my lived experience which I think is what drives me so much, there are definitely days where I feel burnt out. There’s a lot of misconceptions that still exist out there that Medical Herstory does a lot of work to debunk, but at the end of the day, I’m just one person and this is just one movement, and to break down all the barriers we’re going to need to keep at it. But there’s definitely way more to celebrate than there is to mourn. 

Do you have any advice for young people wanting to start their own social impact movement? 

Start with your lived experience – I think starting with what is directly affecting you makes you the best person to solve those issues, and don’t be afraid to go for it. And practise a lot of self-care! As much as I think Medical Herstory does an amazing job of creating such a positive atmosphere, a lot of these stories are heavy and this work can be really hard, which is why it’s so important to have supportive communities. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to mentors – I’ve been blessed to have some amazing mentors in my life, so I’d really encourage that too. 

What can we all do in our everyday lives to add to this momentum in advancing gender equity and undoing the stigma surrounding so many women’s health issues? 

There’s so many different ways that you can get involved, and I believe that every individual, no matter what you are doing in life, has so much more power than you know to advocate for compassionate and comprehensive healthcare for all. I think it starts at the level of believing people’s stories and educating yourself, perhaps through attending an event that’s out of your comfort zone to learn more, and not being afraid to ask questions. It’s really in those day-to-day actions and standing up for yourself, standing up to other people if they are perpetuating gender bias and just continuing to learn more, as we’re all doing every day. 

If you would like to read Tori’s full story, it can be found (along with many others) on the Medical Herstory website: https://medicalherstory.com

You can find out more about Medical Herstory and keep up to date with our latest events here:

Facebook: Medical Herstory

Instagram: @medicalherstory

Medical Herstory is also recruiting for more volunteers, so if anyone wants to get involved, we’d love to have you on our team! Get in touch with Kainaz at info@medicalherstory.com for more information on different roles and how to join.

Image courtesy of Medical Herstory.

The Invisible Woman in Cambridge Portraiture

By Eleanor Antoniou

I had never given much thought to the portrait paintings that surrounded me in my college hall, but last year when I attended a talk as part of the Rising Tide exhibition, I realised that the majority of the portraits hung in Cambridge colleges depict white European males, whose portraits converse with each other to imply that the narrative of Cambridge’s past is solely theirs. 

While I’d glanced at the male-dominated walls during formal dinners, I’d never considered the effect they can have and the atmosphere their presence creates. Today, our college spaces are no longer reserved exclusively for men, and yet the artwork installations surrounding us suggest that the female experience has been made invisible. For the students who eat beneath these portraits every week, for the women who clean our college spaces under the eyes of so many unmoving male faces, these paintings suggest a certain history of the college and portray a particular message: this is a space in which the female experience, and female achievement, are not as important as their contemporary male counterparts.  

This disproportionate representation in publicly displayed portraiture exists not just in Cambridge but across the world.  During the 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement artist Mary Beth Edelson highlighted the gender imbalance in her piece entitled ‘Some Living American Women Artists’, a reworking of da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which the men are replaced with the images of 69 female artists, a striking acknowledgement of the women that are all too often left behind by history.  Even today in London, over 90% of commemorative statues are dedicated to men, something which recent campaigns are now trying to remedy.  

Naturally, the portraits in the halls of each Cambridge college have been chosen because they reflect each college’s history, and this history cannot be changed – it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that we simply swap men for women, as Edelson did in her Last Supper reworking. But does the story that we are presented with have to be so exclusive and one-sided?  

In 2018, Christ’s College celebrated the forty year anniversary of the admission of female undergraduates by reimagining the space in their Hall to recognise that, although women had only studied there for forty years, they had been involved in the life of the college for far longer than that.  Lady Margaret Beaufort refounded God’s House as Christ’s in 1505, and in her honour, Christ’s asked its students to send in their own depictions of Lady Margaret, which would temporarily replace the portraits that were already hanging, celebrating her as a woman, a mother, and an advocate for education. Students commented that their dining experience was transformed by the new exhibition; it became a more inclusive space for the college’s female students, who could see themselves reflected in the images surrounding them. 

Whilst colleges cannot rewrite their histories, they can shift the aspects of their history which they choose to portray. Evidently, bringing in new and different narratives can make a welcome and lasting impression on both female and male students, even with temporary exhibitions like Lady Margaret at Christ’s. The New Hall Art Collection at Murray Edwards College is a fine example: exhibiting one of the largest, most significant collections of modern and contemporary art by women in Europe, it champions artists who identify as women, giving them visibility and a voice.  

Women now live in all of Cambridge’s colleges: we study in the libraries, and dine in the halls. Yet the visual narratives that surround us still need to reflect this in order to highlight that Cambridge is now a place where all genders are welcome.

Featured image: portrait of Lettice Ramsay from the Rising Tide exhibition, courtesy of Newnham College, Cambridge.  


By Kristina Harris

One day, when I was going about my business, my friend invited me to a yoga class. We both thought it could be interesting, but we were really sold on the price: free. At the beginning of the class, they packed us into a room, making space for latecomers, smiled and walked us through what would happen at this particular event. The yoga instructor ushered us into child’s pose and set an intention for the class: ‘what does your body need?’ She asked us this when things were challenging, when we were in unfamiliar poses, and when we were back in shavasana. The question was interesting to me, because she wasn’t telling us to push past everything our body was telling us so as to pull our leg behind our ears. She was asking us to ask ourselves when we can push and when do we back off. When do we need to rest for some water, and when do we need to reset in child’s pose?

I found this message interesting, because I realized I wasn’t frequently checking-in and asking, what is it that I need? For example, a few years ago, my knee was bothering me. I was running track and I always loathed seeing the trainers. I always felt like something hurt before I went, but they always gave me exercises that seemed to hurt more than my original ailment. But this time, it turned out I tore my meniscus, ACL and broke a weird bone in my knee. The whole ordeal was not ideal, and I was not a hero about the process – I was quite possibly the worst patient the kind people at NYU Langone had seen that day. My friends came by, offering their well wishes. Then they went back to their lives and I just sat there with my recently spliced open joint. Once the pain kind of subsided, I just sat with my thoughts. I was annoyed that my knee kept throbbing, and I just wanted it to be better. I had no idea how or what I needed to do – I just didn’t want to watch any more TV, and I had read everything I could read. My trainer said if I promised to try yoga, I could reduce my PT schedule. That was an easy trade. Which is why, when my friend had told me she had found a free yoga studio, I was all in.

So, in the middle of stretching and pulling my limbs every which way, I realized there was some healing happening. At first, I noticed I was breathing deeper, which helped me focus. But then I realized I could breathe, and I mean really breathe, before a test, a race, a date, anywhere! It felt like I was putting my body and brain together for the first time. I was also running faster than ever. 

Yoga was the first time someone told me to listen to my body and give it what it needs. To not push and push, but to take note of how you are actually showing up that day. Maybe one leg is more flexible than the other. Perhaps you are more sore today than you were yesterday. Maybe you are more distracted with all you have to do later, and you are a little off balance and need to focus on staying focused. But one thing was consistent: you are never the same you who shows up on the mat. But even with that obvious fact in mind, I do not always treat myself kindly for not being as flexible as I was before, or as productive as I was the day before.

Although it is innately human to know instinctively what you need, people hardly take what they need. It is brushed aside as selfish and indulgent to listen to your body if you need to rest. People don’t often treat themselves with the simple kindnesses they give so easily to others. They don’t take a walk, or get ice cream, or understand when their body is demanding a nap.

Yoga to the People brought a little slice of humanity back to me. I got a little bit more patient with myself, my body and my emotions. I am working on being kinder when I feel like comparing myself to the old me. This free yoga class was making a space for me to realize what I needed. People need something like that, something that costs nothing but heals just the same. Once while I was sitting in child’s pose at the beginning of class, a student on the mat next to me just started bawling. Not polite tears. Body wracking sobs. The teacher came over and just placed her hand on her back, and when she began to stop crying, she just looked up and said, ‘thank you, I really needed that.’ It’s odd to say, but sometimes being a human simply means you know what you need, and you act on it.

This small place in New York probably trained thousands of people from all corners of the world, but they gave each and every person something different to take back with them. They set an intention, gave people space to get some peace, and then sent them off into the world to pass it on.

So, set your own intention. Take note of what your body is telling you. And take what you need, when you need it. Show yourself a little humanity and compassion. You’re not crazy for listening to your body when it tells you to rest. It would be crazier not to. 

Image: iStock

Exploring my mind through meditation

By Aisha Niazi

It took me some time to realise that meditation was not rumination. I sat down and deeply considered the way that I breathe, wondering whether it was too shallow or slow. I became so conscious of each breath that I almost forgot how to breathe at all – when considering them at such great length, each one became a great weight. These are the thought spirals I tend to exist in, often returning to the same knowledge. Rumination produces the most endless helixes of thought.

I needed an entry point, so I turned to guided meditation. The man in my ears called me out, assuming that I probably latch onto thoughts, and that it was time to let them go. Thoughts, in guided meditations, are often likened to clouds – they are things we should notice and then let pass. I didn’t like this analogy, as I often found myself fixating on the particular shapes of clouds, extending their life-span within my mind, They eventually passed me by, but in an open sky they remained a point of attention for quite some time. 

On day three of meditation I understood the clouds analogy. I had viewed clouds as something it was inevitable I would focus on. I forgot my own agency in letting them go. I began to realise that clouds pass sooner when I let them move on, rather than clinging to their shapes and analysing their form in greater depth. Assessing their formations was rumination, even if I was not in total control of their passing. I felt annoyed – surely it is a positive thing to explore? This was the point at which I remembered the importance of balance. 

Few things should be done in excess, whether that is rumination or focus. Meditation became ten minutes of my day in which I was able to explore stillness. These two sensations may appear to be contradictory, but they can be complementary. I explore my breath by returning to it, in noticing each inhale and exhale with a still mind and steady body. This has become a non-judgemental way of exploring myself. Rather than latching onto each breath, I allowed them to pass. I felt able to let things go, to observe from a point of neutrality – from which stillness arose. I got to explore what was left when I surrendered judgement. 

Sometimes I was left with intense feelings of love. Upon realising how much joy I strip from myself by heavily ruminating on each experience, I felt silly. Meditation became child-like in the happiest of ways. It gave way to a lightness – it was my place of escape. So often I explore the world on autopilot; meditating presented me with a neutrality and stillness that improved my ability to explore. Going for walks became special – I noticed the sounds of birds, the people passing by and the clouds. I enjoyed them as temporary and allowed them to pass. I felt okay with endings.

As time moved on, I began to meditate in silence. After more time, I tried to meditate in new ways. I found warmth towards people in loving-kindness meditations. These ones can be tricky – they begin by suggesting that you imagine someone important to you and wish them happiness. That felt easy. But then you move onto those you hold contempt for. At first it felt insincere to wish well upon distasteful characters in my life. Over time I realised I do not benefit from their suffering, and I began to feel lightness towards those who occupied the more primal spaces of my mind. Eventually, I stopped ruminating on them and let them go, in a meditative, spiral-like way. 

My favourite meditation became one related to consciousness. This time the man in my ear asked me to locate my own consciousness. Flustered, I thought of my brain. Then, upon opening my eyes, I felt I was located just behind them. I did not find myself associating with my body at all. The man suggested that I focus on the sensations of my skin against the ground, the temperature of my hands, the weight of my head. At this point, I realised meditation was not just about exploring the mind – it was also about awareness of the body. I had forgotten about the body outside of its breath.

I did not become a Buddhist or even particularly spiritual; instead, I began to feel more like a child. Life felt lighter and more playful. Everything became something that inspired wonder and my own mortality stopped plaguing me. As my final year in Cambridge went on, I forgot to meditate. Mortality began to bother me again and the darkness of winter left nothing to explore. My distaste for others grew and I continued to ruminate. 

Finding myself in a spiral of rumination, I felt it was important to reconsider my time with meditation;  that I return to it as a chance to explore my own stillness. I have found Lavendaire and Leeor Alexandra’s meditations really soothing, and a gentle way to return to the craft. As the days get warmer, I seek wonder once more.

Photograph taken by the author


By Bea Carpenter

Every year I make some sort of New Year’s Resolution to read more, or read ‘x’ number of books with the best of intentions. As I sat down to write myself goals for 2021, perhaps in an attempt to bring a sense of normality to the potentially shapeless year, I wrote determinedly on the page “Read at least 20 books”. To some this is nothing, to others a bit of a feat, but this year for me, it was not a challenge or empty statement but a promise to myself to commit to create time in my life to read. 

Although it sometimes feels like it never happened, I graduated from Cambridge in 2020. As an ex-Natsci student my reading lists consisted mainly of textbooks, articles and the occasional quirky popular science book to spice it up. All of which were important for my understanding of the content, but not written to entertain, rather to (quite dryly) inform. 

Although my degree didn’t prescribe me to sit in the library and devour piles of books like many humanities students, I still found that trying to absorb this steady stream of incoming text both on-screen and off really took the fun out of reading. When I found myself alone with a couple of hours to spare, it was impossible not to pick up my laptop and switch off, watching Netflix that I could passively take in. Reading became a chore for my tired eyes and I had to force myself to sit with no other distractions and read. When I did so, it often felt like a sort of tick-box exercise: to learn this fact, or consider a certain point of view, or simply to keep in the loop. The productivity guilt of the Cambridge term was so deeply ingrained in me that I always tried to justify to myself the value of reading something: what would I get out of it? Or it made me think, ‘I have to read this or that’.

When 2020 forced everyone inside, many of us, with perhaps too much time to fill or out of desperation to escape reality, turned to books. I decided to actively heal my relationship with reading. 

I was always the child that liked to read; as the daughter of an English teacher, books are part of our identity as a family. When I came home from Cambridge, I noticed my dad had joined in on a trend of signing off his emails with a little note saying, “I’m currently reading …”. He told me all his colleagues were doing the same to inspire each other and the pupils they taught. This jolted me into action as I realized I never wanted to be that person with the same title there for months on end or worse still, nothing. 

So, I’ve tried to approach the challenge of ‘reading more’ as if it were a new romantic relationship. I’m making dates with Phillip Pullman and Zadie Smith, I’m prioritising books and penciling in time with them into my diary, logging the experience and making sure to discuss my feelings about the titles mainly with my (poor) lockdown bubble, my parents. I’d forgotten the joy I get from reading for pleasure. 

Reframing reading in this way has turned it from a chore into an activity. Over the last nine months or so, I’ve allowed myself the time and space to read for myself and to do it more mindfully, sort of ‘intuitively’. 

So far, it’s going well. There have of course been times when my enthusiasm has waned and my concentration has fallen off the page, captured instead by Instagram. However, now that reading is no longer a challenge or ‘task’, I’ve just allowed these fluctuations to happen, coming back to the book or a different one at another time. 

A friend said to me recently, as we lamented over the general greyness of the world at the moment, ‘you’re so lucky you like to read’.  I felt a mixture of pride in being able to agree with her now that my relationship with reading had been mended and a wish that she felt the same and for reading to not still be seen as an academic pursuit or restricted to certain groups of society. 

As cheesy as it sounds, now that I can enjoy the creativity and genius of others through the medium of reading I feel more in-tune with my own sense of self and purpose. 

To me, reading now represents community, comfort and exploration. It helps me empathize, sympathize and discover new parts of myself and the world around me, and I am ready to embrace it all. 

* If you feel inspired to update your shelves, please consider purchasing your next read from Hive (a more sustainable and ethical Amazon alternative), a secondhand bookshop click & collect service near you, from Depop or borrow/swap books with your friends. *

Illustration by the author

and They say that she is lawless; banish her! banish her all.

because she dares to request a capital, to be a name and soul – You’re Not The Only One Who’s Been Forgotten, love – she isn’t forgotten; forgetting and forgotten might be nice; she’s recalled by her arms, and legs, and lumps of fat,

and her heart. the organ which pumps her names: love, sweetheart, babe; like the names of sweet-smelling fragrances lined up in a shop-window, sometimes bought, mostly used for a couple of spritzes and placed back on display.

do you remember the song for magpies; she has her own: one for a heart; two for a mouth; three, four, five for body, body, body

so she gathers, with tens and hundreds of ones like she; they ask for pennies from a sea of gold, they ask for bricks in walls, grains on beaches, drops in oceans. may she be Shera or Hazel or Charlie; one for a name, a brain; two and more for just the same – and for the luxury of difference, all the same.

Too Much, They advance in chants; Let’s Be Reasonable, Their slogans catch on the tongue; Their eyes are dry (power is always parched) and Their voices remain calm, measured – You Forgot Your Pleases and Thank Yous; the even beat of Their boot-shod feet,

Their necks made tight by the chains of a collar (god forbid They be the prisoners). let us not forget: she used to be the jewel in Their lockets, on Their crowns; helped tie the laces of the tramplers (she too had boot-shod feet; the trodden can trod). the function of freedom is to free someone else,

Morrison had said it first. she listens now. do They?

By Zadie Loft

Photograph credit: Victoria Jones/PA

My Relationship with Dating Apps

By Ceci Browning

Another national lockdown. A lockdown that looks like it will last for months. For single people all over the country, this seems like bad news. No dating, no meeting people, no chance of getting into that shiny new relationship they’ve been waiting for. As public spaces empty, the stacks of profiles on dating apps build up, and yet, especially for those living alone, love, or even just company, seems further away than ever. 

First time around, in March last year, I must admit, I was one of these people. I understood this enforced dating hiatus as the end of the world. I couldn’t cope with the thought that for weeks and weeks and weeks, endlessly, my single status was set in stone, simply because the government had said so. I felt as though I was running on a treadmill, desperate to move forward but going nowhere, watching as all these months of singledom passed me by, as my affections went to waste, with nobody to aim them at. 

So, as much as I hate to write the word, let alone say it aloud, I turned to Tinder.  Just looking at that sentence on the page makes me feel ridiculous. If you’re on Tinder, you’re just looking for casual sex. If you’re on Tinder, you’re not interesting enough to find someone in real life. If you’re on Tinder, you’re desperate. These are the assumptions that are made, and that it is impossible not to label yourself with as soon as you press the bright pink button which says ‘create an account’.  

I have deleted and redownloaded each of the dating apps on my phone more times than I can count. There have been successful dates of course, second dates, and even third dates, but there have also been numerous failures, some of which have been so horrifying I have sworn to never speak of them again. It’s not that I hate dating apps. Quite the contrary, I think I am more of an advocate than most, and very often find myself defending the swiping community in the face of criticism. I would also not claim, however, to like dating apps. They are not really an enjoyable experience. They are superficial, tiresome, and repetitive. They are a plaster, slapped on top of a bruise.

However, on this occasion, stuck in my lockdown rut, the cheap thrills of a dating app were exactly what I needed. I got talking to a guy who lived in Amsterdam, just by chance. We spoke for weeks, almost every night of the spring, and then, once the restrictions were finally lifted and the summer was rolled out ahead of me, I hopped on a last minute flight over to the Netherlands to meet my lockdown lover in person. I think perhaps I went because I was desperate for some kind of adventure, to get away from the town I’d been stuck in for so long, but I tell myself that he was the reason. That I went for him. Yes, the guy I met on a dating app. 

He would come and go for work, my Dutchman, while I’d waste away the warm hours of the day wandering through the city’s many museums, peering at paintings and historical artefacts, or finding waterside cafes to sit outside of, making a single glass of fruit juice and a pastry last for hours. When the sun began to go down, I’d dip in and out of shops, gathering up paper bags heaped full of groceries, and then we’d come back together in the early evening, to cook and drink red wine with a handful of his friends, before stumbling back to my hotel room, where we’d collapse exhausted onto the huge mattress, and then talk and kiss and run our fingers over the outlines of one another until we fell asleep. It felt refreshing to love in real life again. 

Like all holiday romances, it was short-lived. I knew that it was unsustainable, that when I came home it would all be over, and then I’d be back at square one, exactly where I was when the lockdown started. Single. But something had changed. Now being on my own didn’t seem quite so bad. Now I didn’t want to swipe through endless photos of men with new glossy haircuts, hands gripped round pints, gladiator sunglasses hanging from the necklines of v neck t-shirts, big grins, Nike trainers. Now it seemed like the alternative, the being on my own, without regular pings from handsome strangers – new match! new message! new match! – this was better. I’d still get lonely sometimes, I knew that. With a long empty summer stretched out ahead of me, I knew there would be nights when I’d lie alone and all I’d be able to focus on would be the sort of empty feeling at the bottom of my stomach, the ache of an empty bed. Even with my eyes closed, I’d be able to see the space next to me. I’d see the blue-grey gap where another person should be and it would hurt. Some nights, knowing that I am still on my own, that would hurt me. 

However, travelling solo for the first time had made me realise that actually I wasn’t lonely. I was just alone. And that was totally okay. Being alone is not a terrible fate. In fact, it gives you a chance to reflect on what it is you’re looking for, to think about what it is you’re really missing and work out how you might fill those gaps all by yourself: the big questions that dating apps distract us from. Although I’d had company while I’d been away, and while it had certainly been a Tinder success story, I’d known throughout that it was all temporary. Ultimately, I reminded myself, I was a single entity, roaming the streets of a foreign country on my own. Flying back, using my single ticket to get to my single seat, eating my single packet of nuts off my single tray table, I felt fulfilled. I was no longer convinced that being alone meant being lonely, as I had believed when the first lockdown was announced. I was alone, yes, but I had people who loved me on both sides of the sea I was crossing. I wasn’t lonely.

This time around, regardless of how long the lockdown lasts, I am determined to resist the pull of dating apps, which so easily convince us that it is totally awful and irrational to be on our own. Why are we single when there are so many options at our fingertips? How awful must we be to still not have anyone? Or at least to not be talking to anyone, sowing the seeds of a relationship. This lockdown, I am committed to remembering that being alone does not have to mean being lonely. They are not the same. In fact, being alone might just give us the chance to work out what it is we really want. Being alone for a little while longer, maybe, just maybe, is going to make all the difference.

Picture taken by the author

Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic?

By Eleanor Antoniou

This article discusses mental health and sexual harassment.

The recently released Framing Britney Spears documentary has sparked strong reactions across social media. It reveals the details of Britney’s ongoing conservatorship which has legally blocked her from making her own decisions for 12 years.  A conservatorship is typically used for elderly people, who are unable to safely make decisions for themselves, and involves the legal appointment of a person to manage the personal decisions and finances of another. After Britney’s mental health struggles, her father was appointed as the conservator of her person and estate when she was just 27. Now Britney has stressed that she wants his control removed completely, and is currently facing a court battle against him. The New York Times documentary reported that Britney never wanted her father to be her conservator in the first place. She was denied a choice from the start, even being refused the right to hire her own legal representation. It strikes me that a man in Britney’s position would most likely have never been placed under the same conditions.  

It is not only in the courtroom that Britney has had to fight a battle. Since she first appeared in the public eye as a young teenager, Britney has battled against the misogyny of the media and the paparazzi. Her body has been repeatedly scrutinised and objectified, and her mental health became a frequent, tasteless joke during the 2000s, with the media propelling the narrative that Britney was a loose woman gone mad.  

The video clips from interviews shocked me the most: a young girl torn apart by the vultures of the tabloids. After a live performance at just age 10, one of these clips shows Britney being asked by the over-60-year-old male host if she has a boyfriend, because of course this is the most important thing to ask a pre-teen. Later, aged 17 and now a newly famous popstar, a male interviewer exclaims: “everyone’s talking about it… your breasts!” Then, during a press conference at age 21, Britney is asked if she is a virgin, a question which fuelled ongoing public debate within the tabloids.  

Britney’s breakup with Justin Timberlake revealed just how much media portrayals of celebrities are informed by sexism. The tabloids praised Justin for sleeping with Britney, as if her virginity were a trophy to be won. Britney was painted as a heart-breaker, a girl gone wild and a slut. She was obsessively sexualised yet simultaneously shamed for her sexuality, expected to tread the fine line between ‘sexy’ and ‘pure.’ It is uncomfortable and grotesque to watch Britney facing this hypocrisy, reduced to tears as she is told that one mother would shoot her because she sets a bad example for children. Meanwhile, Justin’s career only seemed to benefit: he even used the music video for Cry Me a River to further vilify Britney.

It is hardly surprising that, after years of enduring the paparazzi’s harassment with polite, sweet smiles, Britney began to experience difficulties with her mental health.  Who wouldn’t feel like hitting the paparazzi’s car with an umbrella after being followed and harassed? Not to mention her ex-husband had just blocked her from visiting her children. I’m sure many of us would have shared Britney’s anger at that moment. Yet Britney’s mental health issues and personal struggles became a cruel running joke in the media: she had had a ‘meltdown,’ she had gone ‘crazy.’  

This image of the ‘crazy’ woman has much deeper roots than we may at first assume. The very word hysteria originates from the Ancient Greek term for womb, and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, female hysteria was commonly diagnosed by doctors, seemingly to explain away any mental health condition which made men uncomfortable. These ideas persist to this day in new, more insidious forms.

The list of women who have undergone a similar treatment to Britney is disturbingly long. In the 2000s, Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes were also branded as ‘crazy,’ demonising their mental health issues and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Millie Bobby Brown has been sexualised to a horrific extent since the age of 13 in a disturbing echo of Britney’s treatment as a child star. Meghan Markle has been driven from the royal family after constant vilification by the press, a haunting flashback to their treatment of Princess Diana years before, though this time also fuelled by vile racism. Most recently and most tragically, Caroline Flack committed suicide following heartbreaking abuse by the media, who seemed to thrive on degrading a woman who was already vulnerable. The Sun even cruelly referred to her as ‘Caroline Whack’.  

The tabloid world is built on criticising, attacking and judging women, tearing apart their actions and their bodies for profit. In Britney’s case, this can only have fuelled the continuation of a conservatorship that she does not seem to want or need. The sad truth is that the press is still profiting off this misogyny today and the list of women who face media abuse continues to lengthen.

Image from Britney’s ‘Oops!… I Did It Again!’

Snow Poem

By Katie-Alice Constant

Quarantine had formed its skin

Over my house 

Until snow cracked through its epidermis,

Like hermits we tentatively step out. 

Snow under my feet

And then down my back

Laughing and screaming 

The dog bounding, kicking and rolling,

Memories fall thick and fast;

Of snow days and time off work.

Now we have ourselves another great day 

To get away from sticky hands

That bind, run and numb up with the weather,

Hours that are glued, plastered and moulded together. 

Joyous hollers can’t be dumbed or gobbled by quarantine’s rough edged tongue.


By Ceci Browning

I am wearing my mum’s wellies. They are navy blue with thick white stripes. They are also far too big. Between them and my feet there are three pairs of socks, and yet there is still an inch of empty space at one end. But my gloves and my coat and my scarf match perfectly. They are all navy too. I couldn’t wear my own wellies because the left one has a sizable hole. And it has snowed.

I’ve ventured outside. It’s still early, hours until lunch, but the streets are already full of footprints, dark shapes in the white landscape. Every few minutes I pass herds of small children or wet dogs without their leads or booted hatted grown-ups like me. Good morning, they smile. Hello, they chirp. Everyone seems to be friendlier in the snow. Perhaps it is because nobody can go anywhere. Nobody is in a rush to do this or that. Nobody has anyone to see or anything to get to.

I have always liked snow. 

The previous day I had been looking forward to seeing a friend of mine. Well, a ‘friend’. A friend that isn’t really just a friend, but also isn’t quite anything else yet, and probably won’t be. Someone I like, a lot, someone I particularly enjoy the company of, but someone who isn’t the kind of someone that means when your aunt or your friend or your godmother asks, have you met anyone, you say yes. I’d say no. I’d definitely say no. Because while he isn’t just anyone, he’s also not really that kind of someone. 

Anyway, we had plans, Mr Someone and I. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and I was looking forward to catching up with him. I wanted to hear what he’d been up to. I wanted to ask how his Christmas was, and his new year, and everything in between. Because while I didn’t really care, I cared quite a lot. Sadly, however, Mr Someone had other things on. I wasn’t top of his to do list that day. An hour or so before when he was due to pick me up I got a text. He wasn’t going to make it. Another time, he says. Sorry, he adds. I remind myself I’m not really supposed to be disappointed.

The next morning, with my feet sliding around inside my wellies, I’m still thinking about him. I’m thinking about how everything seems to have slowed to a halt at the moment. Everything has given up, spluttered to a stop. And I’m thinking about how the things that haven’t stopped are awfully complicated. I sigh, and my breath forms a small cloud in front of my face. 

In the daytime I’m studying for my degree from home, with my dad in the next room hitting his keyboard in a way that makes it sound like he is chopping wood. My brothers are both upstairs, talking loudly to their teachers, tapping out long messages to their classmates. They are doing their very best to educate themselves from their bedrooms. My friends are miles and miles from where I am. At the end of the phone, yes, one call away, perhaps, but it’s not the same. And Mr Someone? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Young people are meant to be striding forward into the sparkling most exciting parts of their lives. Together. In pairs and in groups and as a generation. Twenty-somethings are all hovering at the precipice of something brilliant, the days that should someday be looked back on as the glory days, but have been stripped of the time and the energy and the space to leap over it. We all appear to be going backwards.

I turn the corner, an almost hairpin bend around a fir tree, and the hill rolls out ahead of me, white and glistening in the sunshine. My mouth drops open into a little o shape, like a penny.

Tiny coats of all colours race down the hill. Raspberry pinks and rubber duck yellows, pea greens and postbox reds. Parents in khaki green and dark blue with black rucksacks and sensible shoes chase after them, tripping over their feet, and each other. Bobble hats wobble and then plastic sledges tip over into the snow. Giggles and shrieks and yells drift up from the bottom of the slope, where a row of misshapen snowmen stand to attention. Teenagers scrape the thick branches of low trees with gloveless hands and hurl snowballs at unsuspecting siblings. There is laughing, there is hugging, there is joy.

For months and months, I have not seen so many people all in one place. But most of all, for months and months, I have not seen this many people having fun. Families are staying apart from one another, socially distancing as they should be, but it is still glorious. I have forgotten quite how important this coming together of strangers is. This is what Christmas was missing last year. This is it. This is what we, collectively, all of us, thought we had to leave behind forever, when in fact this is the thing that matters most. 

We are not going backwards. Of course we’re not. We are still pushing on into the future, however uncertain it may be. It’s simply that we are not moving in a straight line. Like the sledges of the children on the hill in all their bright colours, we are swaying and wavering and stopping and starting, but we are still moving forward. I will get my degree. I will see my friends again. Have a pint with them, watch a film with them, cook dinner with them. And who knows what will happen with Mr Someone? Maybe we’ll see each other. Maybe we won’t. Either way, I’m sure I’ll get to where I’m meant to be going. We all will.

Photo taken by the author.

‘Lagging’: An Interview with Molly Taylor

I spoke to Molly Taylor, who is currently directing, writing and starring in her online show ‘Lagging’.

Lily Could you summarise the premise of ‘Lagging’ for us?

Molly ‘Lagging’ is basically a blatant rip off of Staged. I fell in love with Staged over the summer – it was the first online production I’d seen that felt really suited to the format. Lagging is a reality-based fiction about the cast of ‘5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche’ (the show we were going to do this term) who get cancelled and go to Zoom to do online rehearsals for their online production – we’re playing with the weirdness of online rehearsals as well as some classic student theatre character jokes. It’s quite fun to do something that’s so blatantly stereotypical and jokey, whilst finding some sort of sympathy for the characters. They’re all stuck at home, doing this as basically a bit of a favour, and no one’s really getting what they want out of it. But everyone’s still doing their best, which I think does summarise a lot of what Cambridge theatre has had to do.

Lily What was the thinking behind the decision to do it as a series of small episodes rather than a long production?

Molly Part of the impetus is that I was tired of doing three-month long rehearsals of something that was then cancelled. You can also do short musing, not entirely directed comedy much better in short episodes – people then have a lot more tolerance for stuff that isn’t plot heavy. But I was also really excited by the idea of being able to do something and seeing it come to life a week later. It’s amazing how quickly people got stuff together: my AD wrote an entire sea shanty in three days! We got an editor two days beforehand and he’s done an amazing job. A bit terrifying, but it’s fun doing something so immediate and kind of stressful after such a sedate year.

Lily How does the rehearsal process and filming work?

Molly Episodes are broadcast on Sunday, and we’re supposed to start writing the next episode the same day (I don’t know if we do). I really wanted to be collaborative with the writing so that anyone in the cast or production team who wanted to be involved with it could be. We have a writing gathering, an open Zoom call that anyone can come to for two hours, I gather everything together and then we have a sort of script by Tuesday. On Wednesday we do a rehearsal/read through and a staging of it. At this point, the script is still up for debate. But on Thursday we have to film, and it actually takes quite a while so at that point the script is a final product. It’s a tight turnaround and there’s a lot of room for people to make contributions if they want to, but not to openly devise, because otherwise things inevitably end up not getting done.

Lily With comic timing, doing it over Zoom obviously makes things very different to how they would be on stage. Do you record it with everyone on Zoom or do you record individual parts and then edit it together? 

Molly That was the biggest challenge. We realised quite early on that you can’t really get an actor in a comedy to just sit down and record themselves reacting to jokes. So instead, we have this elaborate setup: everyone is on a Zoom call, but we use the Zoom option ‘Hide non video participants’ so that those not in the scene can’t be seen. When someone enters a scene, they’re already in the room and then they can enter on cue easily, because there’s a whole lot of late entries or people coming in at the wrong time (classic Zoom banter). You have the Assistant Director screen recording the grid, and everyone separately screen recording themselves so that you can cut between group and individual shots. For comic timing, it was crucial that they all were on the call together. 

Lily You act in it as well as directing, which is a theme throughout with production team members making cameos. Is that something you’ve done before? And for those who were acting for the first time, how do you make someone feel comfortable? 

Molly I think a lot of people who were willing and excited to do it had done acting before, and if not, there was very much a willingness to do it, as it doesn’t require incredible acting skills. I really considered casting someone to play myself, but it felt a bit strange to have everyone else play themselves plus this other person as I lurked in the back. And, you know, it’s quite fun. It creates more of a community as well because we all do really enjoy hanging out with each other, even if the script says otherwise!

Lily It’s nice that it’s something for you guys as much as it is for the audience. What themes are you keen to explore in the weeks coming forward?

Molly The future episodes see a lot more joking around with online theatre as a concept rather than Zoom. Each episode is based around a related issue. You’ve got an episode about getting the rights for online theatre, which is trickier than you might think. We’ve got one about intimacy direction on Zoom with a fun cameo from a Cambridge Theatre classic coming in to play the intimacy director. The cast in future episodes, especially two of them, also get closer – the sea shanty becomes more relevant! How you start friendships or relationships and maintain them remotely will definitely become increasingly relevant. I think those two are the emotional heart. I hate that phrase, but they’re certainly the avenue through which we explore relationships.

Lily What advice would you give to anyone else who’s playing with the idea of theatre during lockdown? 

Molly There’s lots of funding available if you send forms to the right people and there are always people you can go to and ask for help – ADC online and the ADC are incredible at supporting online shows. But you don’t necessarily need them – we applied to ADC online with this show and didn’t get a slot, but I was so determined and so fed up with being cancelled that we decided to do it anyway. Use the fact that online theatre doesn’t need a budget because YouTube accounts are free. There are also so many people at the moment who are willing to give up their time to create something. And you don’t need to know people either – I put up the editor ad on Facebook and got loads of applications. The resources have almost never been easier to access, so use them! It’s a great way to flex directing and organising muscles, get to know people, and make theatre connections so that hopefully when theatre comes back in person, you’ll be a better, more experienced person for it. And we can all get on with making the theatre that we would ideally be making. 

You can watch episodes 1 and 2 of ‘Lagging’ on Youtube here. Episode 3 is due to be released on Sunday 14th February.

2020 In Review

By Alexandra La Guardia

2020 was the year when the unimaginable happened and the year when nothing seemed to happen at all. The pandemic changed our lives completely, and yet we quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’. For many, the overall sense is that this year felt pointless, motionless. Covid started and life was put on pause. 

It would be insensitive and wrong to say that 2020 was a good year for the world. 1.84 million people have died, and that number will have risen by the time I finish writing this. Hundreds of thousands in the UK alone have lost their jobs. Domestic violence, inequality, and mental health problems are just a few of the negative consequences of the pandemic.

Everyone is ready to put 2020 behind them. Rightly so. But there is also good reason to reflect on this past year. As plans were turned upside down, we were challenged to think in creative ways. Time normally spent commuting, seeing friends at the pub, or travelling, was suddenly there for us to use in different ways. Students who barely knew how to flip an egg discovered their calling as cooks, Strava replaced Instagram, and books which had been gathering dust for years were plucked off the shelf. And there was also time for a little silence. Time to take a breather from the busyness of life. Early-morning walks (and the occasional lie-in) replaced the early-morning rush, and on one late-night stroll, I saw a fox standing on the roof of a car looking like he owned the street.

I realise that this paints a grey-tinged year in a rosier light than it might deserve. These little pleasures do not outweigh the difficult times that came with the virus. But while it’s perhaps a cliche, the hardest moments are often the ones which really help you to grow. The challenge of learning to live alone leads to increased independence, while living in a house full of people can make you a more patient person. Being forced to behave in a different way than we’re used to – no pubs, no hugs – can help us to think about what really makes us happy, what we can do without, and what we miss the most when we don’t have it. 

2020 made us appreciate the things we took for granted: a group of over six sitting inside on a cold night, walking into Sainsbury’s without a queue circling the block, shaking hands instead of bumping elbows, not being glared at when you cough after swallowing water the wrong way. It even makes us appreciate the things we didn’t think would be missed: waking up for lectures, spending the day in the library, airplane food, night clubs.  

And while the pandemic holds the 2020 spotlight, other historical events make this year worth remembering. In February, Harvey Weinstein was convicted for rape and sexual assault. The global Black Lives Matter movement dominated the summer, forcing countries to look at their colonial past and present-day racism. Joe Biden became president-elect, with Kamala Harris as the first female, Black and South Asian vice president-elect. And the fires that blazed through Australia and the West Coast were a wake-up call to the threat of climate change. 

2021 will not see immediate change; in fact, it looks pretty bleak.  New year, new covid variant, it seems. As vaccines are being rolled out, so are restrictions. But as spring comes, things will begin to go back to normal. Only it will once again be a ‘new normal’. One in which, hopefully, we appreciate friends, concerts, parties, art galleries more than ever before, and remember that happiness can be found in the simplest things, like a good walk on a sunny day. 

2020 proved to what extent the world is interconnected, and that societies can change drastically in response to a global crisis. So let’s hope the world can finally come together to fight that other global crisis, climate change. And maybe we can do it without furlough and face masks.

Photo is author’s own.

Sex positivity and social media: an interview with the creator of @vive.la.revulvalution

By Martha French

Illustration by Lucienne

CN: Detailed discussion of consent and pornography, brief mention of abortion

Lucienne Jacobs, a 2nd year Classics student at Christ’s, started the Instagram account @vive.la.reVUVLVAlution during the first lockdown, with the intention of creating a platform for the discussion of female sexuality with friends and peers. Since then, it has amassed over 400 followers, and covered topics such as libido, catcalling, and body hair. Most recently, Lucienne collected stories from followers about their experiences on any and all kinds of contraception, resulting in a brilliant resource series explaining the pros and cons of everything from various combined pills to condoms to the vaginal ring. Over the holidays, I caught up with Lucienne to chat all things sexual health and social media. 

Martha: What inspired you to start the account, and why did you choose to run the campaign on Instagram?

Lucienne: Well, I have always been interested in sexual health and sex positivity. It started from just being the one in my school friendship group who disclosed everything, who didn’t shy away from any topic despite its taboo. But this interest manifested itself in quite a passive manner at first: it was mainly liking posts on Instagram or sharing them on my story etc, but I had never thought of making content myself. I guess I was just afraid of trying something and failing, and the subsequent embarrassment that comes along with it.

But over lockdown, a video was posted by Buzzfeed titled, “Why I Always Hated My Vagina.” This video was about an employee’s journey towards accepting her vulva, which she claimed to be non-conforming to the general “standard” of vulvas. By this, it was assumed she referred to having what social media have begun calling an “outie” vulva, where the labia are longer than what is deemed to be “normal” (although this, of course, is nonsense). I was incredibly moved by this video, not only because of the strength it must have taken for the employee to air her largest insecurity on a huge public platform, but because her insecurity was also my insecurity. In the video, she shares articles about girls as young as nine years old enquiring about labiaplasty (the procedure to reduce labia size), and I was instantly taken back to my teenage self, sitting in front of a computer screen, looking up the cost of the procedure, or scrolling endlessly through Reddit feeds questioning “what do boys think of longer labia?” hoping to, at some point, find a comment which didn’t include the words “beef sandwich.”

Firstly, the video made me question why we’re not taught about these things in our education system, and what else has been ignored by schools purely because they’re slightly taboo. Yet, this video also comforted me. It reminded me that I’m not alone in this insecurity, and that’s what caused me to begin my account. I didn’t just want to inform, but I also wanted to comfort. I wanted to do the same thing for other girls as she had done for me: remind them that they’re not alone in their insecurities, and to create a safe-space where anything and everything to do with women’s health and sexual experience can be spoken about.

I chose to create the account on Instagram mainly because I found it the easiest way to access people. Initially, it was just an account for all my female/non-binary friends to follow, where I would just do very low-key posts, but it’s become a little more than that now. I guess Instagram also worked well with my target audience, since my posts are primarily for young people.

Martha: What were your first experiences with sexual health education? How much were you self/peer taught?

Lucienne: So, my official sex education began in primary school, but that was barely anything, mainly anatomy at that stage. We then had a PSHCE day once a year from Year 7-10 regarding sexual health. The main thing I remember from those days is learning how to put a condom on a plastic penis and being shown pictures of the effects of different STIs, but that was in Year 9, and realistically, who’s having sex when they’re 13? I definitely wasn’t.

So, my school was pretty pathetic when it came to sex education. I might be wrong, but from what I recall there was no mention of pleasure, no mention of varying appearances, no mention of consent. I learnt other things from speaking to friends, but I also had to learn a lot from the internet, and by internet, I mean porn, which I can tell you was not the way to go. Because of the ubiquitous “designer vagina” aesthetic found in porn, my insecurities were exacerbated. The industry also undeniably offers a very warped form of sex, one which is often aggressive, even violent, which I think no doubt has impacted my view of sex to this day.

Martha: What does it take to make a post?

Lucienne: Ok so, this makes me sound all high and mighty, and I really don’t want to come across that way, but I’d like to think all my posts are special in some way. When starting the page, I almost viewed it as a product to be sold – it needed a USP (Unique Selling Point). I found that there were lots of sex positivity Instagram pages, and I didn’t want to just post random screenshots of tweets from people, or articles written by others. I wanted my account to be personal and intimate, I wanted to make posts people would actually read and engage with, posts which come from my own opinions and my own voice. Each post, therefore, is thoughtfully constructed. They take research, they take thought, and perhaps most importantly, they take emotion. I like to truly feel something as I write, whether it’s anger, pride, insecurity etc.

Martha: How has it been balancing the account with your degree work and other extra curriculars? Have they informed each other or is it a bit of a battle to keep on top of everything?

Lucienne: If I’m being completely honest, it’s been challenging. I posted only once during Michaelmas term, because I just couldn’t find the motivation to carry on. Particularly under the current circumstances, I was just completely overwhelmed with work and actually staying sane. I’m quite ashamed of how badly I dealt with everything, but then again, I don’t want to make myself feel bad when I know some sacrifices had to be made for my own well-being.

I think because of the nature of my posts and also my perfectionism, I just found it really hard to write. I would finish my work for that week, essays and translations etc, and I would just lack energy to write something else. Perhaps it’s a slightly pathetic excuse, I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m definitely trying to work on.

One thing I’ve done to help, however, is link the account to an extra-curricular by joining the Student Union Women’s Committee! This means I can start weaving Vive La ReVULVAlution into my weekly routine.

Martha: What have you learnt from running it, personally and from the responses of others?

Lucienne: Ah! So much! I’ve mainly learnt just how rubbish our education system is at providing information on women’s health! For example, I remember doing a post about vaginal discharge, and the number of boys who subsequently told me that they had no idea it existed staggered me.

Martha: What are you proudest of?

Lucienne: This might sound cliché, but genuinely any post which has impacted another person, which has spoken to them, and somewhat comforted them. I have had so many people messaging, thanking me for speaking out about something which they had always felt insecure about, and that always warms my heart.

Also, a friend of mine started her own activism account, having been influenced by mine, and it’s really successful (much more successful than mine aha) so that’s something I’m really proud of!

Martha: A lot of your content is based around testimonies from other young women, how important do you think anecdotal advice is? 

Lucienne: I think it’s so important, because it’s tangible. When you hear manufactured, formulaic advice from a doctor or teacher, it can sometimes feel detached. But when it’s someone you know, or someone who’s the same age as you, or the same gender, it makes for a much more relaxed environment. For me, anecdotal advice is completely genuine, and it has no agenda, it is merely someone’s personal experience.

Martha: What needs to change amongst the student community in terms of conversations and practices surrounding sexual health? What about on a societal level?

Lucienne: I think, generally, just more conversations need to happen! It links to your next question too, because on a societal level, I believe we first and foremost need to break the taboo around sex, and the way we do this is to speak about it as much as possible. Sex must no longer be spoken about through whispers, or giggles, it needs to be spoken about in larger public settings.

Martha: What advice would you give to anyone trying to engage in sexual health activism on social media?

Lucienne: Again, it sounds cliché, but genuinely just speak your truth. I think something which my followers really value is how honest I am with them, and I think with a topic which is so hushed away, you need to be as loud and as open as possible.

Martha: And finally, what’s next for the account?

Lucienne: I have quite a few posts planned, looking at abortions, the morning after pill, the “contract” of sex! I should be getting them out in the next few weeks. Also, I’m bringing the campaign to Cambridge through the WomCam committee, and I hope to set up a few events and webinars (COVID-permitting!)

You can follow @vive.la.revulvalution here.

Is this what a feminist education looks like?

By Lucie Richardson

In December I read an article published by RTÉ entitled ‘How to teach children about feminism’ in which Dr Suzanne O’Keeffe, a lecturer in Education, encouraged parents to avoid gender specific behaviour in the presence of children. This could range from dividing chores by gender to complimenting little girls’ appearances more than their ability. As an Education student this caught my attention, and I began to reflect on my own experiences at secondary school.

From the age of eleven, I attended an independent day school for girls, with an enthusiastic headmistress keen to give her pupils an education inspired by the rebellious spirit and courageous deeds of its two female patron saints. Indeed, in the eyes of the school, nothing screamed ‘girl power’ like being scourged, tortured on a wheel, and martyred for your faith like our famous patron saint. The Spice Girls really missed a trick there. 

Our lessons were not explicitly ‘feminist’ in their content, largely due to the constraints of the GCSE and A Level syllabus. Thanks to a petition launched by teenager June Eric Udorie, feminism was finally added to the A Level Politics curriculum in 2016. As Laura Bates said at the time, a hard fought win that was long overdue. Since then, the national curriculum has received criticism for its gender bias. For example, the organisation TeachFirst has identified that the GCSE Science curriculum doesn’t include any women’s names. As a result, it has launched a ‘STEMinism’ campaign to address the gender bias present in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

It’s fair to say that my school worked really hard to challenge the gender bias present in our formalised exam based education. There was a palpable push for girls to study STEM, an industry in which women are significantly underrepresented, with only 22% of roles in STEM based careers occupied by women (WISE Campaign, 2018 Workforce Statistics). Due to the dedicated teaching and encouragement provided by our school’s female dominated science department, I feel many of my peers were inspired to pursue careers in a field they might have otherwise been deterred from. 

Similarly, occasions such as International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month were always commemorated with informative events and celebrations. Presentations often featured inspirational female guest speakers, meanwhile, the school houses were named after headmistresses who had played a significant part in the school’s history. I think this decision in particular really instilled in me a belief in the importance of education, specifically women’s education, something I have pursued beyond school through my undergraduate degree. 

Our assemblies in particular played a significant role in introducing us to the concept of feminism. Our headmistress loved taking assemblies and would usually meditate on a theme, drawing on examples of inspirational women to support her points. When I look back I think this emphasised women’s contribution to society, something that has been overlooked by my textbooks. These assemblies gave me an impressive cast of role models for me to aspire to, however on reflection, I appreciate that this was not the case for everyone. 

Our assemblies were designed to fill gaps in the curriculum, however gaps remained, as many of these inspirational figures were able-bodied cisgender white and heterosexual. If we are to create a feminist education, I would argue that it is essential that we create a curriculum that represents everyone, as opposed to one with further omissions. And here lies my problem. 

At the nearby boys school, there was a widespread perception of us as a band of lacrosse stick-toting kilt-wearing Amazons unnecessarily bemoaning the fact that the world is stacked against us. Granted, the legitimacy of any argument is undermined when expressed in a sexist neanderthal screech emitted by a teenage boy boasting an on-off relationship with deodorant. However, reluctantly, I must admit that at the heart of this somewhat sexist and disdainful observation, there lies a kernel of truth. 

What our fantastic feminist education failed to do was contextualise feminism as a movement carried forward by women form a variety of backgrounds. In short, we were shown the most pleasant part of a very complicated picture. While figures such as Rosa Parks might have been cited, it was done in a way that made the prejudice they faced seem historicized rather than impacting women in the present day. I feel it was never really pointed out to us as students that while we might face discrimination as women, we were pretty privileged compared to women from different backgrounds. At this point I must state that ALL women can face acts of violence and discrimination and I by no means seek to suggest that privilege renders women immune to these awful experiences. 

However, I believe the fatal flaw in my early feminist education at school was that by showcasing predominantly white inspirational women and presenting us with feminism through the lens of a white middle class experience, they promoted a ‘one size fits all’ ideology. This somewhat belied the complex and unequal distribution of power among women in the real world. Indeed, I am sure there is nothing more irritating than hearing a predominantly white, middle class group of privately educated Home Counties girls whinge about how hard they have it. 

In particular, it ignored the complex intersection of identities such as class, race, sexuality and feminism, first explored by civil rights activist Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. Maya Angelou’s poetry was often quoted in assemblies, but was never really contextualised. It certainly should have been pointed out as belonging to a rich canon of black feminist thought born from a history of slavery, something that white women were able to profit from. In an article for Harper’s Bazaar, Rachel Elizabeth Cargle states that feminists who remain ignorant of these intersections become agents of patriarchal oppression themselves, writing: 

‘If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels”

Do I think I was hard done by in terms of education? Of course not! However, I recognise that without interacting with a more diverse peer group at university and expanding my knowledge of feminism through my degree and personal reading, I could have become one of the women described by Cargle in her article. 

This takes me back to Dr O’Keefe’s article. While the parenting strategies designed to eliminate gender bias are undoubtedly important, they are comparatively privileged concerns when compared to the struggles faced by many women in the world. To name but one example, the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded us that many black women still live in fear of relatives and children being shot for no other reason than the colour of their skin.  Therefore, to me, the feminist education suggested by Dr O’Keeffe means nothing without engaging with other pressing social justice movements. A feminist education has to mean more than Pankhursts and Brontës, ‘who mows the lawn’ or avoiding stereotypically gendered toys. As one of my supervisors observed through her interactions with her child’s peers and their parents, these are largely middle class concerns. 

As we look forward and strive to provide new generations of self identifying girls with an education to equip them for what we hope will continue to be a better world than the present, we need to look beyond culturally dominant (largely white) conceptions of sexism. 

While I appreciate the acts that Dr O’Keeffe mentions, such as varying who mows the lawn, are necessary and tangible steps for parents to take with younger children, I feel this needs to be supplemented with more drastic action. Audre Lorde famously said, ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’ Based on this, I believe that while it is important to deconstruct expectations of gender, as Dr O’Keeffe suggests, we should prioritise teaching all children the importance of empathy. In her article, she reminds us that sexism is not something we are born with – like all prejudices, it is behaviour that is learned. It is important to remember, as Kimberle Crenshaw suggests, that sexism does not exist alone: it interacts with other forms of prejudice and discrimnation. Underpinning them all lies a lack of empathy.

By increasing a child’s ability to empathise in general, we might offer them a chance to better comprehend the unique joys and difficulties that come with different lived experiences. A feminist education is great, but we must offer one that considers and honours the full picture of women’s different experiences.

Post-publication note: Lucie’s school has been cooperative on the matter and are working to rectify the curriculum accordingly.

Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue

 By Eleanor Antoniou

This article mentions violence and sexual harassment.

This Black Friday, major fashion brand Pretty Little Thing reduced everything on their site by up to 99%, a shocking price reduction with clothes on sale for as little as 4p. These low prices invite high levels of consumerism which are detrimental to the environment. They must also make us question who is making these clothes, how much they are being paid, and what sort of conditions they are working in.

Fast fashion therefore is a human rights issue. It is a problem which exists even within the UK, highlighted in March this year by the Boohoo/Nasty Gal scandal. Their Leicester factory was accused of modern slavery after workers were made to continue without PPE in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

But fast fashion is also a feminist issue. Approximately 80% of garment workers in the global garment industry are women, aged between 18-35, yet female workers are not on equal terms with their male colleagues.  According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, these women, including young girls, are often vulnerable and living in poverty, forced to work in unsafe and unhealthy environments where they face gender discrimination each day. Women working in factories have described being stripped of their dignity, sleeping on the factory floor, denied toilet or water breaks, and sworn at by their shouting bosses. They must survive on inadequate pay whilst predominantly male CEOs from major fashion brands take four days, on average, to earn what a female garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in her entire lifetime, according to Oxfam International.  On top of this, female workers are often balancing work with childcare and domestic activities, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty and exploitation.

Fast fashion is even killing these workers.  In 2013, the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 people, 80% of which were women, and including a number of children.  This building contained products of high-profile brands such as Primark, Matalan and Mango. The tragedy is all the more harrowing because the owner, Sohel Rana, was warned by an engineer that the building was unsafe.  The day before the collapse, the structure shook so much that cracks appeared and workers fled in fear.  Nevertheless, the next morning the factory’s bosses ordered work to continue, placing profits above workers’ safety.

The threat of violence and sexual harassment is also very real to women working within the garment industry.  In 2017, humanitarian agency, CARE International, who are focused on fighting global poverty,  discovered that nearly one in three female garment workers in Cambodia experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, including physical abuse, sexual violence, verbal abuse, and inappropriate touching.  Even the journey to and from work is a daily risk for these women, who have described being afraid while outside due to the threat of sexual violence and harassment.  A more recent study by ActionAid found that in Bangladesh last year 80% of garment workers experienced or witnessed sexual violence or harassment at work.  The culture of silence around these issues leaves female workers feeling they cannot speak up for fear of being shamed or losing the jobs upon which their livelihoods depend, meaning they remain trapped in these unsafe spaces. 

So what can we do to help? Firstly, we can buy less from fast fashion brands and shop in alternative places whenever we can. Since deciding I wanted to give up fast fashion in the summer, I’ve been trying to buy second hand, from places like Depop, or sustainable brands, such as nu-in or @thepopupgirlsshop platform on Instagram, who support many female-led independent labels.  It helps to view it as a fun challenge to find ethically sourced items which you really love! We also need to change the way we see clothes and fashion. When you do buy from fast fashion brands, try to buy things you actually want and will re-wear.  Ask yourself if you really like something, or if it is an impulse buy or a current trend which you won’t wear once it’s out of style.  By changing this consumer attitude, we also benefit the environment. Every week in the UK, 13 million items of clothing end up in landfill (this includes some of the items we return to fast fashion brands!).  

Additionally, we can ask our favourite brands, by email or social media, to make a change and be transparent about every aspect of their supply chain.  Even brands like H&M which have a “conscious” range are avoiding the problem: they are allowing customers to buy clothes with a clean conscience yet distancing themselves from the suffering of the people who make them.  According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, H&M have produced no evidence to show that their garment workers are being paid fairly, since they outsource their production and do not track their supply chains.  These brands need to change the way they source their products and prove they care about their workers.

Ultimately, we need to be aware of who is making the clothes we wear, and remember that these are real people, who have a right to feel safe and protected at work: fashion should never be at the expense of human rights and gender equality.  

Here are some resources for further reading: 

Remember Who Made Them podcast, Instagram: @rememberwhomadethem 

Fashion Revolution, Instagram: @fash_rev, https://www.fashionrevolution.org 

Labour Behind the Label, https://labourbehindthelabel.org 

Clean Clothes Campaign, https://cleanclothes.org

Good On You app 

Gaia Rattazzi, Instagram: @ssustainably_

Venetia La Manna, Instagram: @venetialamanna 

Aja Barber, Instagram: @ajabarber  

Illustration by Sophie Smith

Grad Talk with Nicola Stebbing

Interviewed by Lily Guenault

I spoke to Nicola, our previous co-director, about her new job as a content manager for a Berlin start up selling vegan, ethically produced nail polish. You can find their Instagram here and Nicola’s art account here.

Lily What made you decide to find a job abroad? 

Nicola I think I’m not really ready for London. It feels a bit big and daunting and so expensive. Because I’ve already done a year abroad, moving abroad felt a more natural choice. I’d like to work in a creative industry and creative jobs don’t tend to pay well initially, so I’d rather live in a city where I can afford to be on a lower salary because rent and cost of living is cheaper. Also, I kind of thought if I didn’t do this now, when else in your life do you have the opportunity to do it?

Lily That’s so true. Do you have any idea of how long you’re going to stay there? 

Nicola I’m just gonna see how it goes. I’m going to take stock when my lease runs out and think, do I want to move back to the UK? But I’m trying hard not to think about anything long term because who knows what the hell is going to happen. I want to focus on: am I currently happy? If yes, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I like having the freedom to be able to say yes or no to that question and to be able to change something. I think that’s a product of being in your early 20s. 

Lily Would you say that being around young people is quite characteristic of working in a start-up?

Nicola Yeah, it’s super young which is really nice. It gives you the opportunity to try out lots of different things because age and experience isn’t so much of a factor – it’s more about what you can bring to the team. All the decision making is much flatter hierarchically – you can be a trainee and make a decision about an entire campaign. It’s really nice that everyone takes a chunk of responsibility. 

Lily Do you miss anything about a traditional work culture? 

Nicola I think that the structure of a traditional work culture is really nice when you’re at the beginning of your career. When I was on my year abroad and did a traineeship, the structure was so nice: there’s a full H.R. department, you know exactly who to go to, and everything’s already set up in terms of your working hours. A start-up is a bit more chaotic: you often don’t quite know where you stand or who is in charge of what. And the hours can sometimes be a bit chaotic as well.

Lily And when you were looking for jobs, were you looking for ones that had an ethical ethos?

Nicola Yeah, so I did apply for pretty much everything I could see because of corona, but it is really important to me to work for a company which is in line with my ethics. I spend so much time working on these projects, and if the end goal wasn’t in line with what I fundamentally agree with, that would be really demotivating. 

Lily So you work quite a lot with social media? 

Nicola Yeah, social media is my whole job. I think people really underestimate social media and think, how could that be a job? But it’s genuinely a lot of work. And brands like this live and die on Instagram. 

Lily How much did you know about how Instagram worked before you got the job? 

Nicola Honestly, not a huge amount, so please don’t tell my boss! It’s been a real learning curve seeing how much social media really sells stuff or gets ideas out. Especially recently, people want to buy from ethical businesses and social media is the place to find them. 

Lily: Do you find that using Instagram professionally, it’s changed the way you’re using Instagram personally?  

Nicola I separate it quite a lot, although I do notice that with any companies I follow, like glossier for example, I’m so aware of who made this and what was the thought behind this? I now know that all these posts have proper planning behind them and how much strategy goes into the smallest things. 

Lily And in terms of getting into social media as a career: would you have any advice for people who are not sure where to start? 

Nicola Build up a portfolio of stuff so that even if you don’t have experience, you can show them, this is the kind of stuff I can make. And just be engaged with that kind of stuff, like visual trends, and make as much as you can. Because what got me this job is that I spent a year doing cartoons, teaching myself graphic drawing and Photoshop, and then I was able to grow a portfolio of things I could do. I could show that I could still do the same as someone with a more industry specific degree. 

Lily You’d obviously been drawing for a while, but was there a moment when you thought, maybe I can use this as a career?

Nicola Not really to be honest, because I was so unsure of what kind of career I wanted to go into, but I knew I really enjoyed doing it and that I could view it as a skill to have on my CV. But I was honestly just applying to a million different things. Thankfully, this is the thing that stuck.

Lily And turning a creative hobby into a career: how do you ensure that it’s still something you enjoy, rather than viewing it entirely as a skill, because from people I know who, for example, choose music, sometimes it can be hard to maintain stress-free enjoyment of the hobby. 

Nicola I’m quite lucky in that the stuff I make for work isn’t the kind of stuff I would make for myself, because everything has to be very much under company guidelines. It’s then sometimes difficult at work because stuff I think is really cool doesn’t work for the company. There’s been times where I’ve spent a lot of time making something and then they just say that it’s not really on brand. But it’s cool that I can then use the skills I’m learning at work to make my stuff even better. 

Lily Moving abroad generally, especially with Corona, do you have any advice on how to cope with the challenges that it presents? 

Nicola To be honest, it’s really difficult. It’s not your Emily in Paris moment. It can be really, really tough, especially with social media, because you see all your friends from home hanging out and it’s easy to think, that could be me. But I would also advise anyone to move abroad. I know I sound like such a Year Abroad w*nker, but it’s so good for you and teaches you a lot. The important thing is to find a support network as quickly as you can. I think I enjoyed my Year Abroad so much because I treated it like I wasn’t going to leave. I really tried to invest as much as possible in the people I met. It means that it’s been easier for me to come back this time because I already have some connections. And although I’m not thinking long term, I’m trying to act long term. Not thinking too hard about where I’m going to be in a year or two years’ time but trying to invest in people and knowing the city as if I’m going to live there for the rest of my life. 

Lily In terms of new friends you made in Berlin, were they mainly through work, or have you found other ways to meet people? Because that’s obviously quite hard at the moment. 

Nicola I’ve made quite a few friends outside of work, and one really nice thing about moving abroad is that it reduces your shame barrier about messaging people to hang out. You meet someone at a party and you just have to be like, f*ck it, I’m going to get their Whatsapp and say, hey, you wanna go for coffee?

Lily It’s such an important skill even if you move home, because the rest of our lives is not going to be everyone at Cambridge working in the city in London.

Nicola Yeah, it makes you less afraid to move in general because you know that you’re capable of making friends. You’ve gone through life in these institutions with no break, and in every institution, there’s an element of forced socialising. That’s also why things like grad schemes look really attractive because it’s like university again. You do a test, you get in and then you have your cohort and you spend all your time together. They’re so appealing because of that, and I think a lot of people go into them and end up really unhappy because it’s the kind of option that’s really pushed by the Careers Service and because it feels like what you’re used to already. 

Lily Yeah, it’s safe. Making friends seems to happen at every stage of your life: you’re never going to get to a stage where you think, okay I have a comfortable number of friends, I’m just going to leave it at that. 

Nicola Yeah, definitely. Also, I don’t know if it’s just my experience, but the older you get, the easier it is to do things on your own and not need to have a person come with you for everything. If you want to see a cool exhibition, you can just go to it and not have to think, oh God, who’s going to go with me? 

Lily Definitely. I’m annoyed at my first and second year self for the number of things I missed out on because I couldn’t find someone at the time to go with, so I just didn’t go. And coming back from having spent some time abroad you realise that the only person who’s going to lose out in that situation is me. 

Nicola Completely. And what’s nice about being in a bigger city than Cambridge is that you have complete anonymity. You can do things and think, I don’t care because I don’t know anyone here, I’m never going to see them again, so f*ck it. On Year Abroad, I went to a lot of gigs on my own and I had the best time because I just felt so un-self-conscious. I didn’t feel responsible for anyone else having a good time. I could just turn up when I wanted, leave when I wanted, and have a dance because who’s going to care.

Lily Yeah, definitely. I had a similar thing with taking myself out for dinner. We need to normalise eating alone: it’s great to take yourself out for dinner for the sake of it, maybe buy a drink and just sit with your own company. It seems so foreign but why wouldn’t you do it. 

Nicola I love it, I think it’s such a power move. 

Lily It always reminds me of films where they come over to the woman and they ask, “table for one?” And then the woman’s sad because the man’s not coming or she’s single. 

Nicola Oh God. It’s always a sad woman who’s been stood up by some arsehole man. 

Lily Always. Are there any other parts of your experience that we haven’t touched on?

Nicola I’ve been thinking a lot recently about career stuff and what’s been sticking in my mind is the extreme pressure to do everything straight away. It feels like everyone is doing grad schemes and consultancy and all this kind of stuff when they’re really not. You start with GCSEs, and before you finish them, you know what A-levels you’re going to do, and before you finish your A-levels, you apply to university and then before you finish university, you’ve applied to your grad scheme. There’s this clear pathway of, this is what you do if you’re smart and hardworking. And then you get to university and are told, this is what you do if you’re smart and hardworking: you apply to this and that company. You have to have a real mental shift and realise there’s not one option anymore. And also, that I don’t have to know what that option is, and I don’t have to do it right now. Which is really hard to realise when you’re in Cambridge and at these career talks and everything feels so highly pressurised. In reality, no one knows what they’re doing, and you can change your career at any point in your life. 

Lily Yeah, it’s so true. It always feels like you should be doing something, even if what you’re interested in is an ad hoc job that won’t get advertised until summer. 

Nicola Completely. Everyone’s asking you, what are you doing after uni? And I hated that so much. As soon as I finished my exams, people asked, what are you doing now? I’m recovering. Honestly, I’m going to play Mario Kart until I get my results and then I’m going to think about it. Stop asking. And with all these jobs that aren’t on a clear path: I don’t know what jobs exist! No one knows what jobs exist until you get into companies and you realise these things are real positions. I had no idea that a content manager was a job. Where do you find that out?! 

Lily I know! There’s so much focus on the sector or the industry without thinking about the fact that, like you said, there’s roles in content management in a wide variety of sectors. 

Nicola Yeah, there are so many jobs and you just have no idea what they are until faced with them. 

Lily When thinking about career paths, I always try to define what success means to me and that it’s not necessarily related to a career goal. But then to stick to your own definition in Cambridge is so hard. 

Nicola Because you’re in a bubble of people that have defined their self-worth by academic success for the last twenty years! It’s really important to think about what you see as success. For me, working a high-paid financial job while working sixty hours a week would not be success because I don’t see myself being happy with that kind of lifestyle. Success to me is valued differently and it’s really important to figure out those values when considering what kind of job you want. For example, I want a job where I can have free time to pursue my hobbies and where there’s a young working environment, so it’s not as important what kind of industry it’s in and what the job is. Think about what you want your early 20s to look like. And also, remember that your values can change. I have no idea what I want and it’s nice to know that I can reassess every six months. Your first job doesn’t have to be the path your life goes down.

Illustration by Nicola Stebbing

‘This made me think of you’ – my lockdown playlist

By Anna Calder

With the news that Boris had announced a new national lockdown, one of the first thoughts I had, besides how boring it was going to be in Cambridge without the people, coffee shops, and art exhibitions, was that I needed a new playlist. So with that in mind, I took to Spotify to create the one and only ‘lockdown part II’. For the tagline of the playlist, I aptly put, ‘get sum headspace luv’. Despite the awful spelling in an attempt to be cool, it describes exactly what we all need to do: remember this isn’t going to last forever and that some beauty can be found in these extraordinary times. 

First, let’s start with the songs that friends sent me. People always talk about ‘those three little words’. Well, I’d prefer to hear those six words: ‘this song reminded me of you’. Honestly, there’s no sentence I’d rather hear – especially if the song’s a banger. With that in mind, the first song on my playlist is ‘Golden’ by shiv, sent to me by my best friend from home. shiv is a Zimbabwean-Irish musician based in Dublin, who really reminds me of Pip Millet and Frank Ocean. Her soothing lyrics and chilled out vibes are perfect to work to, relax to or just walk around and feel at peace to. The first line of ‘Golden’, “I just wanna get away, find a place to just escape”, is probably a perfect description of those who find themselves in an unlucky two-week quarantine. Why thank you, track and trace. 

shiv, ‘Golden’

The second song that deserves a shout out is ‘Unsatisfied Woman’ by Barbara Stant. I imagine many of those in Cambridge can relate to the title of the song, thanks to the no mixing of households rule. However, I can assure you that you will indeed be satisfied after listening, with the American artist’s soothing soulful tones and powerful female voice. 

This playlist is also a big debut for Olivia Dean, who I’d never heard of before lockdown. Her music could be described as a mix between Pip Millet (again!) and Freya Ridings, making her definitely one to watch out for. I like to think that some of her songs capture our lockdown moods. Whether you decide to take a more mellow approach with the song ‘Crosswords’, settling down with your nearest and dearest for some old-fashioned fun, or you’re in more of an ‘Ok Love You Bye’ mood, saying goodbye to those pre-lockdown flings. Oh, what could have been. My favourite lyric is by far, ‘four pints in and you’re someone else’, reminding me of previous zoom quizzes where I maybe got a bit carried away at the virtual pub. 

Finally, I can’t make a playlist without including some Spanish music. YEИDRY is a singer-songwriter who grew up between the Dominican Republic and Italy, who I first came across from watching her COLORS SHOW performance. But don’t worry, it’s not your classic reggaeton and ‘Despacito’; YEИDRY grew up with 90s pop RnB and tries to mix latin vibes with an electronic touch. She doesn’t yet have an album out, but if it’s anything like ‘Nena’, then it’s going to be heavenly. 

YEИDRY, ‘Nena’

Although I use my dad’s spotify, and he might be a bit confused if tons of students start following his playlists, feel free to go and have a listen and enjoy some soothing tunes. This compilation of all-female artists is a testament to the powerful presence of the women killing it in the music industry.