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Gina Martin is the activist and writer who changed the law after an 18 month-long campaign to make Upskirting illegal. She’s also an OHNE Ambassador and probably one of your fave people to follow on Instagram. And, because she apparently doesn’t sleep, she’d just released a book which is the ultimate guide to activism. Be the Change by Gina Martin is available right now and is exactly what you’ve been waiting for if you’re passionate about creating change but don’t know where, when, or how to start.
We had a chat with Gina about her book, life after changing the law, and what fashion has to do with politics…
Upskirting was bigger than me
We’re sure our readers are familiar with the story by now: when a man took a picture up your skirt at a festival and the police told you he hadn’t broken a law, you decided not to let it go, to stay mad, and to fight the law. We’re also sure that many of our readers are familiar with just brushing off harassment because it can feel so impossible, useless, and, at the worst times, dangerous to fight against it. What was your thought process behind deciding to use this incident as fuel to effect change rather than brush it off?
I only remember wanting people to know it was a sexual offence because I just couldn’t believe it wasn’t. I honestly don’t think there was much of a thought process at first, I was angry and that was it. But by the time the anger wore off, I was already shouting about it everywhere and then it felt like, okay let’s get serious about this, stop just shouting about it, get organised and do something.
How did you stay motivated until the law was changed rather than letting frustration or apathy get the better of you?
I wanted to give up many many times. My motivation came from the amount of stories shared with me from women and girls it had happened to. I honestly think I would have quit if it was just about me, but it was bigger than me so I had to finish it.
I just want to show people that they can change things
We’re so bloody impressed you’ve managed to pull the book together so quickly and think it’s such a needed resource for new activists. When did you first think you might like to write a book about your experience?
As the campaign was coming to an end I started receiving lots of DMs from people asking me to give them advice on campaigning. So, I thought ‘okay, let’s put it somewhere. Somewhere people can keep referring to.’ That thought came about 3 months before the campaign ended, after I had a meeting with Abi and Megan from Gleam. It was important that it was about more than my experience and that instead that it was just everything I’d have needed at the start of my work.
Did your experience working as a journalist help you with the writing of the book – both practically speaking and with the self-belief to execute it – or do you find the two writing styles so different as to be incomparable?
I wouldn’t call myself a journalist back then! I’d only written for like, three websites before the campaign. My sister had given me contacts for a couple of publications and I’d written about four or five pieces. During the campaign I wrote a lot more but I was barely making money from writing, so writing this book was definitely a challenge – especially in the time I was given to write it!
You must be so excited to take the book on tour! Do you hope your message can reach a broader audience through the tour who might not otherwise pick a book about activism?
Yessss! It’s so exciting. I just want to show people that they can change things if they get organised, get the right support and are strategic and patient. It’s incredibly possible and, now that we need it more than ever, I want to make social change less exclusive. It has felt like [creating change] is only for the hands of a few powerful people and that’s just categorically not true. I hope I expand that message past just feminism too, which is why we have a whole range of amazing activists, from all sorts of different causes, joining me on tour!
To progress, people of privilege have to realise that they are playing a part in systems which oppress others.
Having recently gone freelance and also falling under that ever-elusive umbrella of ‘influencer’, how would you summarise your career now for people who might not be familiar with your work? Do you identify more as an activist, as a writer, or are the two inseparable from one another?
This is a tricky one! I’d say I’m an activist and writer really because they are so closely linked. Influencer is such an abstract term and, as it’s mostly been used to describe people who influence people to buy, it feels like it doesn’t fit me well. But I guess seeing as my whole hope is to influence people to act, we could call me that! I think the definition of ‘influencer’ is broadening out, but when I get described as only an influencer, it feels pretty reductive.
You talk a lot about your sense of duty to use your platform and your privilege for good and dedicate a lot of your social media ‘air time’ to spotlighting the voices of other people from marginalised communities. How do you balance your activism and desire to use your platform to uplift others while still having fun with social media and sharing other areas of your life besides politics?
I feel like to progress, people of privilege have to realise that they are playing a part – whether they know it or not – in systems which oppress others, as society is built on racism, sexism etc. But man, that’s a hard pill to swallow, even though you know it’ll make you better in the long run! So, as a white woman, I feel if I can get people with privilege to the point where they’ve swallowed that pill, then I’ll let those who understand those systems better (marginalised voices) use my space to educate further. That’s why I repost a lot of content on my stories. Away from that, I keep balance by also using social media as a space for creativity and humour too – I paint on my photos and make them align in the grid, I edit, I play around with colour and copy on my stories a lot and I also record myself and my life whenever I feel like. [I also] try not to self-censor because I think its important people see those they look up to in their entirety. I’m silly, I’m loud, I’m thoughtful, I care and I am creative, and I won’t limit myself to just being one thing online.
In a similar vein, how do you navigate establishing boundaries between your public and private lives?
I struggle with this as living in the public eye is still jarringly new to me. I will always prioritise real life and my relationships over work. I say no to a lot more invites now and I take time away from my phone – I’m getting better at that. I also don’t give out my details and I never post something about where I am when I’m there, only after. I want to have my own space outside of Instagram too. The only time my public and private life meet is when someone recognises me but generally they’re lovely and pick their moments well!
I wanted to show that Power looks different for different people
Politics is still incredibly homogenous in terms of who is expected and invited to be in certain spaces. You’ve talked a lot about to what extent it can be said that your privilege contributed to the widespread media attention the campaign garnered but, relatively speaking, women and people from working class backgrounds are still incredibly underrepresented in politics. How were you treated walking into the House of Lords as a young woman in a bright red suit and did you ever feel pressure to dress differently or behave in a certain way to be taken seriously in parliament?
Ah yes indeed. My gender and economic background are the only two things that worked against me, and the list of those that didn’t is long, but that doesn’t mean I felt comfortable in those spaces. I felt very intimidated at first and so I can’t imagine what it would be like to do that as someone from a [more] marginalised gender or community. I felt pressure instantly, to act different and dress different, so I sort of had to find a balance that worked for me, but that was hard. I needed to be taken seriously but also not lose myself. That was the key.
Fashion isn’t always taken seriously, but it’s such a personal, creative way for people to express their identities, particularly for people of marginalised genders, that it can be a pretty powerful tool for challenging people’s preconceptions about who gets a seat at the table. Have you found it liberating to continue expressing yourself through fashion and art while spearheading the campaign to change the law on upskirting?
Yesss everyone is different, but for me fashion is key. It allows me to hold onto my identity and express who I am before I speak. We subconsciously see power as a guy in a suit still, and I felt like if I’d tried to emulate that it would be like I was confirming that that’s the only way to be powerful, so instead I wanted to be myself and show that power looks different for different people. I wanted people to be able to look at me and see that I am a normal twenty-something girl that did this, because they don’t need to see more infallible, unemotional people.
And, finally, what would your advice be to people who are inspired by your work and want to become activists but don’t yet have a cause, issue, or law in mind that they’re particularly passionate about? It can be so overwhelming for people to think of the myriad problems that need solving that it can be tempting just to bury your head in the sand and do nothing – where would you suggest to start?
I’d say work out what broad issue you are about the most passion about and then filter it down to one very specific part. Change is easier to make if your approach is single-minded. Pick you end goal and work backwards, otherwise you’ll just be walking blind. Research the hell out of your cause, know your strengths and your weaknesses so you can find people who can help you fill those gaps, and just start. Whatever that means, just begin. Even in a small way. Because that’s the hardest part.
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