TW: Graphic language & Sexual harassment
...In Conversation with Maddie Ross A.K.A the feminist and very fabulous Girl Code.
So here at AHC, we’ve been working away behind the scenes to create some great and informative content for our members and continue to fight against the street harassment pervading our amazing city.
We’re super excited to announce that the first stage of this is - imaginary drum roll please - a joint project collaborating with the incredible Girl Code (a.k.a Maddie Ross) who is in the process of filming a documentary on street harassment in Brighton!
To kick start this amazing project I interviewed the lovely Maddie on what inspired her to get involved, what she hopes the documentary will achieve and how she’s striving to kick street harassment and toxic behaviour in the ass.
Welcome, Maddie! Let’s get down to it... who and what is Girl Code??
So hi I’m Maddie, I’m 25, Brighton born and bred, and a feminist theatre producer. Girl Code is a theatre company dedicated to highlighting intersectionality and promoting female-identifying voices. We want to take issues that we aren’t normally comfortable talking about and make them comfortable and digestible. Talking about harassment and assault, for example, is heavy. We want it to be done in a way that is not too challenging to think about, using theatre to open up the conversation, not to shut it down.
So what was it that inspired you to start Girl Code?
I started Girl Code mainly out of the frustration of not being able to make my own work. I was a bit fed up with going for jobs where I wasn’t that passionate about the project or it didn’t really feel like it was aligning with my own views. I figured what better way to do that then to actually make my own stuff?! So I wrote a show last year called ‘Coming Home with Me’ which was all about sexual harassment and assault in nightclubs. I interviewed a number of people who had experienced that, as well as bouncers and all sorts of other people. It really got people thinking and we did performances for charities and for fundraising, so it started from there really.
Amazing, so without inflating our egos too much, how did you hear about AHC, and what made you go, ‘great, let’s collaborate and do something together’?
I am a member of Brighton Girl and I kept seeing all these posts about girls who were getting harassed, assaulted and abused on the beach by strangers and I was just so angry about that and I was just like ‘oh I really want to do something about this’. As the theatres aren’t open at the moment, I decided to make a documentary and I saw you had started up in response to the same thing going on and I was like omg this will be a match made in heaven!
Yaass, the same goals and the same passion and the rest is history!
And I’m so happy I did because you’re all absolutely lovely and I’m so excited to be working together.
The more we start talking and the more of what we’ve been planning for the last few weeks is actually coming to fruition the more excited I’m getting too! In terms of your own personal experiences of harassment, Is it something you’ve experienced quite a lot in the city yourself?
Yeah definitely. I remember coming into town at 14/15/16 years old and being in Pavilion gardens, on the beach with friends, being in town generally. Even when I was quite young I remember being catcalled and people making inappropriate comments. It’s definitely an issue in Brighton and it’s frustrating because I think we're such a liberal city, or seem like such a liberal open city, but there just is this absolute, for want of a better word, a pandemic of inappropriate language and behaviour.
I’m not Brighton born and bred but my experiences are so similar. I remember the first time I ever got harassed I was walking home from the bus stop in my school uniform. I must have been about 13, and I remember thinking ‘ I don’t know how to deal with that, I don’t know what that means’. Is that something you felt growing up here?
From the minute I started going clubbing, I just remember being groped. It’s actually why I made Coming Home with Me, I was just furious. Like, why are we not able to do anything about this? Even at 14, I remember some guy on a motorbike flashed me. I was with a friend and we were both in school uniform and we did find it funny at the time but we were also like what the fuck was that? I remember telling my mum and she just laughed and said ‘oh god’. It’s like ‘oh well that just happens’, but why should I have to accept that this is something that just happens? It’s not okay. No one knows how to stand up to them because it is an unsafe situation and there are no two ways about that. Not everyone is comfortable enough to get angry and also it’s not always the best response. I’m pretty good at knowing how to handle myself now, but I really didn’t have the language to deal with that until I was at least 21.
Urgh, totally! I don’t want to see some random guy’s cock at like 14, get it out my face! I don’t even want to know what that is yet! Is giving young womxn the language and confidence to deal with that something you want to achieve with the new documentary?
I really want to spread awareness and empower the voices of survivors so hopefully, other people feel like they can report and know that there are spaces in Brighton where it’s safe to be. But I also would really like to include some educational tools in it, yes. I want to show how to be a good bystander or how to protect yourself in a situation like that, how to diffuse it safely. It’s knowing that you are in a dangerous situation and calling it what it is. Then being able to turn to the girl sat on the beach towel a little while over from you and be like ‘Hi, I need help’.
The problem is I think for a long time we have been so conditioned to believe that male approval is kind of what we’re designed for, that when it happens you’re actually kind of like ‘oohhh’
… ’I must look nice today’
Yeah exactly, and even though it might not feel like a compliment because it’s an invasion, it’s still kind of nice to have that kind of affirmation from men. Obviously I don’t feel like that anymore but it’s quite hard to like hardwire that out of your brain.
I think it’s actually a really interesting and important approach to highlight the social conditioning there. Growing up I didn’t feel like I had any support, I didn’t feel like there was anyone to turn to or even a reason to complain. Is that the same sort of experience you felt growing up in Brighton?
Yeah, and I don’t remember the school ever doing anything. I just remember being told to pull my skirt down, that I was the one being inappropriate and that boys can’t control themselves. I think a lot of people are like ‘oh it wasn’t that bad or oh he didn’t do anything’, but you shouldn’t feel like he might do something, or that you should just brush it off and you should feel like you can ask for help. That’s what I really want to do.
That same lesson to brush it off is just being repeated over and over again. I think it’s interesting, that even in the wake of #MeToo, as you say it's ingrained in our mindsets from as young as 12/13, when you first get harassed, to just let it slide. Instead, we teach ourselves these self-defence mechanisms to laugh or joke around with them back or just ignore it and walk on. We’ve had conversations with people who’ve said my 13-year-old daughter is too afraid to sit on the beach and wait for her friends there, so she will meet them in town as she doesn’t want 7t to be alone on the beach. It’s utterly heartbreaking.
Even as a 25-year-old woman I feel that. It’s outrageous. I don’t want to be a bitch and I think that so often that’s such a big fear, of being labelled a bitch, or a killjoy or like a feminazi, and now I’m like OMG call me a feminazi every day! I do not care. If that means my personal boundaries are respected then sure.
I’m a feminazi 100%, tick it, done!
I think if there is anything we can do to just make sure that isn’t a thing…. To make sure that girls have the confidence to go out and live their lives, and they don’t have to worry about groups of men and they don’t have to cross the road to avoid them and all those other little tiny steps we do to protect ourselves which we don’t even realise we're doing until someone points them out. I think that’s the goal. That’s what we want to change.
Yeah, It all comes down to empowerment and education. That’s always my mantra of everything I make and that’s what I want people to take away from this documentary.