Strolling down the street as she picks up the phone, swearing, laughing, and most probably dressed in an array of bright colours (evidence for which I’m gathering from her Instagram), Gina Martin is not who you would expect to see in Parliament. But that’s where she’s just come from: “I’m in the weirdest political mode, I’ve just been speaking to politicians so it’s definitely nice not to speak to politicians,” she begins before our interview.
Martin, 27, has been campaigning to make ‘upskirting’ a sexual offence in England and Wales under the voyeurism section of the sexual offences act; this follows her having had pictures taken up her skirt, and sent to multiple people, at a festival back in July 2017. After taking the offender’s phone and presenting the photos to the police, she was informed four days later that there was nothing they could do and the case was closed.
I ask her how she deals with this; after diving head first into her campaign, has she spent any time acknowledging that she is a victim of sexual harassment and confronting her own trauma? “I haven’t dealt with it properly,” she admits. “I started the campaign and thrust all my energy into changing the law as a very elaborate way of getting closure.” But for Gina Martin, the most important part of her campaign was how she felt as though she was gaining some sense of power back. However, she admits that more people still want to speak about her as a victim than an activist. “What more can I do to not be a victim anymore?”
Despite this, many people would say that Martin is doing more than enough. Her feminism does not stop at the upskirting bill. She works hard to promote intersectionality, awareness of ‘white feminism’ and the importance of fashion in self-expression and how this shouldn’t negate feminism. Beyond this, she is also an avid campaigner for sustainability; on the reduction of single-use plastics and fast fashion, she says, “there’s no equality without ecology. Everything else feels futile if I’m not helping [the environment].”
Her youth and appearance have got in the way of her campaign, perhaps, but it’s also where her strength comes from. People “don’t take you seriously if you don’t look like you belong somewhere” and she admits that she “definitely had to work three times as hard” but that for her, “fashion is a way of ‘creative expression’.”
“I went into parliament once dressed in a white shirt and a black suit but when I was in there I just didn’t feel like myself,” she notes. “I didn’t feel bold, I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel like me.”
But it is difficult to juggle everything. Martin admits it can be overwhelming giving so much of herself away and puts a huge emphasis on prioritising interests and choosing where to give her time. Her attitude is that if you can’t make a change everywhere, help other people make that change. There is no use in feeling guilty about everything else, but connecting with people who are doing valuable work can help you see that other people are making the change you want to see. “The point is that your work is never done — no one is a perfect feminist,” she says.
Martin has received some backlash from second-wave feminists who believe that her work is trivial. Whilst this is difficult, Martin still believes in the value of defining feminism in waves, as it helps her to “differentiate her work from other people’s, and see where the previous weaknesses were.” Looking forward to fourth wave feminism, Martin says that to her, “it means it’s not about me anymore”. It means platforming other issues, being inclusive towards all women, and acknowledging her privilege as a white woman.
We speak about anger — female anger, specifically. In a world where female anger is diminished, reductive and dismissed as being “over-emotional”, Martin endorses it. The most important thing is to channel it into productivity, just as she has; “don’t become [your anger] but remember not to be ashamed of it… I can’t believe it’s 2018 and we’re still gendering emotions.”
This is what I hope readers can gain from hearing Gina Martin’s story. Anger is within us all and is valuable — and anyone can use it. Martin gives some advice to young people who want to take a more active role in feminism: “educate yourself, read, watch documentaries… above all, remember feminism isn’t about women enjoying the same privileges as men, it’s about realising that the current system is built to only benefit men and we need to rebuild this system for everyone.
“Literally anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a 40-year-old to understand and believe in basic human rights.”
The private member’s bill for upskirting got knocked down by MP Christopher Chope back in June, but half an hour before our interview, Martin had cleared the 7th stage, out of ten, for her Government bill. This means we are one step closer to making upskirting a criminal offence, which Martin predicts will be “usable” by next year.
Gina Martin is on Instagram and Twitter as beaniegigi.