Just 18 months ago the world was a different place for anyone who’d had the misfortune to be “upskirted” – a voyeuristic intrusion of privacy whereby a camera or phone is used to unwilling take pictures of someone’s underwear.
After being victim to a man taking pictures of her crotch at a music festival, Gina Martin was disappointed to discover that police couldn’t press charges as it technically wasn’t a criminal offence. Not content to get even, Gina decided to change the world, and changed the law around up-skirting for Britain in the process. We sat down for a cuppa and talked resisting, and persisting for our latest campaign.
Tell us, were you involved in activism before the campaign?
It’s difficult – I think because our definition of activism has changed a lot. So I would say no, but I guess some people would’ve maybe said I was, because I was writing about women’s issues and human rights for Refinery29 and Elle anyway.
I didn’t have any background in activism and that’s why I think when I got up-skirted it was like a switch – because I could do something here. It was like, here’s an opportunity for me to actually do something, instead of complaining about it.
What does Resist & Persist mean to you? What inspired you to keep going?
Resist and Persist is such a good phrase. Resist I think is about resisting all of the stereotypes, the messages, the permission…All the things as women that we’re told we should do. Resist the outside and forces that make you feel oppressed or like a secondary citizen.
And persist is about pushing new boundaries and not waiting to ask for permission. Those two words together are very strong, because they say to ignore the negativity that stops us.
For my campaign, however bad things got – and no one will ever know how bad it got – the media was like, we’re going to do it, keep things positive because then people believe in it, they’ll support it. When things got really wrong or something bad happened politically and it looked like it was going to derai, the only thing that got me and my lawyer Ryan through was us saying, “whatever happens however bad it gets, it will be fine, because we just won’t stop”. It sounds very simple but it’s the truth, we just don’t stop. It’s pushing through the barriers really and not allowing yourself to stop, even when you want to, because it’s bigger than you.
How did you arrive at such a positive brand/outlook for your activism considering sexual harassment is a heavy subject?
I think that’s such an interesting thing that everyone started to do because you can look at charity campaigns and communications in the 90s and it’s like poverty porn, where you show people the worst-case scenario and you hope that motivates them. But actually what happens is when you show people the bad thing it makes them worried and guilty and motivates them only in the short term.
I think if you can make people aware of the problem by showing them a potential solution people will be far more motivated. That whole movement has given people an incredible amount of hope that something can actually change. I think focusing on the positive is critical.
How has your life changed since you started the campaign?
Exponentially. Before the campaign I was working in advertising and had a very normal life. I just worked 9-6, writing on the side for some magazines I loved and having a very quiet time.
It was great, and I loved it just as much as I love this, but my idea was to get the government to listen. I didn’t think I was going to be the face of it. Then it became very obvious that you have to have a human story that engages people. Obviously the media attention changed my life quite a lot in terms of day to day life.
Working in politics has changed my entire outlook on society because I’ve now been so close to it, I now see how it works. I also now work with a lot with women’s charities and I hear so many more stories from different perspectives that I would’ve never heard before.
I now have a platform that I can use, so it’s like in every way online/offline my life has changed so much, but I’m so lucky to have that change happen because now the amount of power I have, the platform I have to be able to do stuff with it. Which is what we all should be doing.
You’re also really good at talking about sustainability and ethics, has this always been a personal passion of yours as well?
If you don’t have ecology, you don’t have anything. Feminism great, it’s really important but if we don’t have a world, that doesn’t really matter, so it should always be the basis of what we’re talking about.