‘Scenario is a photography podcast bringing you hidden stories from behind the camera. Told as a narrative, Scenario follows photographers as they make their work and their projects come to life. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts!
Scenario’s brand new episode THE WAIT follows Jocelyn Allen, who has been making self-portraits for over 10 years, as she documents her pregnancy and becoming a mother for the first time during a global pandemic.‘
I spoke with Jess at the start of England’s first lockdown (March 2020) and then a few months ago (April 2021). We talked photography projects, hypnobirthing, birthing, dancing, hashtags and more, which has been packed into a ~30 minute episode.
Click here for links to Spotify, iTunes and Acast (or listen below on Spotify).
These conversations have been triggering for a lot of women I know, and myself too. I’ve been replaying different events in my life over and over again; two nights ago I barely slept thinking about it all.
I keep starting and stopping this, but I feel like I need to comment on a few of the things that I’ve been thinking about.
(This post discusses awkward situations, sexual harassment, and general musings about what I’ve thought about lately.)
I’ve been thinking about high school when all the girls would be asked what underwear we were wearing by our male peers. When they were going round asking everyone I usually just tried to dodge the question as I didn’t want to reveal my ‘granny pants’ nor did I want to lie, as I was just not nor have I ever been interested in g-strings.
Also in high school, so many guys would just comment on the state of my chest. Some guys were my age and some were older. It was exhausting and I’ve been making work that has been helping me to rebuild my confidence since 2010ish.
I hope high school is different for people now (I guess it’s been a bit different with Covid). I never really felt worried about my personal safety then, but being a teenage girl felt really tough. Boys boasted of sleeping with 100+ girls and they were high fived. A girl would have sex once and be labelled a ‘slag’.
(I did once make up a horrible rhyme about a girl who was ‘sleeping around’, which I am not proud of. I wish I had realised and scrutinised the double standards that existed earlier on.)
In 2018 I took a photo and wrote text called ‘Jocelyn, Can You Grow More? (1st January 2018)‘, which talks more about school and some of the experiences I mentioned. It’s from my Don’t Take Me Out Of My Melons project:
I was living in Brixton in 2015 when there were a lot of attacks on women in the area. I remember being scared and more cautious than normal, but I lived on a main road which made me feel not so worried. Talking about things the other night my husband, Tiago, said he used to worry about me walking home.
(It felt really good to talk about things, so if you’re feeling triggered and feel able to talk to someone then you should. Feel free to drop me a message if you don’t know who to talk to.)
I used to run a lot and I would often run at night (sometimes I’d run to Clapham Common and use the outdoor gym equipment). Yes I’d be worried that something might happen to me, but it felt like a choice between either run in the day and get heckled, or run in the dark and feel less self-conscious, get heckled less, but feel more scared for my personal safety. I felt a bit relieved when my knees started to hurt, and I had an excuse to switch my exercise to indoor activities like yoga.
Once I was running with a friend and a guy shouted something at us about wanting to marry us. As I was with her I felt able to shout ‘f*** off’, which was also an f off for all the times I had felt unable to. He was with a friend who looked very sheepish. I know some guys will say things when they are alone, but I often thought about whether he would have said it if he was by himself. Probably not.
I’ve often walked home late at night, even when I was 15 I would walk home for 40 minutes in the dark after coming back from music gigs. I knew I was being dumb, but the buses had stopped running and I refused to pay £6 for a taxi when I could walk for free. I was also scared of taxis and didn’t like buses either.
(Yesterday I was thinking about the gender pay gap and then women feeling the need to spend money on taxis for their personal safety.)
I once walked 7 miles to a friend’s house after a gig as I had been hoping to get a lift home, but felt too sheepish to ask when no one offered. I was terrified and basically just tried to make myself look like a guy, though someone later told me that guys were more likely to get randomly beaten up. I was more impressed with myself that I managed to follow the road signs back to town, as phones were very simple back then.
Luckily nothing bad ever happened to me on those walks home, but I would walk with my keys between my fingers if I felt particularly worried or run when I had an uncomfortable feeling. In London I usually lived on main roads or just off them, and there were always people about so it never seemed as bad as when I was in places where barely anyone walks at night.
I love music. I remember some teenagers on the bus when I lived in London playing the most awful misogynistic music I have ever heard out loud. I was sat at the front of the bus, while they sat at the back and laughed their heads off playing it intimidatingly loud. I have no idea what the song was, but I do know that a male rapper who is known for his misogyny has had 8 number one albums in the UK. When he achieved his 8th number one, his President had become President even though the whole world knew he had said things like he grabs women ‘by the pussy’. Yeah, he was not our President but the USA is highly influential. What kind of message did that send to everyone?
It took me many years to process things that happened to me. I studied for a BA between 2007 and 2010 in Newport, and I experienced a lot of things for the first time – like going out to clubs. I didn’t drink when I first started uni and I was really shocked that people would just pinch your bum/touch you. I remember being in one club and a guy kept touching my bum. I would shout at him and I guess he thought it was a game. My friends were drunk and it was a ‘normal’ thing so nobody seemed bothered. I didn’t want to cause a fuss by going to a bouncer, so I just did nothing apart from feel annoyed about it.
At a club in London for a friend’s birthday 8+ years ago I ended up just standing against a wall as I was annoyed by people walking past and touching my bum. I don’t think I’m anything special so they must have been doing it to everyone, but I was the only one who seemed bothered by it. Perhaps it was because I was sober and more aware of what was going on, or maybe they felt like how I used to – that if you were going to a club that being touched by people was just part of the package.
I’d like to think that things have changed since then. Clubs have been closed for a while here, and I don’t go on planning to one anytime soon anyways.
In 2017 I felt compelled to share my experience of sexual assault during my BA.
Taking the photo and writing the text felt like some closure and I donated it to charity not longer afterwards. It is also part of my Don’t Take Me Out Of My Melons project.
When I posted this to my Instagram account I received messages from other women sharing their stories, and I also received messages from men telling me that they didn’t realise that these incidents happened to women that they knew.
Another piece of work that fits well with the theme of this blog is my ‘Smile Love‘ gif.
‘Smile Love – you know that classic line that someone delivers to you when you’re daydreaming, waiting for a bus or you’ve posted a dance video and you’re not smiling enough for someone’s liking?’
Contrary to what people might think of me with the work I make, I like to be somewhat invisible when I go out (if going out exists at the moment in our weird Covid world). I do not take great care of my appearance (some makeup I bought last year has gone untouched) and that is partially due to not wanting to attract attention. It is not that I think I am worthy of attention based on my appearance, but (I am finding this hard to explain in a way that I feel will not cause negative comments) I guess I hope people won’t look at me twice.
This blog post has been a bit of a ramble, but I felt like I needed to write more than a tweet. I could write more, but I have a 9 month old daughter who needs my attention, and I do not really want to go into other things that are darker than what I have shared here.
Things seem to be changing, and I hope by the time that my daughter is old enough to be ‘bothered’ by people that things will have changed even more. I want her to feel like there is not one set of rules for boys and one set of rules for girls. I don’t want her to be asked about her underwear and have her body commented on all the time. Girls should not be told it was their fault for walking home at night, for what they were wearing, for being drunk. A woman could be walking down a street naked and drunk, but it does not mean that anyone has the right to touch her.
Everyone should be taught about consent and how to respect each other.
(I wish I had a better ending than that, but I think that says it all.)
Rest in peace Sarah, and condolences to her family and friends.