How much of what we say and do is defined by convention and the expectations of the world around us? And how often do we really think about – or even challenge – the tight limitations that this puts on us?
Ask Char Ellesse or Gina Martin this question and the answer will be: Every. Single. Day. Both women are doing groundbreaking things to help make a change and, crucially, encourage other women to do the same. Defying convention isn’t just about changing things for yourself, as these two women are proving, it’s about changing things for the better – for everyone. This is the sisterhood 2.0.
Leicester-born Char is doing this through her online platform Girls Will Be Boys. What started as a passion project has now grown into a formidable, real-talking space and grand creative endeavour that smashes through the stereotypes that hold both men and women back. "It’s like dressing like a boy, that’s where the name originally came from, but then I decided I wanted to turn it into something more," explains Char.
To give you a flavour of what she’s all about, the creative director, model and – of course – feminist, made waves last year with the release of her first short film OMG She’s Bald. The film features different women talking about how shaving their heads, as 24-year-old Char did four years ago, liberated them in every way imaginable. The nuance is that it’s made other people look at them differently – but that’s also kind of the point.
For these women, taking a razor to their head is an everyday act of outrageous rebellion, as Gloria Steinem (who’s quoted in the film) famously advocated. This is something Char really does embody on a daily basis. "I had a conversation with my mum, and she said you don’t realise how much you’ve achieved just by being you and putting yourself out there," says Char.
Gina, whose day job is as a creative at an advertising agency, is making a name for herself through her work with #StopSkirtingTheIssue – a campaign to make taking upskirt photos a sexual offence. Currently the practice, which Gina herself fell victim to at the British Summertime Festival (BST) last year, is not against the law in either England or Wales, although it is in Scotland. Rather than complain to her friends over a drink, she decided to take action. "I thought I can either talk about how annoying it is – or actually do something about it."
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," she continued. And thank goodness, because now, nearly a year later, she’s considerably closer to getting the law changed. It goes without saying that this will help everyone, from the celebrities who find themselves with paparazzi between their legs when getting out of a car, to you and me in public spaces everywhere.
Having a decent following on social media is helping further the cause for both women. "As far as Instagram goes, if you're an influencer and you're not influencing people in a good way, then what the hell are you doing?" Gina asks. Quite.
For Char, influencing people for the better also means using her online platform to make other people question their own stereotypes and the ways they view the world. "I feel like there are a lot of labels on things, so just being who you are authentically is daring to defy convention."
Creative expression is an important part of defying these expectations, for both women. And that’s also tied up in how they dress and look. "It’s a huge part of my identity I think, how I dress," says Gina. "I think a big part of it is my armour, in a way."
Throughout her campaign, Gina has come up against countless rooms full of men in suits. But rather than trying to fit in, she went the opposite way. "I put on bright red lipstick and patent leather boots and it’s what I need to feel most authentic – to get through that situation," she acknowledges. "It’s a real form of creative expression for me and it really helps me feel confident in pretty much every situation."
Coincidentally both women love suits, which form a crucial part of their arsenal. "I’m always rooting through charity shops to find old dad suits," says Char, whose favourite way to make one of these thrifty bargains feel comfortable, powerful and 'her' is to wear it with a pair of fresh white Puma trainers. Or when she’s going out, some crazy thigh-high boots. For Gina, the same trainers are the perfect way to balance out her favourite look: a "mad sequin suit".
As with most of us, fashion, beauty and how they live their lives are all tied up together for Char and Gina. "I love hair and makeup and can still want to change the law," quips Gina. "I can be into politics and shoes, you know?" Despite her experience at BST, Gina wants to make sure that nothing stands in the way of her and her freedom to be herself. "I went to a festival after it happened and didn't pack any skirts because I was too scared. But you're not the stylist of your own sexual abuse. Fashion shouldn't be something that you use to protect yourself from sexual harassment, it's creative expression."
For Char, the experience of chopping her locks and putting two fingers up to the idea that female beauty is all about long, flowing hair, had a different effect. "I think it gives you a newfound confidence, you have to accept yourself," she explains. "I think a lot of girls' insecurities are based around how they look, and you just have to get used to your face and your features. You can’t worry that a guy won’t approach you or people will question your sexuality. You have to be so secure in yourself."
Just like Char Ellesse and Gina Martin, we have to change what we don’t like about the world and live every single day with small, yet outrageous, acts of rebellion. Dare to defy.