‘#Not All Men’- Okay, let me clarify exactly which men are part of the problem.
Circulating around Instagram last March, you probably saw this annotated list of men you may or may not recognise amongst our society:
28. The ones who say ‘boys will be boys’
29. The ones who don’t say anything
30. The ones who are more upset about the issue being raised than they are about the issue itself
Artists Phoebe Minson and her sister Tiff Minson composed this piece in response to the ‘frustrating, heart-breaking, confusing conversations’ that arose following Sarah Everard’s murder. Phoebe is a London based artist and blogger who is completing a Fine Art Degree at Central Saint Martins alongside her job as Creative Director of a gallery in Soho.
In the days following the disappearance of Sarah Everard and the subsequent discovery of a body, ‘#NotAllMen’ was trending on Twitter. I, like so many others, was feeling really frightened as a young woman in central London, I was so angry that Sarah hadn’t been safe, that women aren’t safe, and I felt an immense grief for all the innocence and joy lost in my own life and my female friends lives because of male violence and the taught entitlement to our bodies.
My sister, who is really the other part of my heart and soul, sent me a text that said:
“I’m making a list in response to ‘Not all men’.. like ‘yeah not all men, just the ones who…’ Have you got anything to add?”
And I immediately called her, pulled on my shoes, and went for a walk around Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, we spoke for 45 minutes and wrote the list during some of that. I got back to my flat, typed it all up and then added the colour to make it ‘Instagrammable’. I think we sent it to our mum first, and she said she thought it was powerful and to post it if that’s what we felt we needed to do. Bear in mind, I only had about 500 followers at that point and would get about 50 likes on posts.
I posted it, just for us, just so we felt we had responded in some small way to the tragedy, and then I met a friend for a walk. When I got back it was already starting to get traction, when I woke up the next morning it had 750 likes and had been seen by over 2,000 people. By the end of that day it had 38,000 likes, and after 24 hours it was around 100,000 likes and the reach was half a million. To date, it’s reach is over 2 million.
Phoebe’s Instagram inbox became inundated with messages in response to this post. The response was…
Super mixed. Within the first week I had about 5,000 DM’s and they were quite evenly split between (mostly) women saying how much they loved it, sharing their stories with me (itself an emotionally overwhelming experience) and the other half (all men) patronising, insulting, and threatening me. Quite often the first message would be something about ‘just wanting to ask a question’ and if I didn’t reply, or even if I did, it would end with the threat of r*pe or death. It was very shocking, and very traumatising actually. Totally overwhelming.
This piece encouraged further conversation in a time where voices needed to be heard. Phoebe mentioned how many stories entered her inbox thanking her for revealing that this behaviour wasn’t acceptable. Many believed they had been overreacting or mistaken when in actuality, it was an experience of someone not respecting, or unknowingly pushing against another’s boundaries. This was understandingly rather overwhelming for Phoebe. Publishing this piece to Instagram gave it an element of permanence, but Phoebe did not expect to later be flooded with other stories of abuse and harassment. In our conversation, we agreed perhaps many women hadn’t previously felt safe or valid enough to share these stories, so sending them into the void of her Instagram DM box was seen as a safe option.
The day after we posted it, it was a Friday I think and I was in an online lecture, the notification popped up on my phone from BBC News saying that the body found had been identified as Sarah’s. I turned off my camera and muted myself and then broke down, hysterically crying in a way I’ve done only a few times in my life. I really sobbed, I wailed actually, that’s the word, and I couldn’t stand up and I felt a need to be as close to the ground as possible, to ground myself perhaps in some way. I was lying collapsed on the floor with my flatmate's arms around me. I felt overcome by grief, it was melded with the fear and upset caused by hideous messages that I had received in the previous 12 hours in response to the post, and the weight of the global injustices towards women and girls felt unbearable. All I could whisper, over and over again, was “why aren’t we safe?”.
Phoebe often works in the form of collage, and in one of her recent pieces she has incorporated some of the negative and frankly disgusting comments she received into her art. Having done this for a while with positive comments, she decided this was a practical way of reclaiming herself from the trolls. Due to the nature of her job, she has been struggling to find time to create in a large space; spending a majority of her time on trains, Phoebe now uses her iPad as her portable studio. Taking these poisonous comments and rebranding them into her own art, she began to regain the control of her art and own narrative.
In order to retain my stability and sanity in the throes of such hatred being directed at me I needed to claim it in some way and dispel any of its intended power over my thinking or self-worth. My sister started rating the worst of the comments, she’d write something like: ‘2/10: unoriginal calling me a b*tch, and there are two spelling mistakes’. I thought this was really funny and did it too but then I thought it would suit the insidious nature of the comments to put them next to pictures of sexualised women from magazine adverts. Something I’d been wrestling with anyway: the oversexualisation of bodies (male and female) to sell products. It just all fit nicely together and the results are uncomfortable and quite disturbing actually.
Working on previous articles such as the Digitally Altered Image Bill, I’ve come to realise the importance of the content we publish onto the internet, not only for our target audience but the younger minds this will trickle down into. Floating off topic, we were discussing how many of the vile comments came from young boys. The conversation I believe Phoebe’s posts trigger is important for the general consumers it can reach on Instagram, not just the art lovers. Phoebe enthused about a friend of hers in Bath sitting down in his flat of 5 boys to dissect each point of her ‘#NotAllMen’ piece over some beers to hold one another accountable. As stunning as art can be situated nicely in a grand gallery, it is far less accessible. On Instagram, art can be widely distributed amongst a hugely diverse group of individuals. The ‘#NotAllMen’ piece has now been translated into 18 languages, with girls reaching out to her from as far as Brazil, and as high profile as Miss Universe Australia 2020.
People are my inspiration, their lives and what they do and how they interact with others and the world. I can’t get enough of it. “People watching” is on my self-care list! Also history. The reason I chose to study Fine Art in the first place was that studying art means studying history, anthropology, sociology, geography, literature and everything that’s ever existed really. Art can’t exist in a vacuum, it is the amalgamation of everything the artist has and is experiencing at the time of creation, and it sits within such a rich context. Delicious.
Where to find Phoebe
If you’re wanting to check out Phoebe for yourself (I’d highly recommend!) her Instagram is @feepaints
And she is published! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Instant-Noodle-Pandemic-Phoebe-Minson/dp/1008995576/ref=sr_1_5?crid=3G58FXBT29IWK&keywords=instant+noodle+art&qid=1644314943&sprefix=instant+noodle+art%2Caps%2C91&sr=8-5
And if you’re looking for any further inspiration, Phoebe left us with a few recommendations:
How to fail – Elizabeth day
Desert Island Discs - BBC
Talk Art – Russell Tovey and Robert Diament