London based writer, Lydia Ibrahim offers a space in which female representation is the primary force behind her publication, Femini Magazine. With limited media outlets available that properly showcase womanhood and the power of feminity, Ibrahim decided to start this magazine that allows for every female voice to be heard.
While rejecting the limiting nature of mainstream media’s idea of representation, she also integrates aspects of social issues, highlights the talents of female artists, and focuses on the hope for change. Gaining the attention of several artists such as Molly Soda and Audrey Kitching, this publication is one to be on the look out for.
We chatted with the independent publisher about her background and her long term vision for Femini Magazine.
Tell us about yourself.
I founded Femini Magazine aged eighteen and am now an independent publisher. I was born in London and have been very exposed to the dream-chasing, style-seeking lifestyle of the city. The printed magazine is released bi-annually and gives typically women from different backgrounds the chance to commentate on cultural struggles which they themselves have faced or have witnessed. I’ve found the independent aspect of a usually commercially-dominated industry incredibly rewarding due to the freedom which it brings.
When and how did the idea for Femini Magazine come about?
Femini came about last year when I put a post up on Instagram that I wanted to start an independent publication. The post attracted a lot of positive responses and since then, it’s grown into something which is read around the world. Although, I have distinct memories of my brother having a PC which ran Windows 98, to give you an idea of how long ago this was. At around six-years-old, I’d create mockup magazine spreads using stock images of young girls.
I come from a very mixed background and have always been interested in the different societies and geographic regions which I hold ties to; in face of this, I found myself quite disenchanted with much of the feminist movement who fail to raise their voices for those who don’t have one, especially in countries where censorship is rife. I wanted to change this and produce something which was educational, whilst also being accessible to those who want to contribute from overseas – many of whom may face dangerous consequences for speaking about their troubles at any kind of volume. I’ve experienced women asking to be published as anonymous for this reason.
I’ve always been interested in different mediums, however; I can see myself primarily going into a career of politics, economics or international affairs, but also arts, culture, and music are huge influences in my life. The balance between the two is very important for me. When it came to the magazine, I felt that it was vital that these spheres weren’t too separated. It’s hard to separate them anyway, as they’re so intertwined.
Integrating the arts and socio-economic topics seem to make up most of the content within each issue, how do you go about searching for artists doing this?
I really value this element of the art world. There was recently a tower block in Grenfell Tower, London, which burnt down and very sadly an incredible artist was killed. Khadija Saye’s work explored culture and the diaspora of communities; the undertones of her work laid very much in history and culture. One of the most admirable qualities to me is when people stretch their work to represent those beyond themselves. Especially when emulating the struggle of a whole group or nation in an authentic way, it’s a large responsibility to take on.
Social media has been incredibly instrumental in finding artists who have this sense of passion for striking up political and social questions. A lot of creatives use the platforms in a way that radiates a sense of their personality too. I’m lucky enough to work with Sophie Sandor, Femini’s Editor, and we both pay much attention that those who we approach offer something immersive and are passionate about what they’re doing.
How do you think art can generate important conversation?
I think that there’s an interesting conversation about the direction of the arts itself that speaks lengths about our society. You’ll always find people who turn their noses up at modern art mediums, like you’ll find an abundance of people who turn their noses up at how society has developed; typically, older people won’t see eye to eye with your work, maybe because they don’t understand the generation which you’ve grown up in. I think that it’s important to consider however that there are reasons why people have developed their work in a specific way; we’re very much shaped by what happens to us in life, which goes without saying but is often overlooked. I think that those who laugh at creative mediums are also laughing at what brings catharsis to many people who are facing uncertainty. Which in reality, is most of us.
And not just art, but films and other media platforms are often easily dismissed – especially when young people are at the head of that creation. In reality, there are millennials producing such stark accounts of what is happening in our society at the moment. Daisy-May Hudson, an incredible BRIT-recognised producer featured in Issue Three, offers such a raw and genuine insight into the housing crisis and homelessness in the UK that we simply can’t connect with on paper to the same degree. I think that it takes us to see visually and sensually what is happening in our world often to absorb everything.
What are your thoughts on the lack of representation of women / POC / LGBTQA+ / other marginalized groups in media outlets today?
I’ve found much personal struggle deriving from being from a mixed background myself – it’s difficult, you’re usually considered to be the “other” in every situation. I’m very pale and clearly White which means that people often overlook my ethnic heritage. I’ve found that many media outlets which focus on one specific ethnic or racial group are sometimes dismissive of those who are mixed because they don’t fit a generic visual identity of that group. I’ve been told before that I’ve been cultural appropriating for wearing henna when it’s actually something which stands in my own culture. There’s a lot of assumptions charged around which I find divisive. Whilst I understand the importance of minority demographics having their own niche media outlets, I really wanted to sway away from any kind of fragmentation. Femini is about women and sharing stories than having any exclusive stance.
Whilst there is something to appreciate in the spirit of more rebellious, alternative media, I’ve found that many female-oriented circles are great at representing women who are from less-represented groups, providing that they’re from the West. But I also find that most of those who produce radical publications are often non-inclusive to those from certain points of the political spectrum (practically anything to the right of socialism). I’m not suggesting that fascists should be elevated through their platforms at all. But I’ve seen female-oriented publications censoring the voices of women from these leanings, whilst simultaneously complaining that we need more female representation in politics. It’s hypocritical.
It’s admirable how much you have accomplished in just a year, where do you see Femini going from here?
It’s been overwhelming how well-received Femini has been, but I think that we’re only scratching the surface. I see creators like Blondey McCoy on social media and find it so inspirational that somebody of my age has achieved that much. I tend to keep myself quite hidden away from the magazine’s image, and I think from the outside you wouldn’t appreciate how much work goes into it all. There’s a lot to consider.
I have big plans, including talks where young entrepreneurs, creatives, and academics can share their experiences and talk not only about women but how they’ve grown themselves. With there being so many social media personalities at the moment, I think it’s easy for people with anything less than a huge social media following to feel disempowered and too shy to speak out. Also, it’s essential that Femini reaches out to groups in the countries where women face cultural troubles which they could speak about. It’s not something which would naturally be advertised in certain countries, so I want to make sure that it’s a very accessible platform to take from. They need to know that we’re here and that they can be heard.
Hearing more male perspectives and engaging with young male influencers is another sphere I’m interested in. Another point of contention when exploring women’s rights is that fingers are often pointed towards men, without inviting them to the conversation and leads to generalizations.
Why do you do what you do?
A friend reached out to contribute to Femini and wrote really powerfully about what she had experienced in her life and specifically cultural struggles which she had faced. I don’t think people appreciate just how brave of a move that is. When we met for the first time in person last month, she told me that it really meant a lot that she had that platform to share her story. I’ve received e-mails from as far as Alaska, about how the lack of sunlight hours causes many women there to have depression and that Femini is important as an outlet to share these experiences.
Sometimes, being an independent publisher can be disheartening. I’ve experienced regular contact with those who have been featured, only to never hear from them once the magazine is on the shelves. I’m definitely not in this for “fame”, whatever that is nowadays, but promotion is essential for me to make sure that this thrives – especially as we’re a two-woman band. But now that I know people like the publication, I feel a duty to carry on.
Would you say that the millennial generation has been influential thus far in making a change?
It’s definitely important to consider this and I’m a strong believer in converting the unconverted. Newspapers, for example, preach about beliefs which a distinct and core group already support, rather than questioning them. They want to guarantee their sales; you’re just not going to see a right-wing newspaper talking about how socialism is a great thing. And you’re not going to see many socialists reading that newspaper. People tend to stick to what they’re comfortable with.
I think in a similar way, many millennials aren’t trying to convert the unconverted and can act in a very stand-offish and aggressive way. Such a strong divide between the young and old is very apparent in our society, especially in the UK where we have an aging population. In the aftermath of Brexit last year, many young people even acted as if the older generation weren’t entitled to a vote.
More specifically, I can see how some sects of the feminist movement have developed in a very divisive way and often shoots itself in the foot, rather than trying to lobby and talk to those constructively who have influence. That isn’t to say that there aren’t issues which warrant anger and frustration. But I think that despite any positives which have been brought about, there needs to be some kind of wake-up call that we need to talk more with one another, without fighting.
What do you want people to gain from this publication?
I think that some of the pieces in the magazine are quite harrowing to read. Hearing about the stories of women who have gone through violence in Palestine isn’t thrilling. But neither is life in general. Whilst Femini has a hopeful undertone, I’ve really tried to channel the magazine’s direction into something which acts as catharsis. Not only for contributors but for those who read the magazine. It’s comforting, in a strange way, to know that other people are going through hardship and that you’re not alone. It’s about recognizing the reality of what’s happening in the world, and recognizing that women are able to read about that and act on it where they see fit. Nothing has to be offered to us in some diluted, weak form to protect our emotions.
Do you have any advice for those wanting to speak out on these issues, but don’t know where to start?
Essentially, I started Femini as an eighteen-year-old student about to go to university. I had no degree, no real presence in the creative world and no solid influence in any kind of sphere. What has gotten me to where I find myself now is passion and drive.
In my first issue, I didn’t have anything to show those who I was approaching to be featured. I didn’t have a printed glossy copy to hand over or any promise of promotion for these contributors. But I put across with passion what my vision was for this magazine and due to this, creatives such as Kit King and Hannah Hill got behind me. You’ve got to be prepared to be knocked back and disheartened at times and ultimately, be prepared to chase down an avenue that may seem very unclear to begin with.
Photo credit: Christopher J Fowler (insta: @christopherjfowler)