The fight on girl hate

Natassa Stamouli’s magazine GIRL.IS.A.GUN proves that the personal is political

“What is a five year old girl supposed to think when she watches Cinderella, seeing girls tearing apart her sister’s dress?”

If you think of any mainstream film production, chances are very slim that it features multiple female characters. And if it does, chances are even slimmer that those women exchange more than two sentences. “The girls don’t talk to each other, there is no dialogue. They talk to the men, but that’s it.” GIRL.IS.A.GUN was initially designed as a university project, but it quickly turned out to be much more than that. Founder Natassa Stamouli created a platform that tackles girl hate with the simplest form: a dialogue.

Natassa knows a thing or two about communication and how to manage it – she graduated from Central Saint Martins with an MA in Fashion Communication last year. For her final project, she created the second issue of the magazine, based on the stories of girls from around the world. GIRL.IS.A.GUN is written by girls, for girls and anyone can contribute and join the dialogue. But why launch a magazine about girls in an already oversaturated market, in the times where print is said to be dying?

To Natassa, what was and still is missing, are personal stories from real girls. Open any other magazine and you’ll find the girl boss, the cool kid, the celeb model or the successful designer smiling back at you – empty stereotypes designed to inspire. “They’re either really pretty, or really successful, but I want the girls who aren’t mentioned anywhere,” Natassa wants the magazine to act like a big sister, one that’s always there to listen. A sister that will give girls a voice to share their most intimate stories with an audience that is accepting.

Natassa herself didn’t have a big sister growing up, what she had was sisterhood. Her role models weren’t celebrities, they were her girlfriends. Role models without airbrushed faces, years of life experience or incredible success stories; who struggled regularly and experienced failure.

And that is what sets GIRL.IS.A.GUN apart from other magazines: the founder goes through the same struggles as the audience that is looking for guidance. GIRL.IS.A.GUN isn’t striving for perfection but rather aims to showcase flaw and failure as a way for girls to connect and grow together. Should girls stop comparing themselves to others? Not necessarily. They just aren’t comparing themselves with realistic role models. The covergirls aren’t real.

Why “girl” is a gun, and not “woman” is a gun? Some of her tutors at Central Saint Martins thought “girl” was an offensive term. In this age, you see mothers tell off their daughters when they refer to themselves as girls, in their eyes their daughters became women when they got their first periods. But to Natassa you can be both a woman and a girl. “Of course I feel like a woman, but we do call each other girls and there is nothing offensive about that,” she says. In her mind the word girl is “something great and powerful.” How can one be a feminist if they still consider “girl” a negative term?

How does a magazine form a dialogue between girls? It forms itself. Her first issue was called ‘virgin’, in which girls shared their first sexual experiences. The amount of e-mails Natassa received was overwhelming. She couldn’t believe just how many girls were willing to contribute their stories in order to help others; her true definition of girl culture. And there is no vanity or self promotion in GIRL.IS.A.GUN; most authors wish to remain anonymous.

The contrast between her two homes, London and Athens, couldn’t be more drastic. While the ever grey skies in London seem depressing to an outsider, her generation of girls in this city is thriving. Then there is the eternally sunny Athens, where the youth is deeply depressed under a blue sky which “to British people looks like vacation.” The stories she received from girls in Greece were incredibly emotional. A generation that desperately wants to do something with their lives, but their hands are bound by the recession. Rent might be a tenth of what we pay in London, but many young people are forced to live with their families in their mid-twenties. Pretty much everyone she knows from home, Athens, struggles with mental health. To portray young creatives only as successful and careless dreamers is simply a lie.

Her content is an answer to the mainstream media that tells this generation of girls to “smile more.” The second issue of GIRL.IS.A.GUN covers the topic of heartbreaks. While her tutors advised her to make her magazine more celebratory, the reader finds girls’ very personal experiences on cheating, lacking self worth and even rape. The stories are shocking and unvarnished –  and yet, the magazine isn’t melancholic; it features real girls from all different backgrounds showing that being fragile doesn’t mean failure. Natassa wants to challenge the idea that the best thing girls can bond over is the hatred for someone else.

Girl hate is so deeply engraved into our culture, that sometimes it is just assumed that one girl hates another. Natassa’s favourite story is about a girl that hooks up with a boy in a relationship. For years, the girl assumes that she’s hated for it. And just how life works, under different circumstances, those two girls were brought together and both realised they had hated each other for years just because it was expected from them. In fact, the girlfriend hated her (ex)boyfriend, not the girl. Had the two girls just reached out and communicated, it wouldn’t have cost them years of worrying.

It is the last story in her heartbreak issue, leaving the readers with both the chance to reflect on their own lives and a glimpse of hope after all the sad content. Natassa knows that girl hatred cannot just be switched off, but she hopes that with sharing these stories, she will open up the dialogue.

Natassa has given several interviews in Greece on GIRL.IS.A.GUN. During all of them she talked about the giant struggle, the difficulty to find funding, the overwhelming amount of work that seemed undoable: “the best things in my life come from the magazine, but also so do the worst.”

None of the interviews mentioned her struggles, it was always the story of the young, successful creative.

They simply portrayed her as the girl boss.

Words Brenda WS Images Courtesy of Girl Is a Gun

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