Ask any woman you know and she'll recall an instance where she was called "bitch", "cunt", or "slut" - either by a man who's undesired advances she rejected, or by another woman who has clearly never heard of female solidarity. Gendered insults are as much a part of our daily narrative as ever, and many modern feminists want to reclaim them. Self-confessed "dick pic vigilante" Whitney Bell is one of them.
Known for her gallery show, "I Didn’t Ask For This: A Lifetime of D*ck Pics," where she displayed a collection of unsolicited dick picks and feminist merch to explore the female condition and highlight the constant harassment women face, she's now evolved her activism with a web shop of feminist flare, stoner paraphernalia and "power to the people" swag.
Bell went from having a cushy art director career to one selling vulva-shaped pipes along with her own clothing line and collabs with indie artists (like Insta-famous Petites Luxures and Melodie Pierrault), helping the cause by donating a portion of the profits to feminist charities like Planned Parenthood, The Center for Reproductive Rights, The National Domestic Abuse Hotline and many others.
We caught up with Bell to chat all things empowerment and reclamation to learn how enamel pins and iron-on patches can become a part of 21st century intersectional feminism.
Konbini: What made you want to launch a 'girl power' shop?
Whitney Bell: When the show closed I had all this leftover merch and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. People on Instagram kept asking me where they could find the stuff I was selling at the event and I wanted to have an answer for them. It all happened very naturally, but even though it wasn’t this planned out long-time dream of mine, I’ve realised this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life. I do want to make one thing clear though, it’s not just about girl power or about empowering women.
"Feminism is no longer just the fight for women’s rights, but the fight for equal rights for all oppressed groups"
That’s why we’ve made sure to use models and feature products of all shapes, sizes and skin tones. We are working on a unisex line right now and want to be sure that our shop, much like our feminism is intersectional and inclusive.
As you've previously said, your shop isn't just about flaunting patches that say "slut" and "cunt" on them - it's about reclaiming those terms.
Words like "slut", "cunt" and "bitch" have always been used to put a woman in her place. It’s a lazy way to discredit whatever she is saying, or whatever she is doing that you don’t like. Women are often dismissed, their ideas overlooked and when we make our voices loud enough, when we won’t tolerate this dismissal, we are called bitches and cunts. It’s just another way to belittle us and delegitimise our thoughts.
The female body is one the whole world has claimed ownership over. We debate them in the courts and act as if old white men somehow have the right to determine their reproductive fate. We use them to sell everything from sports cars to burgers and no one bats an eye. We spread them across centerfolds and put them in the hands of boys and no one thinks twice.
"The second a woman owns her sexuality, feels empowerment in her nudity and celebrates her body, she is villainized, called a slut and whore, shamed for her self-acceptance"
I want to change the narrative. To take back these words for our own, to wear them like a badge of honour. Hopefully by reclaiming the words that have been used to tear us down we can also reclaim some of the worth the patriarchy has tried to strip from us. Hopefully in some small way proudly bearing a cunt tee, or sewing on a slut patch, will make my customers feel a little stronger, a little more in control, a little more ready to take on their oppressor.
The term "empowerment" is thrown around a lot these days, what does it mean to you?
To me empowerment is about making women feel as strong as they actually are. Living in a world this patriarchal has toughened us up. It’s had to. We’ve had to learn how to navigate the overwhelming misogyny and survive it. But simply surviving isn’t what makes you strong, accepting who you are in the face of the struggle, that is what I think makes you strong.
Empowerment is about reaching a level of self-acceptance. Of not constantly trying to fit the mould of what a woman should be, but of who she actually is. A woman who feels free to make her own choices and follow the path that she wants to be on. Whether that means she’s a doctor in the city, a stay at home mom in the suburbs, or a call-girl - as long as what she is doing is her choice - to me, that’s an empowered woman.
Why did you feel it was important to feature indie artists?
The ability to support and collaborate with other feminist designers and artists has really been the most incredible take away from this whole experience. These were all people I had admired from afar, people I wanted to bring together in some way.
The necessity of supporting small business has become of great importance to me, especially in light of the recent Zara scandal. I’ve felt so lucky to not only be able to financially support these small business but to be able to collaborate with them - to create something new for both of our customers.
Favourite items from your shop?
Anything with our Supreme Cunt logo - especially the patch, which was actually the very first thing I designed for the gallery.
The Ghost lighter - which was inspired by a good friend of mine who was sick of these Tinder interactions that ended in silence. Plus it’s a pretty great conversation starter...
Oh and our Period Panty pin - Waking up with blood soaked underwear is one thing that almost every woman, regardless of creed, class or race can relate to. Plus the proceeds benefit Happy Period who supply homeless women with the feminine hygiene products that they desperately need.