“I am fucking a stranger in a room full of strangers,” reads the first line of one of the opening sex testimonies in Ladybeard, a magazine that does nothing by half-measures, least of all tip-toeing around taboos. Shock is rare these days, but it takes being faced with a certain kind of candour to realise we are often shocked by things we shouldn’t be and indifferent to those that should rouse us. The hot pink vibrator on the cover of Ladybeard will, I imagine, catch more than a few off guard, but that is precisely the point. Why, when the media is more sexualised than ever, should a statement of female pleasure raise eyebrows?
The feminist venture of a group of recent graduates – Kitty Drake, Madeleine Dunnigan, Sadhbh O’Sullivan, Tyro Heath, Scarlet Evans and Bronya Meredith – the magazine was borne of a love/hate relationship with women’s magazines and specifically the glossies prescribing how to dress and as if stuck in the 1950s, “how to please your man.” Its name, equally strange and playful and disruptive, is taken from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Some might remember a much-discussed Glamour article from several months ago, which more than exemplified the troubling tone of mainstream women’s media: ‘13 Little Things That Can Make a Man Fall Hard for You.’ The article, which was publicly ripped apart, caused such outrage it was eventually removed from the site. By offering all-round insulting advice, including suggestions like “making your man a snack after sex” or “answering the door naked,” it reduced women to sex slaves and men to bestial simpletons.
While Ladybeard is edited and designed by an all-girl team, they are adamant it is not just a magazine for women. “We don’t want our magazine to be just for women, or a certain kind of woman, so we’ve tried very hard to compile a comprehensive a collection of voices. We try to platform the voices you wouldn’t necessarily hear in the mainstream (transgender, ecosexual, asexual, HIV positive, queer) to show how complex, diverse and mind-boggling sex is.”
From a masturbation how-to guide to a feature on London drag troupe Denim, to interviews with artists like Linder and a piece looking at the woman behind the UK’s first women’s sex shop, Sh!, Ladybeard has it all.
“We wanted the magazine to force people to look sex in the face. We have grown so accustomed to seeing sex represented in a certain way that we cease to question that representation. We wanted images of open and varied types and experiences of sexuality, and we wanted them to be explicit, shocking even. The very fact that you might be shocked critiques the fact that we let much more troubling depictions of sex slip by unquestioned,” says Ladybeard.
“That was also true editorially. We wanted to publish the kind of pieces about sex that we would have liked to read. As a society, we propagate so many myths about sex, and we saw the magazine as an antidote to that. So we set out to platform real experiences, and real experiences are always less obviously palatable than the airbrushed ones, but they’re also a lot more interesting!”
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