Almost a year ago, Lizzie Marvelly launched a website that would come to produce one of the most successful social awareness campaigns of the year—My Body My Terms. Kate Robertson caught up with Lizzie during her time in the capital to talk girl power, consent, and trippy as dreams.
K: As the founder and editor of Villainesse, how would you describe the website for people who haven’t heard about it before?
L: In broad terms, it’s an online media project for young women. It’s a whole lot of young people spread all around the world, contributing to Villainesse. We’ve kind of got this motto, “badass do-gooding.” It’s basically what people are passionate about and having that reflected in the media. I started it because I wasn’t seeing young people represented in the media space. It’s not just featuring them within a broader agenda, but actually having them set the agenda.
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K: I think young people can all too often be drowned out by baby boomers who are scared of losing their place. Where are the cool adults!?
L: Media and music, where I came from, are contracting at the moment. There’s that real defensive viewpoint where some older generations are worried that young people are going to come and take their place. I think that in the long term it’s counter intuitive because if you love music and you love media then you want it to continue and succeed, and have great people in it.
K: Ten months on from the launch, is Villainesse where you hoped it would be?
L: I had no idea what to expect when I launched it, so it has surpassed all of my wildest thoughts. My Body My Terms [campaign raising awareness about consent and victim blaming] blew my mind. I had never experienced anything like that. It was really cool because we created a platform to talk about something that’s so important, and to have so many different voices involved in it was just this incredibly fulfilling thing. It’s something we can build and develop on. One of the reasons Villainesse exists is to try and magnify these important ideas and galvanise people, bring them together. I’ve just had an amazing, wild ride and it’s been so cool.
K: I think the My Body My Terms message is so important on campus because there’s a lot of talk at the moment about how involved universities should be and whether they do enough around consent and sexual violence.
L: It’s such a big issue. I run up against so many adults and they’re like, “we can’t talk to them about this because they’re too young,” but from a university perspective they say “oh, it’s not really our place cause they’re adults.” If you can’t talk to them when they’re too young and at university it’s too late, when are young people supposed to have these conversations? It’s also a wider conversation. I was talking to Richie Hardcore yesterday because he had a thing that blew up on Twitter, and he wanted to know what went wrong and how he could learn from it. It really just spurred me into thinking about the way we view sexuality as a very important and empowering thing. As long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, people should be able to do whatever makes them feel good, but at the same time, we live in such a highly sexualised world that I think there is some pressure, be it subliminal or overt, to be super sexy. That pressure to seek validation from a sexual way. And great, if you feel good that’s cool, but I do worry about what kind of messages hyper-sexualised media is sending to young women about how they should derive their self worth? It’s this really fine line because I would never slam anyone for owning their sexuality, but for young people there needs to be some conversation about how it’s making them feel. Does it make you feel good? If it does, cool, if it doesn’t, you don’t have to do it.
K: That’s a bit like the first time I saw Miss Representation and I just wanted every woman in the world to see it because everything suddenly made sense—the low self esteem in high school right through to the pressure to look a certain way.
L: Totally! Social media has just made everything exponentially bigger, but where’s the actual conversation to say to young people: hey, this is about how you feel, you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations, you don’t have to pose naked because Demi Lovato is, you just have to figure out what makes you feel good and then just live it.
K: It’s that empowered thing. Once you feel that way it’s like, “oh my gosh, I’m never going to stop doing what makes me feel like this.”
L: Yeah, and I think that’s why I struggle with The Bachelor! I’m just like, “wow.” How many 15/16 year old girls are watching this? I mean, it’s entertaining and it’s cool, but fuck I hope there are some serious conversations going on around it. You don’t need a man to be whole, you are a whole and complete being just as you are. If you end up with a dude, awesome, relationships are great, but that drive for self worth through a relationship shouldn’t be the end game.
K: So how do you get men on board?
L: Their involvement is so important. I know that second wave feminists would have huge issues with this, but I feel like we really need men in our ranks. It’s not that women can’t do everything, because they can and they do, but it’s that we’re not actually going to solve all of these problems if we exclude them from the population. There are so many dudes who are actually starting to really get it and it’s really important to have those conversations, especially with high school guys. What is the single sex male high school environment even like?
K: So what do you hope for Villainesse for the future?
L: Over the next few months, we’ve got a few projects going. We’re making another campaign not related to My Body My Terms. From there I want to build on My Body my Terms and keep broadening the network. I have a business partner now who brings me back down to reality a bit. I’ve got so many ideas about what I’d like to do and become, but it just becomes bigger than Ben Hurr, so part of my learning process of the last year has just been to pace myself. I’d love to do some stuff around schools, to create these events for young people to share their ideas. Basically just to create these networks and communities among young people, but also connecting them to older people. What I’ve found out by accident is that I’m kind of becoming this bridge point between old people and young people. I want more young people in that space with me because I feel like there are so many awesome viewpoints out there. I want to see that translated more to a broader audience. Young people have been in their own space doing amazing things for such a long time, but older people have ignored that. I think we need to break that down.
K: So this will be going in our dreams issue, do you have dreams?
L: I am a lucid dreamer. I will quite often be very aware that I’m dreaming and know that it’s not real. But if I was having a nightmare, I would know that it was a nightmare, but I’d try to force myself to wake up, and I would dream that I had woken up, and then a monster would come out of the wall so clearly I hadn’t woken up. I’d try again and then half the house would fall away. Trying to come out of a lucid dream as a kid was very traumatic.
K: That sounds terrifying!
L: It was! And it happened to me for the first time since I was a kid to just two nights ago. I haven’t sleep very well the past couple of nights at all!
K: Feeling very grateful I don’t have dreams right now
L: It’s so bizarre! I know it’s not real, but the way to wake yourself up is to move. It’s so hard to force yourself to move in a dream. I’ll dream that I’ve moved my arm when actually I haven’t, but then because I’m dreaming that I’ve woken up, it’s just the most meta fucking different realm thing ever.