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Gina Martin: 'We shouldn’t feel guilty about being unproductive during coronavirus’


Activist Gina Martin – who launched a national campaign (and succeeded) to make upskirting illegal last year – shares how her life has changed since lockdown and what she believes coronavirus is teaching us

When Gina Martin saw a photo of her crotch on a man’s phone, which he’d secretly taken with his friends after she rejected their advances at a festival in London, her world changed forever. She slapped him, grabbed the phone and ran to security, who called the police. On arrival, the police did nothing, telling Gina that because she was wearing knickers it wasn’t a graphic image, and therefore not illegal. ‘I was so angry,’ Gina, 28, tells us. ‘Why was it about what I wear and not what the guy did?’. Her fury kickstarted her 2017 social media campaign to make upskirting a criminal offence, and on April 12th last year the law changed for good. Gina’s story is a powerful one, and since that day she has used her platform to spread positivity and compassion, plus released a book, Be The Change, an essential handbook for the modern activist. Today, as we all attempt to navigate life during coronavirus, Gina’s guidance is more important than ever. Here, the copywriter turned full-time campaigner, writer and broadcaster shares tips for social media survival and her idea to help the NHS…

How are you responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

I’ve been self-isolating in my apartment with my partner, housemate and tortoise Gary. It’s frustrating seeing people not taking this seriously just because it doesn’t affect them directly or immediately. It’s also not surprising. I spent two years trying to get people to care about issues that don’t affect them. Corona is teaching us this lesson in a hard way: that things matter before they affect you.

I’ve also changed the way I live online. People look to me for opinions on important issues like this, but I want to use my platform to make people feel positive during this pandemic. I like posting funny videos and anecdotes of human kindness.

Your campaign highlighted the positive use of social media, but do you ever feel the negatives?

Yes – during the campaign I faced a ridiculous amount of trolling. I found a photo on my phone of the guys who had upskirted me in the background. I put it on Facebook and asked friends and family to share it, but Facebook told me to take it down as I was ‘harassing’ the men by putting it up. For the next two years I received hundreds of rape threats. Comments like, ‘it was her own fault for looking like a slag’. And I never thought about taking these threats to the police because the entire reason I started the campaign was because the police didn’t do anything about what happened to me in real life.

 Can you share any advice to women who are being trolled and feel unhappy on social media?

Use the tools on socials – block keywords, mute, block and remove people from the situation. We feel bad about drawing boundaries on social media, but in real life if someone walked up to you on the street and slut shamed you, you would remove yourself from the situation. We need to stop looking at online and offline as two separate worlds. Also, talk to someone in real life and be honest about how upset a person or situation is making you, as then people won’t say ‘just ignore it’. I also delete my apps after 6pm and reinstall in the morning. It’s helpful to not be connected all the time.

Has your behaviour on social media changed over the years?

Definitely. We all think jealous and negative thoughts, it’s human – but we don’t have to say it. I used to give my opinion on how a celebrity looked or if I felt they weren’t doing their job well enough, and now I realise I just don’t need to comment. I only need to speak up if I see a mean comment. I believe we should stand up for people online even if you don’t know them, just like you would in real life.

Has coronavirus come close to home for you?

Not in my immediate family or friends, which is a blessing – and probably will change. We’re all going to be affected by this in some way, whether it is direct infection or struggling with mental health.

How has the virus affected your day-to-day life?

I’ve lost all of my work for the rest of the year, but I know I’m lucky because I can still create income and afford my rent.

How do you think the government has handled the pandemic?

We can see into the future with this pandemic and it feels like the measurements taken weren’t taken fast enough. I’m sad because the economic packages they’ve distributed (grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers if companies keep them on their payroll) is great, but I’m disappointed the self-employed have been left out. The language used has also not been specific enough: social distancing? How confusing. We should have been told from the start: ‘stay home and only leave for groceries’.

 We all have more time on our hands now – how are you using yours?

Capitalism tells us to feel guilty for not being productive, and that we’re not valuable if we’re not working. This isn’t true, and the last thing people need during this period of uncertainty is to feel guilty about their lack of productivity. Now is the time to admit that we are probably going to be least productive because we’re stressed and worried. I’ve been waking up at 1pm, not getting dressed, watching my tortoise walk around the house. Compassion is needed right now as we are unproductive during coronavirus, not guilt.

That said, if you feel better for having routine and productive activities scheduled, great. I’ve come up with an idea to try and help people working in the NHS, because that’s what makes me happy – but it’s about not forcing people to do it.

Also, if you can stay in and feel guilty about not writing that book or creating an art masterpiece, you are highly steeped in privilege. Being in the house for hundreds of thousands of women right now is terrifying, because they are in abusive relationships, or have children they can’t feed. We need to be aware and compassionate about different circumstances during this unprecedented time.

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