RAMONA AND THE CREATIVE, SELF-EMPOWERED GIRL
By Quincy Malesovas
If you wander down the magazine aisle of just about any supermarket, you will be bombarded with messages about how to change your looks, clothes or personality for the better. Without even turning a page, you can catch taglines like “50 tips to get him to like you” and “Dressing for your body type”. Articles like these convey the message that you are not good enough as you are, and can make a negative impact on the young people who read them.
Freya Bennett knows this feeling well. As a teenager she experienced firsthand the pressures of “trashy teenage mags that make you feel really crap about yourself”. Now, several years later, she has developed an alternative to the trash. Cue Ramona Magazine for Girls, a publication aimed at young, female-identifying people with a creative and socially charged bent.
Freya took the time to sit with The Northsider and share her thoughts on art, feminism, her own insecurities, and how she hopes to inspire others through all of these avenues.
Can you tell us a bit about how Ramona came to fruition?
The whole thing started about two years ago. I had the idea and contacted all these women who I thought might be interested in starting an online magazine for girls. [US-based co-editor] Sophie was one of the people who were really keen to help. She designed the website and developed the style. We became partners and now we’ve met twice in person.
What inspired you to pursue this idea?
I’ve wanted to start a magazine since I was a teenager, but not like the others that really knock your self-esteem. When I was a girl, my mum got me this awesome feminist magazine from America called New Moon. Around age 12, I began growing out of it, but I had nothing to move on to as a teenager. That’s the gap that I think Ramona fills.
Do you have a journalistic background?
No, I did a Bachelor of Music Performance. Then I spent several years doing music and some art projects before starting the magazine. I play piano and sing; I used to play sax. My dream is to write music for film. I get caught up with Ramona and it’s hard to find the time to write music, but I always want to have that as part of who I am.
Have you contributed any art to the magazine?
I’ve done one or two drawings, but mostly we try to get others involved. We have a lot of teenage artists in the next issue; it’s important for them to have a platform. Their style isn’t perfected yet but you can tell they’re really passionate about their art.
Is your readership mostly Australian?
Mostly, but we have some Americans, some readers from Argentina, Europe, England. My mum does courses for young girls about puberty, so she has a great local network she can spread my work to.
I often see people pull away even more when views are forced upon them. How do you avoid that with Ramona while still vocalising your values?
It’s tricky when people feel so strongly. I just want to please everyone. Sophie[’s] and my way is quite gentle. People expect that if you’re a feminist you have to be strong [and] angry. But you can be soft. There’s strength in being soft, being able to cry and be emotional. It doesn’t make you any less of a practical person who can make good decisions.
Do you approach certain topics with caution, given that themes like sexuality and gender roles can be so touchy and controversial?
We [are] so judged on everything, no matter what we do. It’s important that women and men who are allies are supporting each other. We’re all multi-faceted. We’re humans. You can have hypocritical bits as well. You can enjoy reading trashy magazines; that doesn’t mean you’re any less of a feminist. I got married and wear a ring. I didn’t change my name but some people do and it doesn’t make them any less of a feminist. We’ve been brought up to believe all this stuff and we’re going to believe it and it doesn’t make us bad.
Do you aim to reach others beyond those who are female-identifying?
Our whole narrative is about girlhood, but we are for men and boys as well. One day, I’d love to have a magazine for boys to encourage respect and show that they’re a lot more than they see in the media. We have lots of men who read the magazine and are really supportive. Even though we say we are “Ramona Magazine for Girls”, we’re for girls and boys, non-binary folk, LGBTQIA, people who are marginalised, people of colour. We’re very intersectional – and not just focused on white feminism. There is a big difference between the experience of white feminists and women of colour, whose fight is a lot harder.
Do you have any clear goals for the progression of Ramona?
We’ll be releasing volume 2 in a few weeks. From there, my hope is to get some grants and support to produce a few zines and maybe pay some people too. It would be nice to hire an office space, get a business structure happening. We’ve only been running for two and a half years. I keep forgetting that when I’m like, “why are we not bigger yet?”
My longer-term goal would be to get into schools and start programs or mentorships for girls. I love the online stuff, but I’d like to develop a more personal connection with readers. I’ve always felt self-conscious about my art. I want to provide a safe place where young people can create without those same insecurities.
What advice do you have for young aspiring creatives?
Stick with it and know that you will probably have setbacks. Your creativity could last a year, then suddenly you face three years without inspiration and feel really lost. But it’ll come back, so don’t feel disheartened, even if you feel like there are always people better than you. Everyone feels that way. Smile and pretend like you know what you’re doing and it often works.
Like many small publications, Ramona relies primarily on donations to keep things running. If you would like to help out, you can contribute to their Pozible campaign and join the Ramona team for their volume 2 launch on December 4!
Quincy is a self-identified writer/explorer with a penchant for all things culture – sub, pop, alt, you name it. You can read her musings at shugurcan. net.