Illustrator, artist, feminist, influencer, Florence Given, has been making waves in the UK for the past two years. Her tongue-in-cheek slogan tees and totes are some of the most sought after merchandise on Instagram, with hoards of women, including Rita Ora, hoping to get their hands on t-shirts that say things like, “protect your energy” and “not taking any more sexist bulls***”. Florence not only uses her artwork to canvas her powerful feminist message, but also her social media channels, where fans can learn, seek advice from and be inspired by Cosmopolitan’s Influencer of the Year for 2019.
All hail the internet, for it brought Florence the reassurance she needed regarding feminist theory. That, along with scholars texts and other reads, confirmed to Given that women often internalise the sexism they experience on the daily in society, which can have a negative impact among female peers as a result. For Given, the trigger was at a party when she was 14, where she rejected an unwanted touch from a guy, who subsequently called her ‘frigid’. “I couldn’t get over the fact his fragile male ego had been so badly wounded that to protect it he had to insult me,” she laughed in disbelief, “the double standards regarding sex especially, and how men are afforded certain privileges, never really got past me. I always knew it was there, I just didn’t know there was a century-deep movement dedicated to changing it. Realising that the thoughts I was having about the ways we are treated in society weren’t in my head empowered me to keep shouting about it and identify as a feminist. As an artist that passion inevitably came out in my work.”
Born and bred in Plymouth, Given felt somewhat alone when sharing her impassioned views, as the much of the community, including her parents, were not of the same viewpoint – or at least, weren’t willing to rock the boat in the name of women’s rights. Luckily, Given made her way to London to study at the London College of Fashion, where she gained reassurance, strength and comrades for her cause. However, her passion was so strong that she decided to leave university after the first year to invest in “empowering the shit out of women through [her] artwork and writing.”
It didn’t take much for Given to pluck up the courage to leave her place in one of the UK’s most sought after universities, citing herself as her own primary inspiration, Given told us, “I learn from myself every day. I keep a journal and the words I write about my reflections and realisations are what inform my art.” Her regular journal-keeping, alongside a heavy influence from the 70s, Stevie Nicks, Cher and Mick Jagger, has helped Florence to create a distinctively sassy style in her fashion and artwork. So distinctive indeed, that Rita Ora’s crew reached out to Florence to create her 2018 tour merchandise!
What’s most powerful about Given’s art is that she lives and breathes her slogans, no matter how comical. “It’s impossible for me to separate my feminism from other aspects of my life,” she told us, “I’m not compromising my feminism for anyone.” And she certainly doesn’t! Whether it’s a t-shirt that reads ‘Off for a shag’ or simply, ‘Dump him’, Given wants to make every woman feel empowered as she does, “to get as many people as possible to question the established order, to question their own identity, to love the shit out of themselves – and to essentially be a ‘metaphorical friend’ that gives you a daily kick up the ass reminding you of your worth.”
Given’s strong influence highlights that she does indeed make women feel empowered against the social injustices they feel, prompting Love Island star Megan Barton-Hanson to wear one of Given’s tees on live TV while discussing the criticisms she has faced for previously working in the sex industry. The ex-glamour model crystallised one of Given’s most impassioned messages, however, there’s a lot more that needs to be said, and not just by women. “I don’t think the responsibility of dismantling the patriarchy should be a responsibility put on women alone – it’s hard enough just trying to exist! Women are out here trying not to get r*ped! Trans women are out here trying not to get murdered!” Given said, “If everyone just used whatever voice they have (especially white cis men, as the ‘default’ of our society they have the privilege of being listened to as the voice of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’) then things would move a lot quicker.”
And she’s right! While there are inspirational women out there, such as
Munroe Bergdorf and Rachel Cargle, who are knowledgeable, influential and active, there needs to be a more grassroots level of support for women and feminist causes. Dads, brothers, granddads, uncles, male friends, boyfriends and husbands need to listen, observe and act – they need to advocate for women in all aspects of life, to ensure that the world will be a better place for the women coming behind them in generations. Feminism has been dubbed a curse word by many, with connotations of billboards, marches and anti-men often being associated with the movement. However, Given puts it simply in the hope that others follow suit, “My version of feminism is advocating in all aspects of life, wherever possible, to question and challenge the shitty established order we know today as the racist patriarchy. It’s listening to others, encouraging empathy…it’s a journey.”
Furthermore, as Florence knows well, sometimes making changes to how people think and act starts within your own household, “Conversations within your family and friends can change the world,” believes Given, “They take that advice into their own lives, and who knows, that chat you had with your co-worker Brad about consent could literally prevent someone being sexually assaulted.” With “sexism and bullshit” filtering through every aspect of our lives, whether that’s the legal system, music, movies or the gender pay gap, it’s time that people opened their eyes to the blatant disregard for women’s equal rights. Florence is calling time on this patriarchal shit, telling us that “It’s time for us all to realise and be aware of our power, our worth!” On the other side of the coin, her message to men about their treatment of women is a simple one, “I’d also like it if we could stop being harassed, sexually assaulted, murdered, objectified, systemically disadvantaged – you know, the list goes on!”
If you haven’t gathered already from her bold and reassuring statements, Florence is an incredibly wise young woman. More so than that, she’s influential. Not in the ‘pose in a bikini and 20K people go out to buy it’ way, but in a manner than makes a difference. Brilliantly, this type of social influence was recognised by Cosmopolitan, who awarded Florence their Influencer of the Year Award 2018. Speaking of the award, Florence said, “It felt like a stamp of recognition for all of the work that I have done this year alone. I didn’t identify with the word ‘influencer’ before given this award, but I guess we’re changing what it means to be an influencer now.” Given is part of a generation that use social media differently – I know, that’s a strong statement but the data backs that up – and they’re doing so to leave their individual stamp on the world and society, “I don’t see the point in having a presence on social media if you’re not using that social capital to also influence people’s lives in a positive and empowering way.” Florence said, proudly.
For Florence, the campaigning, slogans, activism and empowering will never cease. For her, it’s the blood that runs through her veins, keeping her alive and on fire! While knowing that no woman is ready to take on the cause to her degree, she has empowered them by creating artwork and fashion that offers them an entry into self-empowerment, self-belief and action, so that they too can find their feet in a world that seems hell-bent on knocking them over!