Freya Bennett & Ramona Magazine for Girls

By Rachel Ang

Photo of freya bennet ramona magazine for girls
Photographs by by Tara Milenkovic

by CONTRIBUTOR Rachel Ang
Freya is a multi-talented multi-tasker — editor and co-founder of Ramona Magazine, musician, and budding illustration artist. I caught up with her over herbal tea and spoke about growing up feminist, the demise of Dolly, and being more edgy than Frankie.

Freya is a busy woman. When I ask her to describe what she does, it seems to be a difficult question (it was the first one!). In her own words: “I guess I would describe myself as a multi-disciplinary artist. I’m a director of a magazine, aimed at teenage girls, I’m a musician [she plays piano and saxophone, and studied music at the Victorian College of the Arts], and I also love painting. So yeah, I take on a lot!”

Freya started on the path to becoming editor of a magazine for teenage girls before she was a teenager herself. She had a strong feminist role model in her mother, with whom she remains close. It was during her early childhood that she was introduced to feminism, and magazines as vehicles for powerful ideas:

“I think it started when I was really young, because Mum got me an amazing magazine for young girls, aged 6–12, and that magazine was a feminist magazine that opened me up to the idea that girls are treated as lesser… It had a section in it called How Aggravating! and little girls would write in, sharing sexist things that had happened to them;

I was like wow, I thought boys were just picking on me cos I was me, but it was because I was a girl — once you realise it’s a global thing, you realise there is actually nothing wrong with you. So that was really nice, but also started a rage fire inside me!”

ramona magazine for girls
Ramona Magazine Cover

“I had that magazine til I was 12, and then I grew out of it and there was no equivalent for teenagers so I started reading Dolly and I went down that road.

I think in my teenage years I thought — ‘Nobody’s listening — I guess feminism isn’t cool!’ — so I stopped being such a strong feminist — then in my twenties I realised, hang on, I’m STILL ANGRY.”

Even though Freya could see a niche in the market for a feminist magazine for young women, it took a while for her to formulate her thoughts into a strong vision. As with much in life, it only became real once she found her partner in crime — and it wasn’t until Freya met Sophie Pellegrini (photographer and art director) that she was able to turn her vision into reality — “It was just an idea before she came and put it together.”

{ illustrations by Freya Bennett }
{ illustrations by Freya Bennett }
illustrations by Freya Bennett

Freya describes the process of coming together: “I drank a bottle of wine one night, and i just contacted all these women who I thought might be interested and Sophie was really keen… and she was the person who really made it happen! I often have a lot of ideas but unless there’s a plan of action I struggle to move forwards. Sophie volunteered to do the website. And because she was so strong, once there was a website it seemed like a real thing. And even though it was my idea, Sophie was on board from the very start, so we decided to become co-founders together.”

Ramona launched on the web in June of 2014, known at that time as Tigress. Ramona is a community and a magazine, perhaps the former foremost and the magazine as a particularly interesting artifact of the community and conversations therein. Currently the print magazine comes out annually, and Freya describes it as “the culmination of the year’s work.” When I ask about what the future holds for Ramona, Freya talks about building the community aspect of the magazine ‘irl’: “I would love to have more events like book clubs, or parties, or shared art and literature activities.”

We also talk about the difficulty of finding one’s niche and selling point in the crowded and competitive field of magazines. Is print dead? Freya remains optimistic: “I think print is very current, and it’s what we want. We’ve already sold 200 copies of our latest issue, which is a lot for a tiny company like us.”

illustrations by Freya Bennett

She points to the recent demise of Dolly Magazine, once a constant in every Australian girl’s bedroom.

“I don’t think print is dead, as long as what you’re making is good, exciting and relevant. You read a magazine like Dolly and it’s so obviously adults writing the copy, like ‘OMG, LOL’, and ‘when the ‘rents are in town’ and ‘A-F’ all the time. They’re not teenage girls, but they’re trying to talk like teenage girls, and when you read it it’s so cringey. My aim is to not talk down to teenagers. Sometimes our teenage writers will write in that style but it makes sense because it’s in their voice.”

This is Ramona’s strength — giving a platform to diverse and individual voices to speak honestly about their experience. I remark that a lot of the writing is very heavy stuff, and that Ramona is more like the baby sister of literary journals which are primarily essays, rather than the descendant of Dolly or Girlfriend — it’s edgier than Frankie.

ramona magazine for girls Freya Bennet
ramona magazine for girls Freya Bennet
Photographs by by Tara Milenkovic

Freya acknowledges, “A lot of the writing is really full-on, and that’s because being a teenage girl can be really difficult.”

“Teenagers struggle with all the same issues we do, but lack the agency we do. I remember when I was a teenager I knew way more about the world than anyone suspected. It’s silly to think that we can’t expose teenagers to these kinds of issues because they’re already thinking about it and they’re already talking about it…

And definitely not all of our content is positive, but it is real and honest. It’s the writer telling their story.”

Ramona covers a diverse range of topics, and I ask what makes a good pitch.

“We don’t really turn anyone down, we’re for teenagers and we want to give them confidence. But if we can see an article really does need work, we’ll work with them and make suggestions and send it back to them. But we never say no, unless they have a problematic message.

It’s a really important lesson to teach young people, that you’re not going to be a great writer straight away; in fact, nobody is good straight away. It’s through the edits that writing becomes good.”

“I’m still there, I write heaps of crap songs til I’m happy with one, it’s the same with art.. and you’ve got to be able to take criticism and suggestions, cos if you can’t do that, you’ll probably never improve…”

by Freya Bennett

See more about Freya’s magazine here or on instagram.

*Originally published on She Loves to Make

About the Author: Rachel Ang
Contributor to shelovestomake.com
Rachel is an illustration and comics artist
from Melbourne, Australia. @rtwa

Yen Taylor is an Aussie freelance writer & illustrator living in the UK, accessibility, disability, equality, mental health, creativity & culture.