Huffpost UK Universities & Education

It's Been A Great Year For Student Feminist Societies: Here's What They Achieved

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Students from Leeds campaigning against nightclub Tequila UK's sexist advertising
Students from Leeds campaigning against nightclub Tequila UK's sexist advertising

Gender is back on the agenda.

It's been a feisty year for feminism, and its various strands have seen it become a full-blown movement among UK students. Campaigns led by young women such as women on bank notes, No More Page Three and Everyday Sexism have allowed feminism to transcend the realm of high-profile speakers and academics, subsequently helping it to shed its somewhat stuffy, men-hating image and giving the whole concept a makeover.

With the new academic year just around the corner, university feminist societies are sure to be determined to maintain or at even increase the momentum they've gathered across the past twelve months.

First there was the Blurred Lines controversy, which saw Robin Thicke's song banned from being played at multiple student unions, and helped spawn popular parodies and worldwide protests.

Thicke's follow-up album 'Paula' sold a pitiful 530 copies in its first week - surely no coincidence. For many students, both male and female, feminism has become a universal maxim to subscribe to.

Elsewhere, almost 30 universities voted to stop selling The Sun newspaper by the close of 2013, while trending hashtags such as #YesAllWomen showed a rallying, angry response in the wake of the misogynistic shootings on a California university campus in May.

The University of Nottingham's feminist society created a "What is a feminist?" video, while Bristol University's society conducted a bust a myth rally to challenge preconceptions about victims of sexual abuse. Meanwhile, feminists at the University of Glasgow held vagina-drawing classes with a life model to help women become more comfortable with their own bodies.

The "lad culture" epidemic has also been tackled across the country, with students drawing a direct link between it and the abuse of fellow students. A party aimed at students in Cardiff was condemned for its "pimps and hoes" theme, while a "freshers violation" night in Leeds was castigated for its promotional message.

feminism

Students from Leeds University's feminist society rally together against the Tequila UK nightclub's sexist advertising

An Oxford University rugby team was outed for horrifying emails encouraging members to spike female freshers' drinks; similarly, chants of "rape", "she's too young" and "fifteen years" were heard being made by a Cambridge drinking society, with footage shot by a shocked student leading to a police investigation.

But this isn't just a case of naming and shaming, then moving on - such cases have inspired a host of practical responses, such as sexual consent classes and the "Why Cambridge needs feminism" campaign at Cambridge. Smaller protests against the status quo included the University of East Anglia's "No Shave November".

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Feminist societies across the country seem to be relaunching and rebranding, taking advantage of the incredible surge in popularity the movement has seen. Lancaster University feminist society was re-established in 2012 after years of inactivity.

"Our Facebook group is very active with over 450 members and regular online discussions," Caitlin Shentall and Lex Elliot, the president and general secretary of the society, told HuffPost UK. "We have weekly meetings and at least one major campaign per term as well as trips to events like Reclaim the Night Manchester.

"Last year we organised 'Consent Week' which mainly involved handing out informational goodie bags to students in Lancaster University’s main square. I think we’re particularly proud of this because we worked hard to make our own leaflets and goodie bags and then saw this information reach the wider student body, rather than people who are already involved in the society. Because of this, we plan to make the event an annual thing."

Zara Lindsay, of Leicester University's feminist society, also spoke to us about the progress their society has made on campus.

"I'd say the No More Page Three campaign we ran in the students' union, and which we want to extend campus wide, is a big achievement," she said. "Also, our ongoing zero tolerance campaign [which calls for zero tolerance on sexual harassment]."

Not only have feminist societies had a storming academic year, they show no intention of slowing down.

Zara outlined how the society plans to expand next year: "This year our main aims are to extend membership wider to try diversify our members, with more ethnic minority members, LGBTQ-identifying members etc.

"We also want to try spread the group wider by teaching what feminism is to students who maybe don't think it's still needed, or haven't ever been involved."

Something that's been highlighted in the past is the need for feminism to include all women from all backgrounds, as well as making it accessible to transgender and queer-identifying people. This is something which, like many others, King's College London's intersectional feminist society aims to do.

Shruti Iyer, president of the society, spoke of their pride in "creating an atmosphere on campus where feminism was more widely discussed, and the terms and theory around intersectional feminism were made more accessible and widespread on a fairly conservative university campus".

She added: "A great example of how we've made feminist concerns more visible on campus is that during the sabbatical officer elections held earlier this year, most candidates had something about combating sexual violence and assault on campus in their manifestos."

bodies zone

A group of Oxford University students got together to create 'feminist cocktails'

Shruti also made clear the importance of having an online presence in aiding communication around issues on campus: "Much of our activity does not happen in restricted meetings and events, but is constant over the Internet. We have over 800 members on our official Facebook group – which is the locus for most of our online discussion, and is often very vibrant."

It's hard to see the flow of feminism subsiding any time soon. Social media plays a vital role in spreading stories and it lends a huge helping hand to the rallying process so key to successful social campaigns. The cat's out of the bag now, so to speak, and with many young people feeling alienated by the wider political world, it's become a way for students to politicise their views on campus and campaign in small ways for a better university experience.