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Student Feminism: Refining the Blurred Lines In 2014

17/02/2014 13:45 GMT | Updated 17/04/2014 10:59 BST

2013 was the year the NUS decided enough was enough for 'lad culture'. Their "That's what she said" report sparked a new wave of feminism on campuses across the UK, bursting with students ready to put down their razors, bin their copy of The Sun (or at least Page 3) and tell their student union to pull the plug on Blurred Lines.

The taboo on the f-word was lifted and with it came a "surge in student feminist societies" brimming with ideas for grassroots projects: from "No Shave November" at UEA, to stylishly designed magazines like Ladybeard and Durham's feminist club nights - no Robin Thicke on the playlist here either. Leading the pack was the "I need feminism because..." campaign, where students put pen to whiteboard to describe what feminism meant to them and the right photo racked up more Facebook likes than a backstage snap with Bondax.

Maybe, it's that last bit that's most important: the growing presence of feminism on campus has been reinforced by social media - and it's more than just a few people retweeting their societies' posts off their personal accounts. Online activity has stretched to campaigns (like No More Page 3), blogs (such as Bad Housekeeping) and forums - some with more social media reach than Tom has left on MySpace. Students' views are being shared online and they're being heard.

There are downsides to taking the discussion to the web: reports of feminist in-fighting are rife as people are excluded for being "the wrong kind of feminist" (or male), as are anonymous snipes from opponents to the movement (head over to your nearest The Tab page and you'll see these concealed under "clever" pseudonyms...). But, in general, these online channels have provided a platform for intellectual (and personal) discussion of feminism even for those who have felt pressured to conceal their beliefs on gender equality in the past.

2013 was the year feminism exploded back onto the campus. The question is how can this new interest be harnessed in 2014?

Clearly, there are still sceptics to the idea of feminism. Where I'm based in Durham, the student newspaper recently ran a competition for students to write articles about what feminism meant to them. Sounds good right...? Wrong. On a campus with a large and active "FemSoc" the outcome remained that 3 of 4 of the selected responses found feminism to be "outdated" and without a "place in the 21st century" (articles here).

Students, especially guys, are often hesitant to term themselves "feminists" and ready to voice concerns that feminist views seem prejudiced against them. Yet, more often than not, the barrier is one of information not malevolence. They too believe in equal pay, longer paternity leave and gender balance but shudder at the idea of telling their mates they're part of "that feminist cult".

Maybe, that's the problem. There seems to be a need for more inclusive discussion. I understand that there's a reason for female only spaces to talk about some of the more intimate aspects of the field but there also needs to be a push to make feminism more accessible. In the same way that Everyday Sexism seems built-in to the current fabric of our society, this wave of feminism needs to ensure that Everyday Feminism is as integral to the next generation. The aim: A society where no one has to think about whether they self-identify as a feminist.

For me, the path to this society is open discussion. Creating platforms where students can learn about a range of aspects of feminism and voice their support (and concerns!) without feeling threatened. We shouldn't be so quick to dismiss alternative views as "trolling" - unless they're posted by "Hugh G. Rection" - and "go read a book on it" isn't the kind of response that provokes constructive discussion.

So back to the question. Will student feminists in 2014 build on the progress made last year?

The response in Durham seems to be yes. This term the Durham University Feminist Society will co-host their first event with one of the college rugby teams (see here). Their relationship has a questionable history - with the rugby side making national headlines for their "it's not rape if..." game - but as rugby clubs and student feminism have traditionally failed to see eye to eye, their cooperation could be the sign the rest of the student populous needs to shake their suspicions and join the dialogue.

The NUS has taken a positive step on the subject and called for a summit on 'lad culture'. But until that's finalised, the answer appears to lie in London at next week's "Women in the 21st Century" conference (see here). The event is hosted by a student society called New Turn - an organisation that I've had the opportunity to work closely with over the past few years - who aim to promote intelligent discussion between students and experts on current issues that matter. The conference will bring together more than 50 of Britain's most influential women (and men) for a day of discussion on topics ranging from the positive discrimination to the impact of the Arab Spring on women in the Middle East.

If 2014 is to be a year marked by positive backlash to 'lad culture'; it could just be in the form of events like these. Events that present a platform for open discussion for all of the student body, events where people are allowed to disagree - and learn from it!

Tickets to the "Women in the 21st Century" Conference are on sale now at: conference.newturn.org.uk