Feminism on campus is still taken as a joke, many students feel, with one describing the cause as " laughed at, mocked and generally ridiculed".
Ahead of HuffPost UK's discussion at Cambridge Union about modern day feminism, which will feature Claire Perry MP, Julia Simpson, chief of staff International Airlines Group and Lucy-Anne Holmes, founder of No More Page 3 campaign, on the panel, we asked whether feminism is taken as a joke at university.
It doesn't take long to find examples of misogyny on and around campus; the National Cleavage Weekender at a popular student haunt in Kent, or the bright female students who were booed and subjected to "shocking" sexism at Glasgow Union.
But beyond the headlines, female students who have to deal with daily jibes and taunts, which seem to be part and parcel of "declaring" yourself a feminist, say they are simply fed up.
Hull University student and HuffPost blogger Abbie Cavendish says feminist stereotypes are partly to blame.
"The word feminism is continually confused with the stereotype of a braless, hairy legged, man-hating woman, vociferously trampling over any man who happens to behave in some way that may contradict her beliefs.
"Yes, there may be feminists like that. There may be people holding any number of beliefs that behave like that," she added.
"There are also plenty of us who are far too generously endowed to go braless, purchase makeup with more regularity than attending lectures and spend those last few days before our loans come in batting our eyelids at anyone - regardless of gender - who might like to buy us half a pint of Strongbow (never said we were classy)."
The French and Italian student also attributes using "feminist" as an insult to the problem.
"When I hear people sound affronted as they are 'accused' of being a feminist or denouncing their opinions as feminist before they begin speaking I get very, very angry.
"Are you really not a feminist?" asks Cavendish, who writes for her student paper the Hullfire. "Do you really, truly believe that women shouldn't have the right to vote, or have a bank account without their husband's permission?
"If you can properly argue your side of the argument on this one, let me know because most students I've challenged can't, but they know that there are enough connotations attached to the word 'feminist' to make it a dirty word to fling at their female counterparts when an argument gets too heavy ("Oh for goodness' sake, Abbie, stop being such a feminist and get your tits out for the lads/get back into the kitchen/insert other stereotypical comment here").
"Feminism on campus is laughed at, mocked and generally ridiculed by those who can't bring themselves to see it for what it is - a movement designed to afford women and men with equal opportunities, the legal right to respectful treatment and the ability to protect themselves against discrimination.
"I, for one, am proud to call myself a member of any movement which stands up for the above, and will continue to do so. I'm still not giving up the bra, though!"
Bath University student Lily Morris feels the word feminism has been tainted by radical 20th century campaigners and says she's had "so many" experiences of feminism being misunderstood.
"In a lecture about feminism as part of a first year core Politics unit, the question ‘are you a feminist?’ was asked and about a third of the girls and none of the boys raised their hands. The lecturer had to use the tactic of asking ‘right, boys, how many of you have sisters… would you like them to be able to earn the same as you? Would you like them to be able to walk down the street at whatever time they liked wearing whatever they liked without being attacked?’ A few boys replied to the second one, ‘But that’s not feminism!’
"That, I think, really showed me just how misunderstood feminism is among young people."
Morris says another aspect is the "casual attitude" to what she describes as minor sexual assault.
"I’m talking groping of bums in bars, really. I got groped the last time I went out clubbing (and the only time this year…) and when I complained to a friend, he said, ‘Well, you really don’t understand how clubbing works, do you…?’"
Morris, who admits she doesn't see progress being made until there are changes in attitudes in society, has a novel solution to the problem.
"Mandatory screenings of Legally Blonde and everyone getting a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale to read?," she quips.
"Honestly, I haven’t a clue. I don’t think quotas on managing boards are the answer: they fix the symptoms (few women getting to the top of business) but not the root problems (ingrained sexism).
"I think lots of the issues originate at school, and maybe more could be done there."
The National Union of Students (NUS) published a report investigating lad culture at university in March, which revealed half of students had experienced "prevailing sexism, laddism and a culture of harassment", with some even dropping out as a result.
Kelley Temple. the women's officer for the NUS, has spent her time in office tackling sexism on campus and educating misogynistic students.
She told HuffPost UK there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"Feminism is definitely alive and well on university campuses. The response to our work on lad culture and the Everyday Sexism Project just goes to show that people are prepared to stand up and challenge sexism.
"That we’ve seen so many men take up the campaign has also been really encouraging and shows that feminism is incredibly relevant to university life. Obviously, we’re a long way from eliminating sexism but students all around the country are showing us that they are ready to challenge it."
But Alexandra D'Sa, a student at Exeter University, voiced her frustrations at the reluctance for young women to label themselves feminists, as well constantly being depicted as a "crazed lunatic".
"A misconception of modern-day feminists is this: we’re not angry all the time," she tells us. "Okay we’re angry a lot of the time. And we have a right to be.
"These accusations are often made by men who can never understand what it’s like to be a woman, to be worried about walking alone anywhere for fear of rape or sexual objectification. If we’re not angry then how are we supposed to fuel our activism?
"I know a lot of other feminists too who don’t walk around with a grizzly face and shout at every man who passes by," D'Sa continues. "Stop depicting us as crazed lunatics. We have valid points and should be listened to.
"We need to shout to be heard on campus, and just because we’re shouting the word “feminism” doesn’t make us insane."
D'Sa addresses the issue of pigeonholing women who identify as feminists. "How many times have you heard, especially young, women say: 'Oh I think women should have equal pay, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist'?", she asks. "Believing in equal rights for all genders, believing in equal pay, equal treatment, an end to sexual harassment… that’s what feminists want."
Although D'Sa says feminism is starting to be treated seriously in lectures, she argues it is treated as a joke "when we step into public spaces".
"Feminism starts to be treated as a joke when we step outside the lecture theatre and the seminar rooms, and into more public spaces. Lad culture, ladies and gentlemen and everything outside and in between, is not a myth.
"It’s there groping my friends when they go out to a club, it’s there justifying blatant misogyny under the label “banter”, it’s there in the party theme Pimps and Hoes. And when you speak out against it, expect to be laughed at, or called a “dyke”, “frigid”, or maybe “boring” if you’re lucky.
"This is also true online; when I post statuses on Facebook or Twitter advocating for what I believe in, some people say to me that they don’t want feminism rammed down their throat — well I don’t want the Patriarchy rammed down mine so I guess one of us is going to have to give.
"And it’s not going to be me."
We'd love our readers to come along to the Cambridge Union event (see below for details)
But if you can't make it please join the conversation on @HuffPostUK and @HuffPostUKStudents and via the hashtag #HPFem
Event details as follows:
- Cambridge Union Society, 9A Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UB
- The event is on Monday 29 April and starts at 19:30
- It is a non-ticketed event, on a first come first served basis