This week, Durham University's independent student newspaper, Palatinate, ran a comment competition about feminism! Excited? Don't be. Three out of four of the articles published dismissed it as outdated. No, really. Here's a direct quote from one: 'The UK doesn't need feminism any more'.
Actually, the UK needs feminism like you need to read up. You can start with this article, published today, about the now widening gender pay gap. Your assignment: to tell me how you're going to feel when you leave university and walk into a job where your male counterparts earn almost 20% more than you because of their penises. Answers should be no more than 1,000 words. I'm sorry if that frustrates you; I, too, could talk about it for days.
Now remember that you live in a country where there are chocolate bars that are Not For Girls; where there are print newspapers that trade solely on naked breasts. Remember that this week, a Tory MP professed his undying support for the 'British institution' that is Page 3. Yeah, that happened. Let's break it up with a poem; Carol Diehl's beautiful ode to contemporary womanhood, For the Men Who Still Don't Get It. Read it out loud to the class, and if that last sentence doesn't get caught in your throat, you're not human.
Then read Backlash by Susan Faludi, which is prefaced with the delectably written yet heartbreaking assertion that "What has made women unhappy in the last decade is not their equality - which they do not yet have - but the rising pressure to halt, and even reverse, women's quest for that equality." Although her statistics are now outdatded, Faludi's 600 page masterpiece is almost painfully resonant today, in a UK society with a new political party who, amongst other things, dismiss a proposed 14-year stint in prison for domestic abusers as 'grotesquely high' and put rape statistics in inverted commas.
Even Susan Faludi would not know where to begin in the face of the rising misogyny that women deal with daily on the internet; all I can really say on the matter is that she was right. As women fought for their right to work, and to sexual autonomy, the violence against them, both figurative and physical, became fiercer. Nowadays, the sheer volume of damaging content written about women online is dizzying. Websites like returnofkings and Elite Daily regularly publish articles with titles like '5 Reasons to Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder' and '20 Easy Steps to Raising A Whore' (the latter, by the way, includes allowing your daughter access to birth control and gymnastics classes). Take note of the amount of horrific rape themed pornography available at the click of a mouse, read Andrea Dworkin's Pornography and tell me that there is no direct correlation between violent sexual online content and increasing numbers of raped women.
On that note, I am currently training as a volunteer with Rape Crisis under the knowledge that only 1% of raped women ever see justice - in the form of a conviction - for their attackers. In light of this, in a survey completed last year, the majority of rape crisis workers attested that they would not report a rape to the police if it happened to them. We live in a country where women are marginalised, not only on a base, societal level, through rape, domestic violence and genital mutilation, but at an authority level, as well. Read Eve Was Framed, by Helena Kennedy, QC, who charts the battle for female justice in British courts. Plot spoiler: sorry ladies, but you can't win.
Durham students: as prestigiously educated young women, you should be actively campaigning for your own rights, and for the rights of women less fortunate than you. Stop wasting your important voices on saying things like 'feminism pits men against women', because men can be, and are, feminist. Stop saying that women can't wear a dress for fear of conforming to gender stereotypes and upsetting feminists. Are you kidding me? I'm a woman, I studied fashion at university, and there is nothing I like better than a good dress. Chuck some sequins on there and maybe a bit of lace while you're at it. There is a strong argument - detailed in The Beauty Myth by Naomi Woolf (a great book, you should read it) - that says that women have been made to feel uglier the more successful they have become. I am inclined to agree with her, and I understand that some second wave feminists eschewed female stereotypes for that reason; a big f*ck you to the marketing directors who tried to tell them they were old and ugly. Contemporary feminists would tell you, though, that as long as you're happy we don't care if you get through two tubes of foundation a day. We have bigger fish to fry. See all of the above.
Finally, have a look at this recent Guardian article, and stop telling anyone who will listen that 'feminism has failed'. For as long as we fight, we are not failing. So do some reading. And then join in.