Forum on Feminism: In Full
~ All responses to forum questions have been ordered alphabetically ~
Can you give us details about your relationship with feminism, and what it means to you?
Alex A: I don’t remember a time where I didn’t identify as a feminist, mainly because my mum (who is a mega-feminist) always encouraged critical ways of thinking about gender, and the potential limitations that women face such as unequal pay and discrimination in the workplace. However, when I was younger, feminism seemed very simple to me – largely to do with second wave feminist issues about gender and the problems women face in the workplace.
Throughout secondary school and 6th form I continued to identify as feminist, despite not being very vocal about it. I experienced a lot of slut-shaming, feeling as though it were my fault and I deserved it rather than it being the product of sexism (which in hindsight it definitely was). Starting my undergraduate degree at the University of Sussex was where I first became aware of intersectional feminism, and that is where my relationship with feminism started to become more complex. I had always felt very close to feminism before that, that it was simple and very important to me and my life. I hadn’t considered that the experiences of all women weren’t the same, and that each faced different obstacles/challenges. I started to take more of a backseat in discussions during my women’s group and so learned a lot more from other women. I try and continue this now.
At present, my relationship with feminism is definitely not simple. It’s constantly changing, and I am always learning. I heard recently that feminism isn’t something that you can ever ‘achieve’ – you can’t do feminism perfectly in a problem-free way forever. Things change, people change and there is always more to learn. It is still one of the most important things in my life, and also shapes my MPhil research and (proposed) PhD research.
Jackie A: I became a feminist during my teens in the 1970s when writers including Germaine Greer, Kate Millett and Juliet Mitchell were coming to prominence. Following on from that, the Guardian Women’s page became inspirational, with articles from Jill Tweedie, Liz Forgan and Polly Toynbee. I have remained a committed feminist all my life. For me it is about equality for half of the population, equal pay, women controlling their reproductive rights and abolishing discrimination.
Jess T: I didn’t feel that comfortable with the self-identifying with the label ‘feminism’ until about a year ago (Spring 2017). I grew up in an extremely conservative and patriarchal Chinese business family with a strong ethos of traditional gender roles. I love my family deeply and appreciate the depth of connection we have to our cultural heritage. However, such an upbringing invariably gave me a conservative worldview that clashed heavily with the political campus environment of a liberal arts college. Even though I cared about “helping people”, I did not feel comfortable self-identifying with labels such as “feminist” or “activist” because those seemed “too liberal” and alienating to the conservative background that I was raised in. But going to a radically left-wing school meant that most students simply assumed that other students were feminist, pro-choice, and supportive of gay marriage – which were simply topics that I had never seriously considered prior to California. As various social movements such as Umbrella Movement and Black Lives Matter caused me to gain political awareness, my embrace of the liberal political worldview caused me to feel increasingly alienated from my family. In particular, the more seriously that I sought to understand how the intersectional, interlocking system of domination worked and how I was implicated by it, I was forced to recognize the ways that I was both victim and oppressor using different circumstances. I was an oppressor as an upper-class, Western-educated citizen of the majority ethnicity of my hometown, but I was victim as having been born a colonial subject and as a woman. In particular, I had to admit to myself that this family that meant so much to me, had in fact been a strong force of oppression with regards to my gender. It took a lot of counselling, journaling and tears to realize that my family had inadvertently oppressed me simply because I was a girl – and after I could admit that to myself, then I felt able to self-identify as a feminist.
Laura McC: Feminist values are something that I have held personally, long before I knew the meaning of the word. I adopted feminism as a worldview and an identity early in my undergraduate degree where I studied Anthropology and Archaeology, (but enthusiastically manipulated every piece of assessment to resemble gender politics).
I basically grew up on the internet and honestly that has taught me more about feminist politics than probably any other source has. Obviously the internet isn’t the feminist utopia we all hoped it could be, but nonetheless the women and non-binary folk I have interacted with and learnt from online have opened my eyes to so many incredible manifestations of women’s power and resistance.
I always wanted to do further study and at the end of my undergraduate studies I read an Australian feminist ethnography (mentioned later) which propelled me into my honours degree the following year. Since then I have only kept learning, and I believe that being at a women’s college here at Cambridge is central to that. Feminism is of course about women supporting women, and to me it is less about equality than it is about liberation. I never want to reach a point in my life where I think that I have learnt it all, or where I limit my own understanding of what feminism is or can be.
Marcia S S: Feminism was part of my earliest childhood memories. My mother, who was a Professor of Education, belonged to the Women’s Strike for Peace- an organisation which used lobbying and direct action to protest the War in Vietnam. As a result, I was at the March on Washington as a child in the late 60s. My great-grandmother (an immigrant), grandmother and mother all worked full time. My grandmother studied part-time to become a teacher and had a postgraduate degree in education. She was the first woman in her family to go not only to university but also to post-graduate education. My mother raised three children while doing her masters’ and PhD- with her professor husband doing childcare while she was in the library. To me, feminism is intimately tied up with education and opportunity. Through education, we enter a world where our role as women is less important than our ability to compete on an intellectual level.
At university in the 90s, I came across a surprising number of women who did not want to identify themselves with feminism- perhaps because it was seen as old-fashioned, anti-men or perhaps because young women naively thought all the battles were won because Madonna could appear on MTV wearing little more than underwear. It’s interesting how things have changed – the differences between my 30 year old and 15 year old daughter and their willingness to identify as feminists are striking. My 30 year old, who did not wish to label herself as a feminist, is now a perfectly fulfilled stay-at-home full time mother of two. The hard work done by feminists has meant that her choice to do so can be supported by numerous legal initiatives such as child benefit paid to her, (as opposed to her husband) free nursery places from age 3 and tax credits that subsidise her important role. By contrast, my 26 and 15 year old daughters are not only strong feminists, but also supporters of #TimesUp, well-informed about birth control, STDs and empowered in their personal relationships. Should they wish to be stay at home parents or carers, their choice would also be supported.
Rabia N: Feminism for me is a movement, advocating for women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Ruth C: There are still so many ways that women do not yet have equality with men. I am conscious of this in the workplace in particular. The current equal pay scandal at the BBC, and the MeToo movement, demonstrate this loud and clear.
I’m not big on bravery and speaking out for women’s emancipation, or anything else come to that, unfortunately. But I learned my feminism and politics from my paternal grandmother, who taught me about boycotting South African goods in the days of apartheid and about the importance of women taking influential political action. She was a suffragist – not a suffragette (huge difference) – and campaigned as a young woman for women’s suffrage. She was a forceful personality who I admired and feared in equal measure. I discovered Katherine Mansfield in her bookcase, and the power of small personal protests that changed the world in the way she lived her life. Eileen Cocksedge (nee Wright, 1892-1984) is the middle of the three women below. A mathematician, she graduated from Newnham in 1913, albeit without a degree.
Tamara M: Feminism is a key part of my consciousness, my work and my activism. I see it as inseparable from other issues and changes that I feel we need to address as a society, be it the legacy of colonialism and racism, structural ableism and classism and ageism, or the ways in which free-market capitalism contributes to and perpetuates inequalities. Feminism to me is a component of wider social and environmental inequalities (I also include speciesism and the environmental destruction that we continue to impose), part of a wider political movement that is pursuing systemic changes to how we live and treat each other, and what we prioritise and value. That doesn’t mean ignoring or erasing the specifics of gender-based inequality, but rather linking this struggle to others.
One of my English teachers in secondary school, a Liverpudlian named Ms. Willis, helped awaken me to the need for feminism. We were looking at the media and the sexualising, objectifying ways in which women are depicted, and it became clear to me that this issue has to change. We weren’t speaking about patriarchy or intersectionality, but from then on gender-based inequality was impossible for me to ignore.
Another important influence for me was the Everyday Sexism movement, which activated a lot of discussions and awareness, and feelings of anger and sadness and empathy, among me and some of my female friends.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the feminist movement today? And how can we tackle them?
Alex A: I feel like there is a large gap between feminists of my mum’s age, and those of our age. It seems as though older women can feel shut out of feminism now. I have heard older women say that they feel like dinosaurs, and that feminism isn’t the inclusive, safe movement that it used to me. Bridging that gap is necessary, but challenging.
Jackie A: The biggest challenge is the fact the progress on many issues still moves at a glacial pace. Whether it’s equal pay, women in Parliament, women on boards or women in tech there is still a very long way to go.
Jess T: I think most people would agree that women have been disadvantaged in comparison to men across history, a huge challenge to figure out what form of feminism one should adopt, since there is no consensus about what it means for women to not be in a state of inferiority. It is still unclear to me whether the liberal feminism model demanding for women’s equality through civil rights (i.e. Wollstonecraft), the existentialist model demanding for women’s liberation (i.e. Simone de Beauvoir), or the postmodern model demanding for a women-specific feminism (i.e. Butler, Iriguay) is “more” appropriate. The questions are further complicated by the fact that I am a woman of color. I have found some solace from strands of Black Feminist Thought in the likes of bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis and Kimberle Crenshaw, but again – I am not black and do not think primarily in terms of an American context. As someone born in a British colony, I hope to read up on postcolonial feminist theorists in hopes of finding something closer to a version of feminism that I find closer to my non-Western, non-democratic, relatively culturally and ethnically homogenous society. I think it takes a lot of discipline, rigor and careful communication for each of us to determine which form of feminism is the most appropriate for our specific liberation battles. It also takes humility and courage to engage with ideas that are foreign to our own, and to continually acknowledge, interrogate and nuance our positionality with respect to the broader feminist movement. Particularly to white feminist readers, I would strongly encourage you to read about non-white feminism and attend events/discussions that describe the intersectional experience of women of color.
Laura McC: I think some of the biggest challenges arise from a lack of intersectionality. As women, we need to tackle economic disparity not only in terms of the wage gap (which itself is not a single issue, but one that needs to be examined in relation to women of colour, foreign workers, trans women, sex workers and geographical location) but in terms of the greater capitalist structures that enforce these inequalities. Regardless of division within the movement, feminist groups continue to struggle in a push back against the ingrained legal, corporate, and social systems in place across the world. This also goes for racism, ableism, and discrimination based on sex, gender, sexuality, identity, health, and financial status. I am not blind to the divisions within feminism, and many women’s rights movements across the world and throughout time, but I think these divisions are overstated and only used to undermine the cause. Intersectionality works to provide justice and liberation for all, and for me, that is the right way to move feminism forwards and push for change in all aspects of life.
Marcia S S: Although we have been aware of feminism in its current form for at least 60 years, men have not stepped forward to pick up the burden of caring for others, which means the opportunities for women are still limited in part by their caring responsibilities. There needs to be more opportunities for men to take carer’s or career break; to work flexibly; and to be able to annualise contracts. For many women, education and training are still barriers to being able to maximise their potential.
Without birth control, there would be no feminism. Women need the right to be able to choose how and when to start a family – or to choose not to have one. Although my mother’s generation were lucky enough to be able to afford childcare through extended family networks, our generation and that of our children face huge bills for good childcare that may take up most of our salaries. Opportunities are still very limited for working class-women to study, train, go to conferences and take up other roles medicine if they have to try and organise unsocial hours childcare, especially if they are single parents with no close family nearby.
With an ageing population, even those of us who don’t have children may find ourselves caring for one or more elderly parent, perhaps with dementia. The networks to help care for these elderly are even more limited and pricier, placing barriers to women being able to travel, participate in committee work or attend international conferences.
Lastly, the internet was supposed to liberate us from the chains of an office desk – but instead has become a way of extending the working day. We are now at the mercy of work emails and messages all hours of the day and night into what should be down time.
Rabia N: Going global – the feminist movement needs to become more interconnected. Women in the west often have more power to affect policies in countries like Afghanistan or the Congo through their own governments and economic means than women from these countries. The movement needs to be more interconnected globally to allow feminists in all countries to work together, not just to tackle their own issues but focus on the most pressing issues in the most oppressive countries.
Ruth C: Everyday sexism is pervasive. See: everydaysexism.com. In health and higher education, where I’ve been for most of my working life it is less obvious and on the surface, but still very much active (as is racism). In health, there are many more women than men nowadays, and women medical students have been the majority for some years now. Hooray! But targeted schemes giving women a leg up and initiatives such as the Athena scheme and the Daphne Jackson Trust are very helpful, and continue to be needed. These examples are for academics, but there are others across different sectors.
Tamara M: How can we achieve our goals and work toward a more equal and just society without burning ourselves out? How can we involve people with more power, namely cisgendered men, so that those of us on the receiving end of gender-based oppression don’t have to shoulder the burden of changing society ourselves?
I think we have to work collectively. And we need to involve as many people as possible: that’s where intersectionality becomes crucial. The wider and more all-encompassing our movement, the more people it benefits and the bigger our momentum becomes. Feminism will not ultimately work if it is a white, middle-class, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied movement. If we involve and work for more and more people, we will inevitably become huge. And then we have the majority on our side.
Do you think there’s a place for men within the feminist movement? And what should that place be, if any?
Alex A: Yes, I think that there is definitely a place for men within feminism. That is not to say that there shouldn’t be spaces that are only for women and non-binary people. Feminist spaces can be both political and therapeutic. In more therapeutic spaces (not to say that there are no political elements here), I don’t think men should be present. But when it comes to planning, organizing and discussing strategies for social change, anyone identifying as feminist and working as an ally should be present.
Jackie A: Yes, I think there has to be a place for men. Many men now embrace the feminist agenda and it is important that they speak out – and also take the paternity leave they are now entitled to.
Jess T: I think that men must be included within the feminist movement for there to be holistic un-doing of the subjugated status of women. Any meaningful activism involves fighting against the existing systems that oppress (here patriarchy) both radically re-imagining what a non-oppressed world might look like. Undergirding the fighting and re-imagining will likely include some women-only spaces for women to increase solidarity, spaces where it is more suitable for men to fight on behalf of women’s liberation, and spaces where women lead and men understand that it is their place to sit down, shut up, and listen.
I think it takes an incredible amount of wisdom and humility from all involved in the movement to know when it is appropriate to have which type of space, and also an incredible amount of love and grace to forgive one another in the likely event that we say something hurtful or do something problematic. Particularly for men, being an ally to the movement means that it is on them to make space in places that have traditionally been occupied by men (i.e. the professional working world) and that it is also on them to take up space in places that have traditionally been occupied by women (i.e. domestic and childcare responsibilities).
Laura McC: No…
Although many others have made a clearer argument, I will elaborate my views on this subject… just once. Of course men are affected by the power structures and institutions in our world, and across our world in various ways. Rather than arguing for gender equality, I believe feminism should (and does) advocate for liberation from the patriarchy. Again, it is important to view this from an intersectional perspective and not succumb to the harmful binary narratives of women versus men.
Gender, as we all know, is a spectrum, a social construct, and an identity, none of which should be oppressed by the patriarchy, formal institutions, or social norms which aim only to limit us. Men should therefore use the space, cultural capital, and power that they already hold to make public (read: male) spaces feminist, to be allies to our movements, and to share the labour of educating their own friends, family, and toxic people in their life.
Marcia S S: I do not think the feminist movement can succeed without men engaging with the feminist agenda. We need men to understand and support women who are facing barriers due to gender and age discrimination. We need empowered men to insist on their rights to work flexibly and to challenge the status quo that the only acceptable work pattern is one of 5 days a week, 8.5 hours a day.
We need the men in our lives to step forward and challenge sexism and “locker room banter” at all levels in the workplace. An objectified woman is one that can never be taken seriously and we need to remove that kind of power dynamic from our working lives. Just as it has become completely unacceptable to utter racist remarks, we need to get to the point where other men are willing to challenge sexist and objectifying discourse in the workplace and also in leisure time.
Rabia N: Feminism won’t succeed without men joining the movement. Our aim is to move towards an equal society, and to do this, men (who make up half the world) need to join in. Without men, it is one gender versus the other and the only way to win would be for women to switch places, become the oppressor, and crush men into submission.
That being said, men should not be directing the movement. Their role should involve them as supporters campaigning for rights or practicing feminism in their lives. Men often cannot identify or understand the oppression they place on women, and have no right to decide what the movement should focus on as they are not the ones who know what oppression feels like.
An analogy – in the same way that Imams speaking out against Islamic extremism is more effective than condemnation from white police officers or politicians, men speaking out and taking leadership roles in promoting feminism will be more effective.
Ruth C: Of course there is a place! Many good men are able to participate, and have a good attitude to women. Women should be in the lead, however.
Tamara M: I think there’s a place and a need for everyone within this movement.
Ideally all global inequalities and oppressions are all connected, so the feminist movement is also part of the anti-racism, environmental, anti-war movements, and so on. The more we work together across issues and identity groups, the more power we will have to create change.
I also think it’s important to think beyond women and men as such, to include people who identify as trans and as nonbinary. Patriarchy affects everyone, be they female or male or gender nonconforming: males aren’t supposed to show vulnerability, Females aren’t supposed to show strength, and non-binary people are barely even acknowledged. So a truly effective feminist movement has to be inclusive and intersectional, a need that has become increasingly clear.
When it comes to cisgendered men – which is to say people who were identified male at birth and continue to identify as male (as opposed to trans men who were identified as female at birth) – I see their place as being allies. Obviously a feminist movement led by cisgendered men is not liberation, but nor can we or should we do all the work ourselves. They do not experience gender-based oppression in the way that women and nonbinary people do, but so-called women’s issues are global issues, because they affect everyone.
If everyone gets paid fairly for the work they do, if everyone can access contraceptives and abortions as needed, if parents can work outside the home whatever the age of their child and however many children they have, if people can walk the streets without fear of violence, if we can start valuing people not based on their incomes or whether they have children, but on their humanity and other contributions, everyone benefits. If everyone can be vulnerable and be strong, and can be who they are and do their thing with joy, safety, and support, everyone benefits.
2017-2018 has been an outstanding year for mainstream feminist discourse. Does this make you feel hopeful? Where do we go from here?
Alex A: Things like the ‘me too’ movement, rather than making me feel hopeful, sort of made me feel a little disheartened – not because it wasn’t important or necessary, but because the burden always seems to fall on the victim to disclose things that have happened to them in order to get people to listen. In reality, we should know by now that this kind of stuff is happening to women every day. And the fact that so many have come forward about these things before, and that change hasn’t happened, makes me question if anything will actually properly change this time.
Jackie A: Yes and no. The focus on sexual harassment has been excellent. The split and often ferocious arguments between feminists and the transgender community worries me. If these groups fall out we are left with the power structure we have always had: white men in control.
Jess T: It’s definitely encouraging to see feminist discourse become increasingly mainstream through the #metoo movement. In particular, I think it has been a wake up call to men who might have seen themselves as liberal or progressive. But as with all things, I think we must be diligent and careful in appropriately nuancing and contextualizing our critiques. In particular, I think the #metoo movement has been very Western-centric and Western-dominated and I think it is important to recognize that “mainstream” in this question refers to that world – because the extent to which #metoo has taken root in the Global South differs greatly.
Laura McC: The accountability and grassroots nature of the emerging solutions does make me hopeful. It is encouraging to see women banding together and putting their resources towards real change and action. I still think feminist discourse is not mainstream. The word feminism being chosen as the word of the year, 2017, is an interesting choice, and a politically poignant one. Although many mainstream conversations or media about feminism is very limited, usually white, and/or restricted by ability. Obviously these conversations are important in cultivating a feminist consciousness among people who do not identity with women’s liberation, but there is so much work to be done on the fringes that sometimes narratives of feminism that are displayed publicly, or picked up by public figures frustrate me. I also believe that women and non-binary folk have every right to be angry and unexplained in their fight. Feminism should not be watered down in order to be palatable to people who hold privilege, and/or men. I refuse to continue to be polite and complacent, and I refuse to wait for someone to hand me my rights in incremental crumbs on a silver platter, one by one.
Marcia S S: I’m not sure that feminist discourse has emerged. What has emerged is a rather odd disclosure culture – where both men and women are coming forward to identify themselves as victims of abuse. I think this is tangential to feminism. It is an important step; outing behaviour that should not be tolerated but I’m not sure it is doing anything to redress the concerns I have voiced or the real challenges of the feminist agenda.
I feel hopeful about the possibility of challenging gender stereotypes and closing the gender pay gap in the UK and EU. I feel hopeful about the many initiatives to attract more women into science, technology and mathematics- as these subjects lead to well-paid jobs and the freedom that comes with better living standards.
I feel less hopeful about the ability of men to stand up and challenge locker room culture for fear of being labelled “soft” or unmanly. I am very unhopeful about the rise and rise of fundamentalist religions, especially those which seek to deny women autonomy, the right to chose to regulate their fertility, the right to decide timing on key questions such as marriage, education and childbearing. I see leaders in both the first and third world who perpetuate anti-women stereotypes, foster acceptance of rape culture and deny basic economic rights to women (such as owning property, right to work, access to healthcare and birth control).
I think where we need to go is to recognise the importance and value of traditionally “female” roles by improving pay and conditions for nurses, teachers, carers and other traditionally female jobs. We need pay parity within large organisations so that the checkout girl gets paid the same as a shelf stocker or warehouseman. We need better-legislated rights for both men and women to take carer’s leave or to work flexibly or part-time.
Rabia N: Yes, but this emergence has only truly occurred in the West while the majority of the world has seen little improvement or increase in discourse. Where we go from here in the West is to make sure the movement remains mainstream – all aspects of feminism need to become key debate issues in every election from now on.
Ruth C: I do feel hopeful. If we don’t have hope, what is there? We should be communicating: writing novels, essays, plays, poetry, newspaper articles, making films, and TV programmes. Keeping on telling our stories. Keeping on writing the next episode.
Tamara M: I think those of us who live in the world as cisgendered women know that sexual harassment, abuse, and violence are endemic. The revelations we have seen in recent months across industries and countries are completely unsurprising to me. What I would consider shocking is to learn that any institution doesn’t have issues of sexism.
So I think it’s important that exposing perpetrators has created more conversations and awareness around the prevalence of gender-based oppression. What worries me is that these revelations tend to come to light only when they involve powerful, generally white men. I think the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is one of few in my mind that involved a more vulnerable woman, a woman of colour and an immigrant – but, if that perpetrator hadn’t been the then-head of the IMF, it would not have been global news.
Silence has protected perpetrators for aeons and, as Rebecca Solnit writes, among others, breaking silences can disrupt power structures and allow for the possibility of redistribution of power. I really hope that will be the case in the coming years and decades.
I think cisgendered men need to individually and collectively look at the ways in which they oppress people of other genders. And they have to do that work without us. Those of us who experience oppression have done so much to describe it and bring it to light and expose abusers and make people care! Now it’s time for those with power to relinquish some of it, reckon with their behaviour and work with us to create a more equal and just society.
That may mean a feeling of ‘giving up power’ in some senses and for some people. But I hope that could be seen as in some ways a relief, as it means more people can shoulder the responsibility and the pressure that come with power.
I would love to see a society in which we all have and share power, and in which we’re not so obsessed with power as we know it today. Why do we value power so much? Aren’t there other things we could pursue and prioritise and cherish, such as caring for each other and exploring ideas collectively and enjoying the natural world and each other’s talents?
Do you feel that feminism excludes certain groups?
Alex A: In speaking with women around my parents’ age (40s/50s/60s) who do or did identify as feminist, I think that sometimes these older women can sometimes feel excluded from younger feminist spaces. Some have talked about feeling that feminism isn’t for them any more, and some issues can be quite divisive.
Laura McC: Some feminism, yes. Historically the feminist movement has excluded everyone but white, middle to upper class women. The most important thing now, is to recognise this historical injustice within the broad umbrella of feminisms, learn our lessons, and remain critical of our own movement and ideologies. This is why I only prescribe to intersectional feminism, a theory championed by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a leading scholar in critical race theory. Feminist movements have unfortunately tended to exclude not only women of colour, but poor women, lgbtq+ women, dis/abled or differently abled women, women outside of Western countries, sex workers, and many other minority groups. Intersectionality is key in understanding how various oppressions interact and how feminism must work to truly support ALL women. Feminism without acknowledging intersectionality – including issues of capitalism and colonialism – is white supremacy.
Marcia S S: At its best, feminism is an all-inclusive agenda that pushes for the ability for people of all sexes and gender identities to fulfil their potential. I have heard people say that the feminist agenda only works if you are white and middle class; that feminism excludes people of colour (it should not – if more BEM women came forward, this would be widely welcomed) but the biggest and most vocal objections I hear come from the trans community.
I have heard feminists say that they aren’t interested in the struggles of trans women as they haven’t finished fighting for cis-women’s rights. At Lucy, there have been historic challenges about whether to accept trans-women as Fellows. It’s a thorny issue, with strong feelings on both sides. I think trans-people have enough difficulty sorting out their own identities and agendas; and we should be welcoming them and their perspectives. However, I do understand that some women, particularly those who have suffered rape and abuse, have a hard time seeing trans-women as women, and feel very threatened by their “parts”. It is a very difficult issue and not one that will be easily solved by this generation’s feminists.
As a doctor, my perspective is that gender identity is something that transcends mere genetics – and in fact many people are genetic mosaics – so it’s ridiculous to say that someone can’t identify as a woman because they have a Y chromosome.
Rabia N: The feminist movement is highly Western centric. The metoo movement has been described as a game changing global revolt against sexual assault, but has only truly occurred in the West.
Do you have any life-changing feminist books, films etc that you would recommend to Chronicle readers?
Jess T: I really enjoyed Unspeakable Things Unspoken by Toni Morrison, and the excerpts of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Iriguay that I’ve read. But I think the books might be inaccessible; I read them in academic courses that helped me understand and contextualize their radical ideas – otherwise I would have no idea what they’re saying! Otherwise, I honestly loved Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and particularly recommend it to women who have doubts over their career choices and to any male who thinks that women are already equal.
Stepping Out of Line: Becoming and Being Feminist – Cheryl Hercus
Beauty Queens – Libba Bray (10/10 satire)
Fight Like A Girl – Clementine Ford
Black Girls Are From the Future – Renina Jarmon
Black Panther 2018
Mad Max: Fury Road 2015
Legally Blonde 1 & 2
Girls Trip 2017
Hidden Figures 2016
Dear White People 2014
AdultSh1t – Kelsey Darragh and Kate Peterman
Sisterhood – Laurie and Eleanor Penny
The Receipts Podcast – Audrey, Phoebe, Tolly and Milena
Feminist Frequency Radio – Carolyn Petit, Anita Sarkeesian, and Ebony Aster
So Fi – Ashleigh Watson
Marcia S S: Every feminist should start with Charlotte Gilman’s Herland. I read it when I was 15 and it was incredible to think that feminist ideas did not start with Betty Friedan! I think young women should seek out the writings of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine Mackinnon and Robert Jenson to see how pornography damages the image of women and narrows their sexual choices by dehumanising both male and female participants, and females to passive, submissive objects. I have read in a recent survey that 91% of BDSM pornography focuses on violence and abuse of women. Furthermore, with pornography accessible from every smartphone, we need to focus less on limiting access (believe me, your kids have already figured out how to disable the adult content filters) and more on helping children and young adults process the images they see; and challenging expectations of sexual violence and coercion; and bringing choice, consent, discussion and feelings back into sex.
Ruth C: Anything by Katherine Mansfield, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Elena Ferrante, Bidisha, Jane Austen and Mary Beard. Germaine Greer (in small, careful, bite-sizes).
Tamara M: I recommend the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed and the book Everyday Sexism. They were life-changing for me in confirming that normalised acts and experiences of gendered oppression are not OK.
I think learning from different kinds of feminists is important in terms of strengthening our connections and understandings as a movement. I recommend reading Audre Lorde, for example, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race.
I also recommend Rebecca Solnit’s books and essays on feminism. She’s an exquisite writer who gets to the heart of the problems we face and their root causes with, for me, unparalleled elegance.
And I suggest exposing ourselves to ideas from around the world as both sexism and feminism manifest differently depending on the context. I find Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work really instructive, for example, though I’m disappointed that she’s transphobic.
And I recommend zero time looking at so-called men’s rights websites.
Do you feel that your experiences at Cambridge or in the wider world are affected by your gender? Or are there other elements to your identity which affect you more profoundly? Tell us about it.
Alex A: I feel that they are, though it’s difficult to know to what extent given that I can’t compare it by being someone else. I think about the ways that my gender impacts my role as a researcher a lot, especially because my research is about sexual consent, and speaking to men about this issue is complex. My gender, and the ways it has shaped my experiences (through high school especially), is very important to my identity overall. My friendship groups are also often all women, and I meet lots of friends through feminist groups.
Laura McC: YES!
Again, I might not be the most eloquent at explaining this, and I’m sure many others have written on this topic before me, but I will give it a shot. As I have expressed, intersectional feminism is really the only brand of feminism I identify with. This perspective is crucial, not only to feminism, but to an institution like Cambridge, although I’m not sure there are any others quite like it. My experiences in the wider world and even more profoundly here at Cambridge, have been affected by my identity 100%. I have diagnosed mental illnesses and so do many of the people I interact with on a daily basis, who have all agreed that the environment at Cambridge can be a huge trigger, more than other stressful work or study settings. After being here for just over a term, I also have a bone to pick with the highly praised support services available, but I will spare you those details.
I love that the LGBTQ+ community here is so vibrant and strong, and I do love queer spaces in Cambridge but I think there is a massive contrast between these (in my experience mainly student-led) events and the greater community. Again, our work is not done. As a non-EU international, fee-paying, mentally ill, queer woman and graduate student at Cambridge I do have many frustrations with the way certain issues are handled, but I also understand that I am not alone, and that there are many students with various intersecting identities who feel these pressures more than I do.
Marcia S S: For me, as a white, educated woman, gender is my most visible feature. If I was black or Asian, perhaps I might identify race first and then gender. At Cambridge, I felt my most visible attribute was as 1) as a mature student and 2) as an American. I think a lot of people presumed things about me based on my age and accent that probably weren’t fair. As I have moved through the profession, I have had to overcome a certain “your face doesn’t fit” attitude as I was not the typical young, public school-educated diffident junior doctor people expected – but rather a bolshy, confident, older woman who wasn’t afraid to speak my mind with a typical American directness. This has been both an advantage and a disadvantage – I may have “got away with it” more as a woman (most seniors thought my directness was amusing) because I was seen as less serious than a man; but I think it also led to people not taking me seriously, especially in my more junior years.
Rabia N: No.
Do you have any thoughts on some of the major feminist issues which have gained so much mainstream attention in the last year?
Alex A: As I said before, I feel like it’s hard when the burden is on the victim to call for change, like in the ‘me too’ movement.
Laura McC: I have a lot of thoughts! I think there has been an incredible push for narratives about justice and accountability in the media, which is great. It is always significant to bring feminism to the public eye, but again, this does not mean the movement should rest. I admire women, famous or not, for putting their money towards the cause and implementing change and services where we need it most. I loved the show of black formal wear and campaign pins at the recent award shows, but I fear that this neglects a larger picture of the interconnectedness of capitalism and celebrity culture. Although I am of course pleased to see prominent people with a powerful platform using their status to speak up on political issues, especially commenting on the particular severity of violence against women and non-binary folk.
These mainstream platforms and campaigns are of much interest to me as a lot of the work that I do surrounds feminism and the internet. #metoo was empowering for many women, and disempowering for some also. It is crucial to shed light on these issues and I know that personally some women found the process or speaking up and speaking out to be extremely cathartic, but these online practices should become the expectation for all women, nor should they be the limit of our voices. As an aside, I was also personally surprised at the amount of people, namely men, who were either shocked by #metoo or in denial about the prevalence of harassment and assault against women (which for some of us is a lived reality).
Marcia S S: I am delighted by the rise of terms like “mansplaining” – when a man tries to explain to me what the women’s perspective is. It’s kind of like me trying to lecture a black women on the history of racism in the Southern American states – absurd and patronising. It’s just so refreshing and powerful to use humour to show how ridiculous they are being.
I think the #metoo movement was important in removing shame and stigma from sufferers of sexual violence and exploitation, but I would like to see some real legislative change and reform as the outcome of all that disclosure. The way victims of sexual violence are treated is worse than the presumption of guilt – it is the presumption that they somehow wanted the abuse to take place and were complicit in events. That mindset needs to go away completely.
The pay gap issue is complex and has many different causes, not all of which are inherently sexist – though many are. Some of the causes of pay gaps have to do with things I mentioned earlier like caring responsibilities, career breaks and the lower status of some categories of employment.
Online trolling is the most toxic thing of all toxic things to come out of the rise of the internet. Hopefully, new legislation will force content providers to be accountable and police their forums or be liable (like newspapers) for their views – with stiff penalties! I resent the ability of trolls to hide anonymously behind platforms like facebook and twitter- and do feel that trolls need to be accountable and transparent. It’s easy to be abusive when no one knows who you really are, but less so when your friends, family and work colleagues can see that it’s you saying those ignorant things or being abusive. Name and shame, people!
I also realise that people have got to be aware that having instant updates from content sites is silly – like not having an answering machine on your phone. There‘s absolutely no reason to need to have every piece of information pushed at you when you are busy – it’s distracting and childish as well as unprofessional. You have no ability to filter what or when things come to you and you become a slave to the Black Mirror. I simply do not agree with “No Platforming”. Many people adopt these kinds of iconoclastic views as a way of getting attention and we need to show them that they don’t get the oxygen of publicity just for being controversial. There is no place in a free society for “safe spaces” – everyone must accept the responsibility of challenging unacceptable viewpoints in a respectful and informed way. Otherwise, it’s either name-calling or hiding your head in the sand. We can’t just ignore sexist, racist hate speech – it must be called out and the speakers either ignored or responded to in an intelligent way.
Rabia N: The metoo movement needs to move beyond naming and shaming the abuser to attacking the support networks they use to carry out and hide their abuse.
Do you think there’s a need for a feminist movement in 2018?
Alex A: Yes, always!
Laura McC: Of course. I don’t believe there will ever be a time when there isn’t a need for feminism. Even in some beautiful, lesbian, socialist, harmonious, liberated future (a girl can dream), I think that feminism will always remain an important and politically significant identifier. Frankly, (as many of you know I’m never subtle) whether you like the word or not, claim the identity or not, are part of a movement or not, feminism DOES have a place and this place needs to be just as prominent as ever, if not more so. The future that has been set for us does not have to remain our reality, and the same goes for all generations to come. Many women are exhausted after weeks, years, or whole lives full of pushing back, making both LEAPS and incremental steps forward, taking what is rightfully ours, burning bras, setting fires, bailing each other out, reporting angry men on twitter, reporting angry men offline, hitting back at unwanted advances, shouting our experiences in the streets, and clawing our way to stability and survival, but we can’t stop now. We must look after ALL WOMEN, and (aggressively) encourage all men (there’s a joke in there somewhere about ‘not all men’) to shoulder some of the mental, emotional, and physical labour of our liberation.
Marcia S S: I think more than ever, with the so-called “leader of the free world” showing people that you can have unacceptable views and still be president, there is an absolute need for a feminist resistance. The issues that faced us in the beginning are still there, underscored by what Germaine Greer calls “horizontal hostility”- the propensity of prominent women to attack each other in the media, because nothing sells papers like a girlfight – right, boys?
I think we need to ensure that feminism is inclusive and welcoming – to gay/straight/whatever women and men and to all ethnicities, ages and economic statuses. It goes without saying that men can be our greatest allies and we look forward to a time when we don’t have to say “I’m a feminist, but I don’t hate men…” We have made progress, but there’s no time to rest on our laurels. 100 years after women got the right to vote, we still haven’t figured out how to use that vote strategically to get what we need. As feminists, we need to teach that agenda of equality and fulfilling everyone’s potential to our sons and daughters so that gender is seen as an attribute like eye colour- visible, but without an inherent value.
Rabia N: Of course, tragically, I think there will always be a need for a feminist movement as humans in society will always to try and discriminate for self-gain.
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Alexandra Aldridge, Mphil student in Criminological Research. Student at Lucy Cavendish College, and Women’s Officer for the LCSU.
Jackie Ashley, College President.
Jessica Tan, I am a first-year lawyer at Lucy originally from Hong Kong who subsequently studied at a liberal arts college in California. My desire is to see spaces of pain and suffering get transformed into places of joy, hope and love through deep and holistic reconciliation and healing.
I’m Laura Carman McClintock, i’m an MPhil student at the Centre for Gender Studies, a Lucian, and our LGBTQ+ Officer on the SU. I’m Australian and an unapologetic intersectional feminist. My work focuses on women and non-binary folks interactions with feminism online, specifically on the social-blogging platform, tumblr.
Dr. Marcia Sardy Schofield, Hon Senior Lecturer in Pain Medicine, University of Cardiff. Lead clinician, pain clinic, West Suffolk Hospital. Lucy Cavendish matriculated 1992; MB BChir 1997. Currently Deputy Co Chair of Medical Academic Staff Committee and Women in Academic Medicine and chair of Conference of Medical Academic Representatives at the BMA.
Rabia Nasimi is a PhD Candidate in Sociology. She graduated from the LSE in 2016 with an MSc in Sociology (Research). Whilst studying she has been extensively involved in running the ACAA (Afghanistan and Central Asian Association), a charity that was founded by her father Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi in 2001 to support refugee integration in the UK.
Ruth Cocksedge, Practitioner Psychologist, and Creative Writing MSt student, member of LCC.
Tamara Micner completed an M.Phil in French and Spanish at Lucy Cavendish in 2011. She lives in London (originally hailing from Canada), working as a theatre-maker, journalist and editor. She has identified as feminist since age 17.