Michael Gaffney looks at how the student movement is leading the new wave of feminism that’s sweeping the country.
And worst of all; banter.
In the last few months, these terms have all jumped to the forefront of campus affairs. All of a sudden, feminism is back at the top of the agenda.
‘Feminism’ is a word with a lot of loaded connotations. It shouldn’t be. It’s common sense. Anyone who believes in equal rights, anyone who isn’t a male supremacist, is a feminist. It’s just a question of practicing what you preach. Now, across the student movement, people are realising that we still need a major attitude shift before our educational establishments, our students’ unions and our society are genuinely fair and open to all.
The scale of this change is remarkable. It’s happening everywhere, from the lofty heights of NUS down to the grassroots of individual campuses.
The University of Nottingham Students’ Union is fast becoming a key part of this new wave, with their recently-formed UoN Feminists group already making a name for itself. Genie Pearce is one of the group’s founding members. As the first ever female editor of URN, the university’s award-winning student radio station, she’s exactly the sort of person whose ambitions and success could make you think nobody needs feminism anymore. But if you did, you’d be dead wrong.
She said: ‘University has surprisingly been one of the worst places I’ve been for sexism. I thought when I came to university it would be the most enlightened place in the world, but it’s just been the opposite. You’re exposed to more people with really small views, and because of social media, it’s always there in your face.’
For Genie, the student feminist movement is hugely important: ‘That’s because university is the stepping-stone to real life. This is the last point where you can mould someone’s life before they leave and have no-one to mould it for them.’
And that’s what this is all about. At university and college, we learn skills and behaviours that we take through the rest of our lives. If women at student-level don’t stand for positions, even if they might be the best candidate for a job, but perceive that a woman can’t stand or can’t win, then that will keep on happening forever. And that means we don’t make use of the talents of a full 50 per cent of the population. Everyone loses out from that bargain.
Now for some good news. Campaigns like No More Page Three are transforming attitudes and gifted young women across the country are now getting the support that is so important to challenging the unfair status quo. And the campaign to encourage women leaders that started on campuses like Nottingham University’s, is now being pushed at a national level by NUS.
NUS has launched a new programme called ‘I Will Lead The Way’, which pairs aspiring women leaders in the student movement with established women high-flyers, for mentoring, advice and support. With a roster of 101 mentors that includes the CEOs of UCAS, Stonewall and the Brightside Trust, there’s little doubt that the mentors will be a fantastic source of wisdom and inspiration for the next generation of women leaders they help to cultivate. There’s also been a major effort to ensure that disabled, black and LGBT women account for a substantial proportion of the mentors, so that they can provide specific insight to mentees from those groups.
This is all very promising, but these campaigns can only be as good as the people in them. I hope that women with ideas and ambitions take the chance to get involved with these great schemes, and men give this new wave of feminism the support it deserves. We all have to change our attitudes and actions to bring about a fairer society. We’re all feminists really, but it’s about time we started acting like it.
I’m from Manchester; well, Stockport really. I’m 22, and I’m studying for a Broadcast Journalism Masters at the University of Sheffield. Before that, I had a fantastic three years spending too little time studying Politics, and too much time making student radio, at the University of Nottingham.
I write on the theme of ‘students perspective’, because I’ve seen for myself the incredible things that students across the country are doing to challenge stereotypes and prejudice, to provoke meaningful political debate, and to transform the world around them. I want to tell their stories.
For our democracy to be genuine, we need to know about what’s happening in the world around us. I want to tell the world about how today’s agenda affects students, so that students can get their side of the argument across, and hopefully get a fairer deal as a result.
I also do freelance work in radio and write for a couple of football websites. You can find me on Twitter @M_W_Gaffney, where I talk far too much about Manchester City.