The number of young women openly calling themselves feminists is, in my experience, constantly increasing.
In the four years between me starting university and now, the attitude of a large number of student women has shifted dramatically, for the better, but there is an exceptional way to go yet.
Feminist is a word that has been positively banded around in pop culture outlets solidly for the last year or two. When celebrities are interviewed for magazines, television shows and newspapers, “are you a feminist?” will often be asked, and the answer is usually yes. Beyonce recently performed at the MTV Video Music Awards with “FEMINIST” emblazoned on the stage behind her, with extracts of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism and expectations for girls playing in the background.
Whilst I am critical of specific aspects of “celebrity feminism”, there is no doubt that putting the concept on the radar of so many young people is a good thing.
On a more specific level, feminist societies and women’s groups in universities are reflective of the liberal ideologies of “celebrity feminists”. Whilst I don’t think this is conscious, and in fact, lots of fem-socs are highly critical of them, and rightly so (for example, Lena Dunham’s erasure of women of colour in her very popular television series ‘Girls’), but the spike in popularity among both celebrities and young women, hand in hand with the lack of political substance, is interesting nonetheless.
In some cases, people assume having a feminist society in itself is incredibly radical and left-wing, forgetting that right-wingers have also been known to identify as that. And that assumption leads to the obliteration of the link to class struggle. There is another debate to be had about what it means for student activists to call themselves left-wing. Fem-socs are seen as “friendly” spaces, where debate can often be shut down on the basis that political disagreements lead to “unsafe people or spaces”.
At this year’s National Union of Students Women’s conference, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts Women produced a political bulletin, highly critical of both the NUS and its women’s campaign. We were told that “Trot behaviour” is reserved for national conference only, and that by handing out our bulletin we were breaking the idea of women’s conference being a “safe space”. Why spend your time “Trotting” when you could be telling some right-wingers how inspiring they are for setting up a fem-soc, eh? Leave the bulletins to the men.
Debate shapes our politics. How are we expected to grow and develop if we can neither convince people of our own arguments or be prepared to think about other people’s ideas?
The film ‘Pride’ solidified some thoughts I had on the radicalisation of liberation societies, both in universities and more generally.
Encouraging people to take part in specific campaigns, like the miners’ strike, or today, the Focus E15 campaign, forces people to see the link between how the government and the media scapegoats and demonises different oppressed groups in a similar way, reinforcing the idea of the class struggle being an intersectional one.
No socialism without women’s liberation, and vice versa.