On 6th October the Feminist society ran a talk titled “Ask a Feminist”, so I decided to go to learn more about the ideology. The session ran as a controlled
Q&A with two questions from the audience contributing at the end of the session. While I initially raised my eyebrows at the “controlled” aspect of the session it quickly became apparent that this allowed the panel to explain their views and beliefs regarding core feminist beliefs and contemporary issues.
The event featured a range of speakers including Guild Student Officer Yasmin Gasimova and Tor Smith, Co-President of the LGBT+ society.
The talk began with a simple “Why do we need Feminism” question, where it became clear that feminism in modern Britain has evolved from fighting for legal equality to social equality.
A common theme among panelists was a belief in equality of opportunity and equity, but also their own experiences from life. Yasmin explained how she grew up with “internalised misogyny” which caused her to hate womanhood and the gender roles associated with being a woman. Feminism acted as liberation as it taught her how womanhood was a social construct and that she could define herself and her idea of womanhood for herself.
“What is Patriarchy?”” came up next. Patriarchy is the idea that social systems evoke male dominance over women, this is seen as a social construct which can be overcome. Tor responded to this with their explanation that “Men are seen as the only good thing”, this exclusive system creates division between everyone as the favoured group naturally attempts to maintain and enforce their bias and the unfavoured groups grow restless as a result of their oppression. Therefore, society is constantly at odds with itself.
The Rape Culture question was also tackled. Rape Culture is a Feminist theory that society encourages male sexual aggression and creates a blame culture around rape victims. The panel presented typical views about bringing the topic into the open and teaching boys to respect women and their right to consent from a young age.
One panelist, however, gave a unique answer. Jill Rudd, English professor at Liverpool University, spoke about how her ideal, rape culture free, society would view rape in a similar vein to assault: where blame culture doesn’t exist and internalisation isn’t innate but the responsibility is clear to all.
So far the questions were what I expected: outlining Feminist theory. However, we moved into deeper waters with talk of Intersectionality. Intersectionality looks at ways in which oppressive institutions are interconnected and overlap. Many on the panel described Feminism as naturally intersectional, it’s designed for everyone and its advocates must know and recognise their own bias.
Ngunan Adamu, the Producer and Presenter for BBC Radio Merseyside’s ‘Upfront Show’, spoke about how Women she has seen in non-western nations, such as Nigeria, live Feminism rather than speak it. She explained that she had witnessed strong women who were self reliant and but didn’t speak about it. She used this example to explain the point that Feminism is a global idea, but Feminists must not restrict their view to the west and “White Feminism”, something which intersectionationality acts to prevent.
The next question was one of privilege. “Check your Privilege!” has become a phrase used to mock Feminists in recent years, the idea behind the phrase is that you figuratively “look in the mirror” and recognise natural qualities which give you advantages in society. Olivia Graham, One of the 3 leading members of the Liverpool based ‘Grrrl Power’ troupe, expressed how people have to check themselves in a positive way. An interesting point she made was that “women only spaces are good” and feminists “should realise men don’t have that privilege”.
Finally, two contemporary issues were discussed. First, the modern emergence of naked selfies. Kim Kardashian was used an example due to the criticism she received for a naked selfie she put on Twitter. The feminists’ answer was quite simple and clear cut: it’s her body, it’s her choice. The panel spoke on female empowerment and how it’s wrong for people to criticise someone for celebrating their body. The point was made that Kim’s leaked sex tape was disseminated without her consent and no one bats an eye, but when she chooses to display her body everyone loses their minds.
“Have you experienced sexism in the workplace”. To which their was a resounding yes followed by anecdotes. One story that stuck out was Rachael O’Byrne, a labour Councillor for Liverpool, and a trustee of RASA Merseyside and an organiser of Reclaim the night Liverpool. Rachael explained how, when working at Stanley Park, she often dealt with members of the public overlooking her and asking questions to her subordinates. She views this as a structural inequality. She also added that whilst in her role at RASA she has had a positive experience, and that RASA take allegations of workplace sexism very seriously.
This was one of many stories from panelists regarding dismissal without cause from people outside of their work team. Criticisms were also made that sexism in the workplace is still not taken seriously, for example pregnancy potential can damage a woman’s employment chances based on nothing more than a potential future scenario.
I’m quite a sceptical person and went into this talk with an open mind. While I wasn’t convinced to take up arms and smash the Patriarchy, the feminist society put on an interesting event which has at the least convinced me to attend future talks. I recommend anyone, regardless of their ideological beliefs, to at least engage with this ever-important social movement: one thing I can guarantee is that the stereotype often associated with feminists will disappear.
This article was corrected in the 12th paragraph at the request of an individual involved in the article on 04/11/16.