An idiot’s guide to university feminism


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An idiot’s guide to university feminism

‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression’

Over the past couple of years feminism has seen a massive resurgence, especially on university campuses. More and more unis are starting FemSocs, holding discussions, and encouraging debate around the topic. We’ve made so many changes to the way our universities are run, and we’re not ready to stop any time soon.

With all this progress inevitably comes critique. I went to Royal Holloway, where last year I was the president of the Feminism Society. Royal Holloway is actually a very political uni – there are more people than I thought who were willing to get involved with, or slag off, feminism.

Having had an insight into the world of student politics, it pained me to see people sharing articles and making comments about feminists, having never been to a single meeting or actually spoken to any of us – implying that we’re all basically running around crying if anyone says anything remotely offensive, signing up for counselling sessions just because someone wore an offensive Halloween costume.

This isn’t the case. There are lots of topics people LOVE to bring up and basically completely scoff at when they talk about student feminism, so I’m just gonna address these for a sec.

Trigger warnings

“I’m triggered” is a phrase you can’t ignore online. I can’t tell if people are doing this in a self-mocking way, or if they’re just doing it to take the piss out of the concept of trigger warnings. I honestly don’t understand why people are getting so het up about this. Does it really impact your life that much seeing a trigger warning, or having to remember to maybe include one if you’re talking about something potentially sensitive?

What strikes me as interesting is that most of the people that love to laugh or complain about trigger warnings are usually people who have never experienced anything that could be potentially “triggering” in their entire lives. It makes me so angry seeing rich white dudes laughing and being like “ooh I’m so triggered!” when, yeah, of course, you can sit there on your high horse and laugh because you’ve probably never experienced anything “trigger” worthy, and have no idea how that would even feel.

If trigger warnings are helpful for some people then why should we laugh at them? If me putting a little note just to say ‘this is going to talk quite graphically about rape, so if that’s upsetting, scroll on’ is going to keep a rape survivor from reading something potentially extremely upsetting for them, then why not? If it’s helping someone’s happiness and mental health, let’s just be respectful about it. It’s not causing that much of a difference in your everyday life.

Safe spaces

People tend to get the wrong idea when we talk about safe spaces. Just because they exist, where we may not talk about potentially upsetting things if someone in the room isn’t OK with it, that doesn’t mean we’re saying we can’t talk about them at all. Safe spaces, most of the time, are basically just saying ‘don’t be a dick’. When you’re in a safe space, you know that everyone there is there to support you, and be respectful. So if someone is a dick to you, they have to leave. That’s all it is really. You’re not going to get kicked out just for disagreeing with someone – only if you do it in a harmful way.

A lot of people seem to think that safe spaces = censorship. This isn’t the case. Free speech is free speech, and the only type of speech that feminists aren’t giving a voice to is hate speech. Not allowing Germaine Greer to talk at the University of Cardiff was a decision that was made because it would have been harmful to trans students. Given that Greer is a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), giving her a platform to speak would basically have been the same as saying ‘we’re not going to acknowledge the feelings of trans students’.

We shouldn’t completely stop certain topics being talked about (because that really is censorship), but we should warn people in advance just in case they don’t want to hear it. It’s like trigger warnings, but in real life. It’s not difficult to send out an email before a class that talks about a touchy subject saying ‘look, we’re going to be discussing this, so if you’re not OK with that, don’t come’. 

It’s not wrapping all students up in cotton wool, it’s just making sure the more vulnerable ones can live their lives safely and happily.

Offensive costumes

People love to get really upset over the fact that some people might get offended by their costumes. I’ve seen memes and articles about ‘how not to offend someone in 2016’ as if it’s a minefield. “It’s political correctness gone mad!” It’s not. Just don’t be an asshole? It’s really not that difficult. We’re not being dramatic, we’re just saying… don’t be rude? 

We need to stop labelling people who just want to be respectful as people who are “oppressing you” because white boys are finally having to learn that other people, of other cultures, exist on this planet, and some people actually have suffered from institutional oppression, so their “hilarious costumes” or jokes might just touch someone’s nerve?

Boo-hoo, you feel oppressed because someone’s annoyed at you for dressing like a KKK member on Halloween? Take that feeling of slight inconvenience, multiply that by a thousand, and you might reach the level of annoyance that minorities feel their entire lives. We shouldn’t scoff at people who are just trying to be decent.

The whole ‘not clapping’ thing at NUS Conference

The two main reasons that the NUS decided to do waving instead of clapping was to a) make it more accessible for deaf students, and b) to save time, because then speakers wouldn’t have to wait for applause to die down before moving on to the next point.

Look, I know some people take things too far.

I know some people are seriously extra, I get it, and I’ve experienced it.

But most student feminists are actually just really kind and down to earth, respectful people. We’re not about to start a hate campaign against you just because you forgot to use a trigger warning. Sure, it would be great if you could remember next time, but we’re not gonna bite your head off. We’re not running around the students union wailing because someone wore a sombrero to a Freshers club night. Don’t give yourself that much credit.

And next time you want to write a huge rant because someone got offended at something you did, maybe take a step back and think about why they were offended, and actually consider things from their perspective. If they were just being ridiculous, then please, if you’re going to get angry, don’t include every single student feminist/liberal in your argument. Cos we’re mostly just decent people who are simply trying to make university a nice experience for everyone.

I leave you with this quote: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.”