Cambridge doesn’t need Feminism because…

KATE ERIN takes a sideways glance at the phenomenon that is Cambridge Feminism

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A few days ago, the Newcastle Tab ran a delightful little piece entitled ‘Newcastle DOESN’T need feminism because…’. The article consisted of a couple of words, a spattering of full-stops and the occasional comma. It’s good for a quick laugh – at the expense of a few brain cells – but it’s not a debate worth really engaging with.

With that said, the comments on the article are on fire. Among the usual internet trolls, extremists and casual spam, I found something I hadn’t seen for a while – reasonable people posting feminist statements that didn’t seek to attack, to isolate or to invalidate anyone. What?!

Well, we won’t be having that in Cambridge. No siree.

In Newcastle, students march to reclaim the night from interminable winter

I do not for a second deny that there are brilliant feminist campaigns and discussion groups in Cambridge. However, on the whole, the brand of feminism I (and most of those I talk to) have experienced is an aggressive and elitist one. Tools such as sarcasm are used as weapons, placards upon which a meaningful message could be conveyed are instead adorned with the words “fuck off”, and a powerful group of dynamic, passionate, intelligent women are sidelined from a movement that is the purview of us all. And that is quite frankly nothing short of a travesty.

We live in an institution in which feminism is sadly very much still a necessity, and the battles of the Cambridge feminist campaigns are overwhelmingly in aid of achingly important issues.

But these aggressive, dogmatic tactics are not the way forward. The level upon which gender discrimination acts in Cambridge is deeply rooted in social context. It is not just subtle, it is subliminal, and it’s determined by exposure and upbringing.  We are now past the point at which loud noises and aggressive language gets results.

Nor is isolating one gender the way forward. Like most students I divide my time on the internet somewhat equally between Youtube, 2048 and Facebook. Of late, I’ve noticed a trend on my news feed for issues concerning equality, and in particular feminism.

Hang on! That’s a MAN

The process goes something like this: An interesting article is posted. This gets shared/liked/discussed rationally. Maybe someone disagrees with someone else but its all OK because ultimately, we’re both on the same side. Everything is happydappy UNTIL someone of the male gender (boooooooo-hisssssss) happens to disagree. I watch on, a silent bystander, as male commenters (who often seem polite, well informed and interested) are lambasted by sarcastic put downs, accusations of white male privilege and OVERUSE OF THE CAPS LOCK KEY. I found out the other day that there are whole online discussion groups that men are quite simply banned from even posting on.

But it’s not just online. I was lucky enough to attend the Women’s dinner at my college last term. It was an amazing experience, showcasing musicians, academic speakers, and even a poet. Throughout the night, though, one thing came up time and time again. This term ‘safe space’. Safe from who, I thought. Safe from men?! Right, this sounds problematic.

Of course, it is absolutely appalling that we live in a society in which some women do not feel safe in the company of men. But what does this idea of women-only ‘safe spaces’ actually contribute. I’m pretty sure all it really does is reiterate the gender myth: man ≠ woman therefore we must treat them differently. Something doesn’t sound quite right there…

The Queen and her (mainly) men

No. Isolating men is not the answer.

Refusing to acknowledge men as a part of a feminist world view is not only ludicrous but actually dangerous. Like it or not (and rest assured, I don’t), the white, male, middle class politicians of tomorrow will inevitably come, at least in part, from this university. And if these young men, who have probably never given feminist issues any thought, are rejected from the conversation at this stage, I don’t even want to imagine what their resulting policies will be. I hate to say this, but feminism at Cambridge is too important an issue to fuck up.

We need to implement change by positively engaging with issues, not shouting at people. Conversation needs to be nurtured in an environment where everyone can have a say, not just those who’ve been feminists the longest. Some discussion groups I’ve been to do this wonderfully, but they are in no doubt a minority.

The Cambridge feminist movement needs a wake-up call. Gender equality, by its very nature, is an issue for everyone, female, male, transgender, agender. And we can’t afford to lose sight of that.

So stop hogging all the fun.