Feminism: why Oxford? Why now?

Student Life

I think that university is a period of your life during which you figure out who you are. And I think that’s good. That’s what it’s supposed to be for (also it is for getting a degree but potato potato). What are your goals and ambitions? Where do you stand on IMPORTANT WORLD ISSUES? And how exactly do you feel about red wine? These are the kinds of crucial, life-defining questions that our three or four years of Higher Education will hopefully, eventually, help us all to answer.

One of the awakenings that happens for most of us during this phase of our lives is political. Just by virtue of being thrown into a big ol’ melting pot of different cultural backgrounds, upbringings and ways of looking at the world, we’re exposed at university to a political diversity that we probably won’t have experienced before. But at Oxford that’s especially complex: more than other institutions, Oxford is marked out by its traditional conservatism despite the forward-looking attitudes of many that occupy it. The uneasy political tension between the place and a lot of the people in it makes it more difficult for us students to figure out our opinions: we’re forced to ask, “is it possible to follow and enjoy all of Oxford’s arguably antiquated traditions whilst also considering ourselves politically progressive?”.

That very question is why the growing feminist movement at Oxford is so special: it’s a truly great time to be a feminist in this city and at this University. We are surrounded by a ton of feminist activism which, rather than endorsing tired Oxford clichés and ‘traditions’ (I’m looking at you, The Black Cygnets, and I am shaking my damn head), uses  the unique quirks of our fair institution to its advantage. Consider, for example, the genius of Cuntry Living’s meteoric rise to notoriety last academic year, owed largely to the support gathered for the concept through the power of JCR motions. Though the Junior Common Room system isn’t unique to Oxford, it is still a significant and basic level of this University’s political infrastructure, and by taking their cause to the grass roots, Cuntry Living used an Oxford tradition to create something that was not – is not – traditional at all. It is by means such as this that an institution like Oxford gradually develops a more progressive and accepting atmosphere: for proof, check out Teddy Hall JCR’s recent decisions to stop buying The Sun and to ban ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke (aka the most famous man to look as if he’s actually an estate agent from Swindon) from bops.

And they’re not the only JCR or college to take decidedly feminist action: there are now four colleges with their own feminist or gender equality discussion groups (kudos to you, Wadham, St. Anne’s, Christ Church and Mansfield xoxo), with many more believed to be in the pipeline. A number of colleges included information sessions on sexual consent as a compulsory part of Freshers’ Week. On top of that, there’s also all of the overarching work done by the OUSU Women’s Campaign and its various working groups – 7th Week marks the beginning of WomCam’s annual Gender Equality Festival, which will see a number of fun, inclusive events, as well as the launch of a confessional-based zine, loosely centred around the concept of ‘Taboos’.

These are all signs that despite its conservative exterior, Oxford is taking a step in the right direction. Right now, this an extremely hospitable environment for fruitful discussion and action with regards to feminism – as evidenced by the recent, almost universal, condemnation of the Pembroke college rugby team’s “Free Pussy” scandal. This is symptomatic, firstly, of a feminist resurgence within UK university culture as a whole, and secondly, of Oxford’s progression in areas concerning oppressed groups in general.

Though it will always remain a difficult environment, and will always retain its traditions, movements like Oxford feminism continue to bring this University up to speed, in the hope that maybe someday, it might just become a place wherein it’s a bit easier to figure yourself out, and to understand where you, well, stand.

PHOTO/Oxford Women’s Campaign


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