Features | Feminism on Campus

Think you’ve been unaffected by feminism? Think again. Following last year’s ‘I need feminism because’ campaign and the ban of the Blurred Lines song in the Union, Freya Potter explains why it has been a very successful year for feminist students in Leeds.

Once again Freshers up and down the country were complaining about their experiences of sexism on their new campuses. The debate over the ‘banning’ of Blurred Lines was a hot topic on our own campus, reminding us that 68 per cent of women students experience sexual harassment while at university. However, wherever there is misogyny and sexism you will also find a lot of very angry and vocal feminists, and Leeds University Union is no exception. Leeds has always been a centre for feminist action and debate. Positive policies in ourUnion and University are gradually breaking down inaccessibility and discrimination and there’s a myriad of active groups organising events, campaigns and artistic feminist media all over the campus and city.

Feminist orientated societies in our Union are growing in strength every year, in addition to the well established Feminist Society, smaller unofficial groups are also organising exciting events and campaigns. In February ‘I need feminism because…’ campaigns swept the country, proving to sceptics that the student feminist movement was far from finished. Last week over 180 new students sighed up to the Feminist Society who are planning campaigns on Body Image, Sex Education in schools, Sexual Harassment and Women in Higher Education. But importantly these aren’t the only student led feminist groups on campus. Last week the newly formed Women of Colour Network held their first successful meeting and the fledgling Women for Women International society are already planning speaker events, performances and film screenings to raise awareness and funds to support women’s groups in countries experiencing conflict. Other groups of student feminists are campaigning for Pro-Choice education and policies (Leeds Pro-choice Advocacy Group) and against domestic violence (Domestic Violence: Break the Silence!) Despite certain trendy media feminists dismissing the phrase as too highbrow, ensuring that feminist activism in Leeds is ‘intersectional’ happily seems to be a priority, with collaborations between FemSoc and the LGBT society lined up and the Union’s program of events for Black History Month including a debate on one of the most important questions mainstream feminist movements need to ask themselves- ‘Is Feminism too White?’

Achieving equal representation is a key aim of feminism and thankfully our Union has a managed to maintain a fairly
respectable record over the last few years without the help of a quota system. Although certain positions within the Union Executive are strongholds for male students, over the past six years we’ve had three gender balanced Executives and for a Union without an established women’s officer this is reassuring. This paper is also in its third consecutive year under a female editor and in a country where the majority of national papers are still written and edited by men this is a notable achievement.

Partly because of the work of women student leaders over the years, and certainly because of pressure from student feminist groups, the Union has a number of policies concerned with protecting students from discrimination and harassment. The Safe Spaces and Zero Tolerance policies alongside Trans awareness training for staff and students confirm that the

Union’s priority is to prevent assault and harassment and undermine the culture that promotes it as acceptable. The decision not to sell lads mags on campus may outrage stalwart defenders of free speech but respects the right of women students not to feel sexually objectified within the building. In addition to plans to celebrate International Women’s Day, the Equality and Diversity officer is working on a scheme to support student parents, hopefully breaking down a barrier that limits many young women from higher education.

Progress limited to the Union; the University is following suit with initiatives to increase accessibility such as implementing Gender Neutral toilets in every building. As well as grassroots activism and policy changes, academic feminism also has a significant presence on our campus. The Brotherton Library is home to the Feminist Archive North, a treasure trove of Feminist material and artefacts available to Undergraduates. Although gender studies is still outside mainstream programs of study, students can take advantage of lecture courses on feminist politics, philosophy and history among others.

The resurgent feminist movement goes beyond our campus too; Ladyfest Leeds is a feminist festival with comedy, talks and music on the October 19, and feminists from both the Leeds Community and our University will be marching to Reclaim the Night on November 16. Despite understandable worries from the NUS and members of our student community about a growing misogynistic university culture, feminists are fighting against it harder than ever and there’s more than enough reasons to be an optimistic Feminist on campus this year.


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Did you know? 

  • LS is in its fourth consecutive year under a female editor.
  • Over the past sixyears we’ve had three gender balancedExecutives. Lads’ mags are no longer sold on campus.
  • The University is following in the Union’s footsteps in an initiative to implement Gender Neutral toilets in every building.
  • Last week, 180 students signed up to FemSoc.

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