Society Spotlight: Feminist Society

MAINSTREAM media declared last year the Year of the Woman. Led by strong and often contentious pop stars, Beyoncé’s feminist rallying cry of an album lead the charge, featuring an extended clip from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech. The reality, of course, is that gender equality has been a much longer and more complicated struggle, and feminism is not a passing fad; something Aber FemSoc understands. Since their founding they’ve amassed over a hundred members, have recently requested sanitary products be sold at cost price in the SU shop, and show no signs of slowing down. We spoke to some of their members about themselves:

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So FemSoc is an up-and-coming society, can you tell me a bit more about what you hope to do?

Lu Egan, Intersectionality Officer: Make things nice for people forever, ideally!

Charley Weatherill, President: Our main aim for this year is to get made official and become a strong and coherent group. The number of people who are getting involved is extremely exciting and bodes really well for the future.

Do you have any meetings or socials? What happens at these?

Charley: We alternate meetings and socials on Thursday nights, that way we see quite a lot of each other but it’s not too heavy! The meetings tend to have a theme, for example consent, and we also share any news we have and ideas for campaigns. The socials are just socials, although with an added no-sexist-nonsense flavour, ‘natch. Our side project is the Bechdel Film Afternoons, every other Friday at four, where we watch a film that passes the Bechdel Test (meaning two named female characters talk about something other than a man for thirty seconds) and then discuss it afterwards from a feminist perspective. Everyone welcome!

Feminism is often a misunderstood cause, and one that can attract a lot of intolerance, how do you as a society hope to deal with this?

Charley: By existing! A lot of the people who ‘misunderstand’ feminism just don’t know anything about it. We’re a group who are working to do good things that should benefit everyone. I think people will see that, and hopefully become more interested in and open to the ideas we stand for.

Do you hope your society will take active steps in promoting equality at the university, or will you focus more on educating students in gender matters?

Charley: Both. One without the other would be a lost opportunity. We want to mend certain things we can see are troubling within the university, but if we aren’t helping people understand how inequality is pervasive in society then we won’t really have achieved or changed anything.

Would you say Aberystwyth, both as a university and a student town, is a tolerant and equal place for women to study?

Anna Josie, Vice President: It’s different for everybody. There is a definite lack of female lecturers here. I recently found out, for example, there are more Professors at Aber Uni called Michael than there are women professors. Some larger departments, like CompSci, are mainly men, but others, like English, are more female. I study InterPol, which is massively male dominated. It can be hard to make your voice heard in a room full of SHOUTY MEN. There are services available for women to turn to, such as the Student Wellness Centre, and our current Women’s Officer. But there are bloody loads of women here, and it’s great.

Charley: Compared to other places I have lived, I have found Aberystwyth quite a challenging place to be a woman. For whatever reason, I have encountered more ingrained sexism and more negativity to the idea of feminism here than I knew existed in our generation. I have also found my course to be quite male dominated. It’s not all bad though, and I think sometimes just having the confidence to point at sexism and say ‘NOT OKAY’ is often enough to start to dislodge it. And that’s where FemSoc comes in.

Feminism is often closely linked and supportive of LGBTQ issues – will the society be involved in this agenda too?

Lu: Yeah! Absolutely, it’s something we’re trying to emphasise and have had a few meetings on the relationship between issues like that. We’ve even got an officer in charge of making sure we keep LGBTQ+ people included in our campaigns/ideology. Intersectionality is really important to us, and we try and hear the voices of people from a whole range of backgrounds, people who have been marginalised and oppressed for whatever reason. We’re here to try and help everyone who needs it really, whether that’s support and a place to vent, or more activism and campaigns and stuff.

A lot of students, male and female, actively dismiss feminism or say they are not feminists. What is your message to these students?

Anna: You probably are a feminist, you’re just afraid of the word. Do you believe in the social, economic and political equality of all genders? Then yep, you’re a feminist. Most people who claim not to be feminists just don’t understand what we’re about. We don’t hate men, we don’t want women to rule the world; we want equality. What’s so hard to understand?

Charley: I can understand people being worried about getting involved with an activist group, especially one that gets quite a lot of bad press but I would hope that people would at least agree with our values, even if they’re not sure about the word. We’re feminists because we think structural inequality that places people in a hierarchy based upon their gender is damaging for everyone, even the people at the top. Feminism isn’t something to be intimidated by, it’s empowering. Don’t dismiss us, talk to us and find out what we’re about.

How can students get involved in FemSoc?

Anna: It’s really easy. They can like our Facebook page; just search for ‘Aberystwyth University Feminist Society.’ On this page, we share articles, photos and stories. We also have our meetings every other Thursday in the Cwrt Mawr Communal Block on campus. The meetings are fun; there’s no pressure to talk if you don’t want to. Then on alternate Thursdays we have socials, 9pm in Rummers. Drink gin and dance. Alternate Fridays (the ones after the socials) we hold our Bechdel film nights. We’re a dead friendly group, and we welcome new members of any gender, age and background. You don’t have to be a student, and yes, of course, men can come.

Finally, any upcoming events or plans for the society?

Charley: So many. After our success getting the Union Shop to sell sanitary products at cost price, we’re feeling really positive about future campaigns. Anyone who has ideas should come to a meeting and get themselves some helpers. We’re also organising monthly talks from professors on various subjects which we hope lots of people (feminist-identifying or not!) will come to. There’s so much knowledge in this university, it would be a great shame not to tap into it.