Category Archives: News
Guest post by Alexandra Mills on what inspired her to start a feminist society in her school.
After reading about the experiences of a young feminist in an article entitled “What happened when I started a feminist society at school” I was inspired to do the same in my school. Although apprehensive at first, I knew that it was unlikely that I would receive the same level of abuse as the writer, so I had nothing to fear.
After meeting with the appropriate members of staff, I was told that although I could have total control over the society, a teacher needed to oversee it. I knew who to approach immediately and fortunately for The Pankhurst Society we now have two very supportive and enthusiastic teachers who have helped us every step of the way.
The Pankhurst Society meets weekly and discusses issues that affect us as young women in our society. I didn’t expect the girls who attended to necessarily call themselves feminists but I hoped to see a few people with an open mind, so initially the society was just an attempt to raise awareness in our school. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find keen feminists who fully support the movement.
Our first project was the ‘Who Needs Feminism?’ campaign, which we opened up to the whole school. We managed to receive some valuable contributions which have been posted on the school intranet for students and teachers to see. Secondly, The Pankhurst Society hosted a talk entitled “Modern Day Feminism” which was presented by Sophie from UK Feminista. What a great success! The talk was informative, captivating and inspiring. By clarifying what feminism really is and raising awareness of the issues we face as women and girls, the talk has sparked a hunger for equality among some of the students that was not previously there.
Finally, setting up a feminist society in my school has been one of my most rewarding ventures. Although it has been accompanied by a few negative responses, overall it has left me with no regrets. I would encourage others to also set up groups as every contribution to the feminist movement, no matter how humble, will aid its growth and hopefully, feminism will soon prevail!
Press release from UK Feminista and Object: For immediate release
Nuts magazine has announced it is to close as it’s been revealed that sales of the title plunged by a third after being pulled from Co-operative stores (1), following a successful campaign by feminist groups Object and UK Feminista calling on shops to ‘Lose the Lads’ Mags’ (2). The announcement comes just two months after Front magazine announced its closure, a fellow lads’ mag that was also pulled from the Co-operative (3).
The Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign was launched in May 2013 after lawyers revealed that shops selling lads’ mags could be sued by staff and customers under sex discrimination legislation (4). Since then thousands of people have signed petitions and attended protests calling on high street retailers to end the sale of lads’ mags. In September 2013 this resulted in lads’ mags being pulled from Co-operative stores and Tesco age-restricting their sale (5).
Since it was launched in 2004 Nuts magazine has come under repeated criticism from feminist groups for promoting sexism and fueling attitudes underpinning violence against women (6).
Sophie Bennett, Acting Director of UK Feminista, said:
“Nuts has spent ten years lining supermarket shelves with images portraying women as dehumanized sex objects. Yet we know that sexist, pornographic lads’ mags promote attitudes underpinning violence against women. They normalize the deeply harmful idea that it’s acceptable to treat women as a sum of body parts. But women have had enough of being dehumanised and objectifed. It was people-power that led to the Co-op ditching lads’ mags from its stores. The message is clear: sexist lads’ mags are well past their sell-by date.”
Beti Baraki, spokesperson for Object, said:
“Lads mags such as Nuts portray women as nothing but sex objects that exist to gratify male sexual fantasies, normalising and reinforcing the sexist belief that women’s primary contribution to society is as objects to be looked at. Lads mags normalises and legitimises attitudes of contempt for women which are associated with violence against women and girls. The placements of lads mags in everyday spaces, their influence over teenage boys and their normalisation of the dehumanisation of women is of grave concern considering we are living in a society in which one in three women will face male violence in her lifetime. We will continue campaigning until all everyday shops and retailers lose the lads mags and customers are no longer exposed to harmful images that objectify women.”
To request interviews please call 07775 855037 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
(2) UK Feminista supports women and men to take action for gender equality. Formed in 2010, the organisation has rapidly become one of the UK’s leading feminist organisations and a powerful mobilising force. www.ukfeminista.org.uk. Object is an award-winning human rights organisation that campaigns against the sexual objectification of women and girls in the media and popular culture. www.object.org.uk.
UK Feminista and Object are coordinating the Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign calling on retailers to stop stocking pornographic lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo: www.losetheladsmags.org.uk
(6) The American Psychological Association (APA) report that viewing media which portrays women as sex objects leads people to become significantly more accepting of gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence and rape myths: http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx
The Government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People Review found: “<lads’ mags> promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression, depicting women as sex objects and including articles that feature strategies for manipulating women.”…“The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm.” http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100418065544/http:/homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people.html
Post by Rosie Mockett, UK Feminista Schools Support Co-ordinator
There’s a common theme running through a lot of the new, exciting feminist groups springing up around the country: they come together because they are having experiences of sexism within the school gates.
Many organisations have been saying for years that schools are not the safe haven they are meant to be, and that sexual bullying and harassment are regular features in a girls’ school experience. Over the summer, UK Feminista launched the ‘Schools Against Sexism’ Pledge and Petition to enable supporters to take action. So now it’s time for all the passionate pupils, teachers and activists to come together to stand up against sexism and make gender equality a priority.
“Since about Year 7 sexual harassment at schools is the norm for the majority of girls. As people grow up it is easy to see how it gets more harmful – it might start as a joke but progresses to serious harassment and can get really unpleasant. However I think the main problem is that it normalises sexualising women without their consent, meaning boys are more inclined to not take ‘no’ for an answer in sexual situations.” Patience, Schools Against Sexism Petition
The Schools Against Sexism Pledge is for head teachers to sign and this commits them to supporting girls and women who are experiencing sexism and violence, to teaching equality, consent and respect and to developing policy on gender equality and girls’ safety, and demonstrating this commitment publicly.
Students, parents, teachers and the general public can motivate head teachers by signing the petition to ask UK schools to tackle sexism, or they can take action in their own schools and raise the issue with their head teachers themselves.
“The Mary Alys Trust supports this important petition which should help schools take a step toward eradicating sexism not just in school but in society. If boys and girls are developing unhealthy attitudes whilst in school, reinforcing the status quo, sexism will prevail and violence against women will not diminish. Congratulations to all the school head teachers taking this action.” Lorraine, Schools Against Sexism Petition
Since the petition has gone live, we have received so many uplifting and emotional messages of support. Some lament the fact that this campaign has to exist, because it seems so obvious that girls should never have to worry about being groped during the school day. Most are thankful for the campaign, because sexism in schools is an issue that has gone largely unnoticed.
But it is the hard work of school feminist groups, individuals and national organisations which can make this a priority for schools across the UK. We know that we need feminism is schools, so let’s make it happen!
“Feminism needs to be in schools because it forms part of the language surrounding inequality. It helps people to see, conceive and articulate that an unequal world exists and, importantly, can be challenged. That feeling, that even in an imperfect world we can attempt to be part of something better, should be fundamental to any education system.” Sal, Schools Against Sexism Petition
“Feminism belongs in schools because school is one of the spaces where young people are meant to become the critical thinkers of the future. I don’t want a world where “bank” learning occurs, I want to see a world where critical consciousness-raising and intellectual thought and expression is nurtured and encouraged.” Kerry, Schools Against Sexism Petition
Why do you think we need feminism in schools?
Guest Post by Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya, School Student
I’ve been noticing lately the way the school curriculum teaches girls to fulfill conventional roles. There seems to be a striking difference between some of the core subjects taught to girls in higher and lower ability streamed classes. This became noticeable at my own all-girls school, which always asserts its somewhat feminist ethos.
As my year of students were beginning to choose our GCSE subjects last year, we were told which subjects were compulsory for GCSE level and which were optional. The compulsory subjects included English, Maths, Science, and one foreign language. However, some of the girls in the lower ability streams were advised not to take a language from year 10 as they would find it too challenging. This would have been fair enough, if they had been offered an equally useful and interesting subject as an alternative; however, the only subject offered in place of a language was a course in Beauty and Make-Up. This both limits the opportunities of these girls in the future, as well as reinforces the social pressures on them to conform to ideals about beauty and feel that applying make-up, etc. is an important life skill. This is especially dangerous given the way that girls are already bombarded with messages from the media telling them their appearance is not good enough, and 1 in 3 girls considers having cosmetic surgery (1).
The Science course which students in the higher ability classes study consists of three subjects – Chemistry, Physics and Biology, all studied in equal depth. However, the lower ability classes’ course consists of little or no Physics – I guess it’s still often considered a ‘boys’ subject’ – and contains only half of the Higher Science course; the rest is replaced by a course on Child Development. Again, this limits their options and pushes them towards a caring profession. These jobs tend to be very low-paid and are very often done by women, and this is reinforced by teaching this course to a younger generation of girls.
These girls have just as many of their own talents as anyone else, even if they are not academic-based, which they are not being encouraged to develop by the curriculum at the moment.
Whilst some people may choose to study Child Development or Beauty, it seems extremely unfair that these gender-stereotyped subjects should be made compulsory for some girls, while students in higher streams are studying courses which will give them considerably more opportunities later. I am also interested to find out what alternative is on offer for boys if they struggle academically? Are their main options limited to domestic or beauty related work, or are there other subjects provided for them which they can gain more from?
It would be great if as many schools as possible sign the ‘Schools against Sexism’ pledge, and as part of teaching gender equality, schools should make sure the curriculum itself is not pushing girls into the roles they are expected to play in a sexist society.
The Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, lead by UK Feminista and Object, is calling on Tesco to stop selling sexist, pornographic lads’ mags.
Make your voice heard!
- If you’re based in London, come to Tesco’s AGM on Friday 28th June and ask shareholders to urge Tesco to #losetheladsmags! Click here for details.
- Tweet Tesco’s shareholders now via the Lose’ the Lads Mags website.
For more details about the campaign visit www.losetheladsmags.org.uk
Press release from UK Feminista and Object
Contact: Kat Banyard 07775 855037 / email@example.com; Sophie Bennett 07450 429814 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Website: www.losetheladsmags.org.uk (live from 27/5/13)
Top lawyers tell high-street shops to ‘lose the lads’ mags’
Supermarkets and newsagents open to legal action from staff and customers
A group of Britain’s top lawyers have joined forces with UK Feminista and Object (1) to warn supermarkets and newsagents to ‘lose the lads’ mags’ – or risk possible legal action. In an open letter (2) set to have dramatic implications for retailers and the lads’ mags industry as a whole, lawyers reveal that shops selling and displaying lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images are vulnerable to legal action from both staff and customers. The revelation comes as UK Feminista and Object announce a national campaign targeting major retailers over their continued sale of lads mags (3).
New legal advice obtained by campaigners (4) reveals that displaying and selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images can constitute sexual harassment or sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Employees could take action on this basis and, where the magazine is visibly on display, customers could also have a claim.
The scale of legal exposure for British retailers is extensive. Lads Mags are sold in all major high-street supermarkets. The ‘big four’ supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – together operate over 5000 UK stores and employ approximately 782,000 people in the UK (5). WH Smith, another major lads mag retailer, operates over 1200 stores which are visited by over 73% of the UK population every year (6).
There is legal precedence of women working in other industries successfully suing their employers after being exposed to pornography at work. UK Feminista and Object have obtained reports from women working in retail that they object to stocking, handling, looking at and selling lads’ mags and newspapers with pornographic images on the front page:
- A female employee in a south London branch of one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets said: “It’s ridiculous that they sell these magazines… these magazines definitely affect how men treat women and say disturbing things on how to satisfy women and pressures on the men.”
- A woman working in a north London supermarket said:“I’d prefer them not to be sold where I work. It displays the wrong image towards customers.”
- A woman, 45, shopping in a south London branch of Tesco said:”Tesco make enough money- they don’t need to sell this stuff. Magazines like this should not be in a supermarket and Tesco should know better than to sell them.”
Kat Banyard, Director of UK Feminista, said:
“Lads mags aren’t just a bit of harmless fun. By portraying women as sex objects they fuel sexist attitudes and behaviours. It is a national scandal that the ‘big four’ supermarkets and high-street shops like WH Smiths stock these sexist publications. By selling lads mags, companies like Tesco and WH Smith are normalising the idea that it is acceptable to treat women like sex objects. The good news is that customers and employees don’t have to put up with it any more. Legally as well as ethically, lads’ mags are well past their sell by date. The writing’s on the wall for retailers: lose the lads’ mags or you could end up in court.”
Sophie Bennett, Campaigns Officer for Object, said:
“Lads’ mags dehumanise and objectify women, promoting harmful attitudes that underpin discrimination and violence against women and girls. Reducing women to sex objects sends out an incredibly dangerous message that women are constantly sexually available and displaying these publications in everyday spaces normalises this sexism. It is unacceptable that major retailers continue to expose staff and customers to such sexist and degrading material. It’s time we saw an end to Lads’ mags in shops and the very real harms to women that result!”
Anna Mazzola, an associate at Bindmans LLP, said:
“The problem with this material is that people cannot avoid being confronted with it, whether they are customers who rely on the shops where it is sold, children accompanying them, or the employees obliged to sell it. The companies that own those shops should be aware that their legal position is precarious – making employees handle and sell these magazines will, in some circumstances, amount to unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment.”
For more information and to request interviews please contact Kat Banyard (UK Feminista) on 07775 855037 / email@example.com or Sophie Bennett (Object) on 07450 429814 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
1. UK Feminista supports women and men to take action for gender equality. Formed in 2010, the organisation has rapidly become one of the UK’s leading feminist organisations and a powerful mobilising force. www.ukfeminista.org.uk
Object is an award-winning human rights organisation that campaigns against the sexual objectification of women and girls in the media and popular culture. www.object.org.uk
2. The full letter text is published in the Guardian on 27/5/13. It is signed by Aileen McColgan, Matrix Chambers; Sarah Ricca, Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors; Mike Schwarz, Bindmans; Harriet Wistrich, Birnberg Peirce & Partners; Anna Mazzola, Bindmans; Helen Mountfield, Matrix Chambers; Elizabeth Prochaska, Matrix Chambers; Tamsin Allen, Bindmans; Gwendolen Morgan, Bindmans; Salima Budhani, Bindmans; Nathalie Lieven QC, Landmark Chambers; Samantha Mangwana, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP; Julie Morris, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP; and Emma Hawksworth, Slater & Gordon (UK) LLP.
3. The ‘Lose the Lads’ Mags’ campaign, launched today, calls on retailers to stop selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images. The campaign will see activists targeting major retailers of lads’ mags over the coming months. The campaign is set to announce its first target within the next week. www.losetheladsmags.org.uk, #losetheladsmags
The biggest selling lads mags include:
- Nuts: first published in 2004, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 80186 http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/mag-abcs-digital-success-balances-print-decline-mens-health-and-t3
- Zoo: first published in 2004, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 44068
- FHM: first published in 1985 as ‘For Him’, circulation figure for second half of 2012 – 114677
- Loaded: first published in 1994, circulation figure for second half of 2011 – 34,505 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/feb/16/knocked-out-loaded-mag-sales-drop
4. Legal advice provided to UK Feminista and Object by Aileen McColgan, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, states:
“The display of pornography and “lads mags” is capable of amounting to sexual harassment as defined by the Equality Act 2010: “unwanted conduct … of a sexual nature” that has … the “effect [even if not the purpose] of violating [a worker’s] dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her [or him]”….. Requiring employees to work with pornographic material may amount to indirect discrimination connected with sex, and/or with religion or belief (including a belief in gender equality).”
“…unwanted exposure to pornographic material, whether in the capacity of worker or customer, is capable of giving rise to a legal claim under the Equality Act. This is because workers and those who access goods and services (including by visiting a shop) are protected under the Equality Act in respect not only from sex discrimination but also from sexual harassment which consists of “unwanted conduct” which is either “related to sex” or which is “of a sexual nature”, which conduct…”has the purpose or effect of violating [the complainant's] dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for [the complainant]“. The provision of the Act which applies in respect of customers is s29 which provides: “(3) A service-provider must not, in relation to the provision of the service, harass… (b) a person to whom the service-provider provides the service”.”
A summary of the legal advice relating to the sale and display of lads mags, provided by Aileen McColgan – Matrix Chambers, is available on request: email@example.com
5. Number of employees and UK stores operated by the ‘big four’ supermarkets:
- Tesco: 3146 stores, over 300,000 employees (http://www.tescoplc.com/index.asp?pageid=8&panel=1#panel1)
- Asda: over 400 stores, nearly 200,000 employees (http://www.asda.jobs/stores/about-our-stores/)
- Sainsbury’s: over 1000 stores, 150,000 employees (http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/about-us/)
- Morrisons: over 500 stores (http://www.morrisons-corporate.com/About-us/Our-Stores/), 132,000 employees (http://www.morrisons-corporate.com/About-us/Company-history/)
Top lawyers tell high-street shops to ‘lose the lads’ mags’
Tell us about your passions, priorities and needs in our online survey
What feminist activities are you most inspired by? What do you want to campaign on? And what kind of support do you need to organise for a world without sexism?
We want to hear from feminists across the UK about the exciting things you’re doing and how we can help you do them. We’ve developed a short online survey and would love you to take part.
And if you complete it by Friday 7 June you’ll be entered into a draw to win a UK Feminista t-shirt and bag!
The independent Review into the Regulation of Cosmetic Surgery chaired by NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh published its final report this week with a strong call for the Government to legislate to protect patient safety. The report makes a range of important recommendations to Government to regulate the ‘cowboy’ cosmetic surgery industry, estimated to be worth £3.6 billion by 2015, including tackling advertising.
However, the recommendations do not go far enough to curb the reckless advertising of cosmetic surgery which UK Feminista wants to see totally prohibited. See UK Feminista’s Kat Banyard making the case here on Newsnight on the day the report was released (from 30mins in).
Cosmetic surgery advertising fuels and exploits poor body image for profit; trivialises the health risks of invasive surgery; and normalises cosmetic surgery as a solution to body anxiety. Read more about the harms of this advertising in our report ‘Cut it Out: End cosmetic surgery advertising’.
The Review report recommendations include that:
- A new Royal College of Surgeon’s Interspeciality Committee on Cosmetic Surgery should be set up to set standards for cosmetic surgery practice and training.
- All those performing cosmetic interventions must be registered.
- Legislation should be introduced to classify fillers as a prescription-only medical device.
- A breast implant registry should be established within the next 12 months and extended to other cosmetic devices as soon as possible.
- Existing advertising recommendations and restrictions should be updated and better enforced.
- The use of financial inducements and time-limited deals to promote cosmetic interventions should be prohibited to avoid inappropriate influencing of vulnerable consumers.
Whilst the two recommendations for new regulations on advertising acknowledge the inadequacy of the current system to prioritise public health, they are insufficient and not proportionate to the harm caused by cosmetic surgery advertising. The Review has missed an opportunity to call for the prohibition of this advertising. Evidence shows that the cosmetic surgery industry has continually flouted existing guidelines. In 2009, the consumer rights group Which? found the industry to be in breach of even the general principle of the advertising code, that “All marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society”.
There is also an important inconsistency of approach in the report whereby the measures recommended would result in tougher regulation of advertising for non-invasive injectable procedures (dermal fillers) than for invasive cosmetic surgery procedures. The report calls for ‘injectables’ to be classified as prescription-only devices and as such they could not be advertised yet advertising of invasive surgery would continue to be permitted. UK Feminista calls again for the Government to prohibit all cosmetic surgery advertising.
 Which? (2009, June) Consultation response. The CAP Code Review: The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, p18. Retrieved from http://www.which.co.uk/documents/pdf/cap-code-review-asa-which-response-180892.pdf
A new generation of ‘suffragettes’ are to be trained up as part of ‘Generation F’ – a groundbreaking new project from UK Feminista (1) supporting young people to take action for women’s equality. The launch of ‘Generation F: young feminists in action’ (2) on Thursday at Southbank Centre’s (3) WOW – Women of the World festival (4) at the WOW Education Summit (5), will kick off a national two-year programme of workshops and campaigns in schools and colleges empowering young people to reclaim the ‘f word’ and speak out against sexism.
‘Generation F’ has been launched in response to a growing body of evidence exposing the scale of sexism and inequality faced by girls today:
• 1 in 3 teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a boyfriend (6)
• 1 in 3 young women experiences sexual bullying in school on a daily basis (7)
• 1 in 5 young men worry that porn is influencing their behaviour (8)
• 1 in 3 girls would consider having cosmetic surgery (9)
• Nearly a third (31%) of boys believe female politicians are not as good as male politicians (10)
The project will empower young people to tackle gender inequality through a series of workshops in schools and colleges on feminism and how to run campaigns. It will also support pupils to raise awareness amongst their classmates and pressure their schools to take action to end violence against girls in the classroom.
Kat Banyard, Director of UK Feminista, said:
“Girls today are growing up in a world where many legal rights won by previous generations either haven’t translated into reality or are under attack. Equal pay and freedom from violence remain abstract pledges, while the Government’s austerity agenda is turning the clock back on women’s equality and undermining girls’ ability to realise their potential in life. Today’s generation of girls also face a uniquely toxic culture of beauty ideals and sexual objectification. Generation F will help them fight back and build a future free from sexism. It will offer young people vital opportunities to learn about the relevance of feminism today and equip them with the skills to take forward the struggle for gender equality.”
Tania Shew, a member of the Camden School for Girls Feminist Society (11), said:
“Feminism is particularly important for young women as however hard we work at school the odds are stacked against us being as successful as our male peers in the future. Feminism is important because it recognises the everyday things (like wolf-whistling), whilst striving to change the big things (like the representation of women in politics). This outlook is reflected in some of our recent campaigns such as when we made ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirts and sold them at school, raising awareness in the local community and funds for the international community.”
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kat Banyard, Director of UK Feminista: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0207 061 6220 / 07775 855037
NOTES TO EDITORS
1) UK Feminista supports women and men to take action for gender equality. Established in 2010, UK Feminista is a leading voice for feminism in the UK. www.ukfeminista.org.uk
2) ‘Generation F’ will support young people to take action for gender equality through a programme of workshops and resources. The workshops are aimed at students aged 14-18 years old. Schools and colleges can request a workshop by emailing email@example.com
3) Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21-acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain.
4) WOW – Women of the World (Wednesday 6 – Sunday 10 March 2013) is an annual festival set up by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly. Now in its third year, WOW 2013 will celebrate women’s achievements and provide a platform to discuss the challenges women face across the world, and will again take over the Southbank Centre site for five days. http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world
5) ‘Generation F’ is being launched on 7/3/13 at Southbank Centre’s WOW Education Summit, a day of talks, discussion, performances and workshops for up to 300 school girls and their teachers, as part of Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World festival.
7) Womankind Worldwide: http://www.womankind.org.uk/what-we-do/our-impact/legacy/#edproj
10) Moving Forward, Standing Still, Primary Research, The State of the World’s Girls, Plan 2011
11) Tania Shew is a member of the advisory group for Generation F. Tania has blogged about her feminist group’s successful campaign to get their local Tesco store to stop selling ‘lads mags’: http://ukfeminista.org.uk/2013/02/school-feminist-society-takes-on-tesco-and-wins/
Guest post by Saoirse Ni Cheallaigh, founder of ‘The Equality Revolution’ feminist society at Fortismere School.
From as far back as I can remember, I recall questioning the adults around me about why men and women were not equal. From flustering my primary school teachers about why God was never called a woman, to not understanding why girls had to play with Barbies and boys with cars. And if a five year old can tell something is off, it’s probably fairly significant. However, I did not identify as a feminist until I was 15 years old and I began to read feminist literature. It opened my eyes to all of the things I took as ‘the way things are’ and made me question my own beliefs. I was not taking off the rose-tinted glasses so much as putting on glasses for the first time and suddenly seeing clearly – something was very wrong.
I talked about feminist issues with my friends at school but recognised that the word ‘feminist’ was often met with exclamations of “Oh God no, I’m not a feminist!” or a derisive laugh. Even teachers and other adults I looked up to didn’t seem to get it. I was perplexed by the lack of action. All around me I could see people being treated differently just because of their gender, but no one seemed to be doing anything. So I decided to take matters into my own hands – I decided to set up a feminist society.
At first it was a casual meeting between eight or ten people, meeting every four weeks or so, but since then membership has grown to more than twenty students, with more approaching me with an interest every week. The process was quite simple – I asked the religious studies department if I could use a room to hold the meetings and they welcomed us to use it. I put posters around the school inviting sixth formers to come, came armed with tea bags and biscuits and off we went.
Our meetings normally consist of some discussion about issues in the school, what we would like to do as a group before opening out into a wider debate about an issue. I often set a topic, which could be anything from “Can a feminist sex industry exist?” to “Do we live in a rape culture?” The questions are usually phrased to incite as much debate as possible and we often talk for more than the planned hour about it. This is by far the most popular part of our meetings as it allows our members to explore and develop their personal opinions. After much discussion we chose to call ourselves “The Equality Revolution.” Two of our members had seen Caitlin Moran give a talk and spoke to them about our group. She suggested that we name our group “The Revolution” as it embodies the power and importance of the issue. We decided to change it slightly to the “The Equality Revolution” as we were keen to be as open as our intentions as possible and felt it embodied our philosophy of gender equality for everyone, not just women as many other students had assumed.
We are currently working on several projects that we hope will involve a greater circle of people. We recently gave an assembly about International Women’s Day for students aged 11-16 and plan to raise money for the charity The Girl Effect. We chose this charity as we felt that it best described what we were all about – helping girls and women to gain equality with the understanding that this helps everyone, not only women. We had several younger students express an interest in the group and are beginning to work towards a shorter, more accessible meeting for the younger students once every two weeks. This will hopefully be implemented by Easter this year.
My experiences with the feminist society have been nothing but positive and fun, and I would massively encourage anyone who was contemplating setting up their own group to take that step. The organisation of the group can be time consuming but the results are more than worth it.