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York University's refusal to recognise feminist society

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Societies are a celebrated feature of university life; alongside academic pursuits they offer a vital means of expression and inclusion. From the weird and wacky, such as Durham’s curiously named Assassins Society, to the politically motivated, societies provide a welcome opportunity to construct communities based on common interests.

Consequently, York University’s recent refusal to ratify a feminist society has left many students feeling frustrated, disappointed and most importantly, excluded.

FemSoc, which describes itself as a political group that aims to encourage discussion about “feminism and feminist issues in a welcoming, informal and inclusive group", have been told that they have yet again been unsuccessful in their calls for recognition as a society. The reason behind the refusal? An apparent failure to display "a unique need to become an exclusive society."

The union rejected FemSoc’s proposal amid fears of a "duplication of efforts" due to the existence of the already-established Women's Committee - a welfare committee and a branch of the union. However as argued by Helena Horton, a writer for York's student magazine The Yorker, these concerns are somewhat negated by the presence of both a LGBTQ Liberation and Welfare Committee and a LGBTQ social society. Yet according to the union (YUSU) these societies apparently posed no threat of duplicating interests, neither in fact did the two separate university newspapers, which cover “the same stories” according to Horton.

Moreover, a male student voiced reservations about the union’s suggestion to amalgamate the Women’s Committee and Femsoc, citing the exclusivity of the Women’s Committee whose very name seemingly restricts the gender of its membership, asking “where does that leave male feminists who want to support the movement?”

The ill thought-out rejection has left the one hundred plus students concerned without an instrument of collective expression, thus negating their presence and discounting their voice.

In response to the decision, Horton argued that there appeared to be “an ulterior motive at work here." However, I would argue that this decision does not necessarily represent a concerted effort to discourage feminist activity but rather it demonstrates a dismissal of its importance and simply regurgitates current mentalities that assign feminism very limited worth.

It is infuriating that self-proclaimed feminists are still forced to undergo interrogations about its relevance in the 21st century and that so many female celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, who have directly benefitted from the struggles of feminists before them, reject the label as something unattractive and anachronistic. This dismissive attitude can be summarised by Lady Gaga’s cavalier response to a question about whether she was a feminist: “No, I love men.”

However, we have recently seen a resurgence of feminist activity that has brought into being such ventures as The Everyday Sexism Project and Spotted: Sexism on Campus, which bemoans the lingering sexism ever present at university. When browsing other students’ experiences, what is most disturbing is the uncomfortable feeling of familiarity upon reading stories of unwelcome groping at the SU or belittling comments from lecturers and fellow students.

Yet although this revival of feminist sentiment shows great promise it needs to be fostered by universities in order to survive rather than being overlooked due to the uncomfortable truths it presents. Therefore in the case of these pioneering students of FemSoc, surely they should be celebrated instead of being dismissed? Furthermore, even if FemSoc did exist in addition to Women’s Committee, isn’t doubling efforts to banish the insipid spectre of sexism that still haunts academia a positive thing?

Sadly, the decision taken by YUSU seems to propagate a gaping silence rather than generating and encouraging debate. By only permitting one welfare committee to deal with both gender concerns and feminism’s political edge, YUSU is overlooking its students’ objectives and in perpetuating the reserve that surrounds gender inequality, showing passive complicity in the face of sexism.




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