Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘education’

“What does a Feminist Society even do?”

Short answer: a lot. 

I got this question loads when I first told people that I was going to run a feminist society. I still get asked and I’ve already presented a third of my planned sessions (we finish next March). You might be wondering too – or, potentially, you want to run your own feminist group and don’t know what to talk about!

A point in my previous article about running a feminist society was that you should start by deciding what type of group you want to be. This is true of all good collectives – you should have an ultimate goal. Our group’s goal is simply to broaden our horizons as much as possible and to discover, together, what feminism means in today’s global society. Sometimes, that means we have to look back at the work of our foremothers, examining how they shaped the feminist movement we know and love, as well as acknowledging their failings and faults. Other times, it means that we must consider what our personal activism has to look like in order to create the future we want and need. We are a group rooted in the past, the present and the future.

But that might not be what you want. The feminist society you envision might not have many debates or discussions (like mine does – we do talk a lot!). It might be an action group, in which you organise protests, demonstrations, fundraisers and awareness events. That’s important and valid too, and you might like to incorporate those things even if yours will be a discussion group. For example, in honour of International Women’s Day next year, we’re planning to raise money for a women’s shelter and organise a showing of a feminist film in our college’s lecture theatre.

Another concern I’ve seen in forums and message boards is this: how do I come up with ideas for my sessions? A challenge indeed! I got started early, as soon as I was given the go-ahead to run the club. Sessions started in September, but I had planned all my allotted sessions by the end of June. This is definitely advisable; it gives you ample time to research (and design any PowerPoint presentations you might want!).

For our debates, I tried to stick to a “theme” for each half-term. The first half-term has been all about the history of the women’s movement and its foundations, as well as exploring intersectionality and diversity. We discussed the “waves” system, separatist and cultural strains of feminism (i.e. womanism, chicanisma), TERFs and early radical feminism. That made sense to me – it meant that everyone was on the same level and had the same grounding in feminist history. Our second set of sessions will focus more on politics and human rights, and how feminism supports and intersects with these.

Pro-tip: Google a ton of human rights awareness days and create your discussions based on these! There’s International Women’s Day (8th March), International Men’s Day (19th November), International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November), Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May), Human Rights Day (10th December) and many, many more! If there’s an existing day of recognition, you’ll usually find it easier to discover resources online. IWD has an official website with downloadable information and activities, as do many of the others in the previous list.

You might also want to shake it up and show documentaries in your sessions (if you have access to a computer, screen and projector). Documentaries can be a fantastic way to engage your group in challenging discussions, especially if they are a little bit quiet to start with! It gives them (and you!) something to respond to, rather than forcing you to come up with an amazing point under pressure! If you want to incorporate this, YouTube is your best friend. I already had a few documentaries that I desperately wanted to show, but it’s quick and easy to type “feminist documentary” into YouTube if you need ideas. I’d recommend watching them first though!!! (There will soon be a “resources” page in the top-right corner of my blog, where I’ll link to documentaries we’ve shown/will show in the group.) You could also play music from feminist artists – we’re going to have a session on the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Maybe you could try craft activities, like handmade zines or posters.

Really, the best thing you can do is ask. What issues are your members passionate about? What do they want to talk about? What do they want to learn?

That’s all my advice for today, folks! Best of luck if you’re researching for and planning a feminist group. If not, why not? ūüėČ

Please like and share if you enjoyed this post!

How To Run A Feminist Society

I’m running a feminist society at college this year (we’ve got just over 20 members), and I wanted to share some tips. When I was researching over the summer and planning our sessions, I couldn’t find a lot of information – so I decided to gather together my own advice (plus some Drag Race¬†gifs)¬†for other people!

  1. Plan, plan, plan!

This is a general tip, really, for anyone who wants to start a club or society. It’s worth starting early – if I hadn’t got started in advance, I might not have got into contact with my fab co-leader. Obviously, the nature of feminism is very collaborative and opinion-based, so I knew the direction of our sessions would be dependent on the group, rather than on my plan! But you can never be¬†too¬†prepared and it’s worth keeping your notes and ideas in one place, whether that’s a file on your computer or a physical folder. A particularly important point is to decide what type of group your society will be. Ours is very much a discussion group, but you might want your society to be more action-based (i.e. your meetings will essentially be for planning protests, etc.).

Planning at least some of your meetings will also help with creating posters and promoting your feminist society.

rpdr-awkwaard

Then you won’t go blank when people ask what it’s all about!

2. Promote the hell out of your society!

If you’re running your feminist society as an after-school club or as an enrichment activity (like me), then your school or college will usually have open events, booklets/leaflets and display boards to help you advertise your group. Make sure you take advantage of these! My college has an enrichment sign-up at the start of term, and every society has a table¬†in the hall where students come to register with us. I made a sign to stick on the front of our stall, printed off plenty of¬†funky feminist stickers and brought some chocolate along too. You don’t have to go¬†quite¬†that far, but it’s important to think about how best to sell your society.

Social media also played a huge role in the success of the group. As soon as I knew the society was going ahead, I posted on Facebook and invited my peers along. I got a great response.¬†Our¬†group is primarily targeted at Year 12s (students aged 16 – 17, if you’re not from the UK!), but about a third of our members are Year 13s (my year group – 17 – 18). I kept people up to date with proceedings by posting statuses on Facebook throughout the planning process, and it worked out really well.

latrice-pow-like-that

And, just like that, you have a gazillion members.

3. Be prepared to learn from your new members!

As the leader/president/mob boss, it’s your job to facilitate discussions, debates and activities. In some cases, you will have to be the expert. But often, you’ll learn a¬†major¬†amount from the people in your group if you ensure they’re heard. Make sure your group is an open platform and¬†give them the chance to be the expert too.

In fact, it’s worth making this clear in your very first session. My co-leader and I used the introductory session to help our members get to grips with how things were going to work, and one of the things we highlighted was that they should feel free to call us out on anything problematic or anything they disagreed with. Our logic was that if they felt confident enough to challenge us, then our debates would be more effective and open.

drag race - reaction gif

It’s actually a good thing if they make this face, okayyy.

4. Change it up!

Do something different in every single session! The way I’ve gone about this is to alternate between watching documentaries or short films and debating. Essentially, we never have two debates in a row. This might sound odd for a feminist society, but, believe me, it’s especially helpful in your first few sessions when everyone is still getting to know one another. This might surprise you, but sometimes even feminists are shy and quiet, and consecutive sessions of awkward silence quickly sets an uncomfortable tone for your group. Watching a video (followed by a discussion) gives them a break and lets them socialise, whilst still engaging them in a challenging theme, and it’s a fantastic way of letting them bond organically.

rpdr-yaaas-gawd

5. Do. Not. Let. Anything. Stop. You.

This is the¬†most important point. Starting your own society, on any topic and for any interest, is hugely challenging but so, so, so rewarding. There were lots of times during the planning process when I wanted to give up. People told me I wouldn’t get any members; people told me to prepare for the worst.

I sat at my desk on the day of the sign-up and, to start with, no-one came over. That was terrifying. The club next to me had a huge queue and I felt like all eyes were on me, sat there with no takers. During those few minutes, I wanted to run off and cry in the toilets and give up on the whole thing, like everyone told me I should.

But I sat there, resolutely, with my stickers and a big smile and then, gradually, people started to sign up. To my surprise, whole groups of students walked over and all of them signed up. That made me so happy Рthe idea that entire groups of friends had seen my little poster and decided to join together.

katya-snap-fingers

Take that, everyone who said I wouldn’t have any members.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful! A lot of this applies to all sorts of clubs and societies, so I’ll be writing a separate article shortly to¬†recommend some useful resources and provide a few ideas for activities.¬†

Please consider liking and sharing! Start your own FemSoc today!

Agathon and the Women: Effeminacy and Femininity

There is a definite prejudice towards men who use femininity as part of their palate; their emotional palate, their physical palate. Is that changing? I’m not talking frilly-laced pink things or Hello Kitty stuff. I’m talking about goddess energy, intuition and feelings. That is still under attack, and it has gotten worse.

– RuPaul

I want to talk to you about Agathon.

Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet and playwright, who lived from (roughly) 448BCE to 400BCE. None of his own works have survived in their entirety – we know of six titles and we have 31 textual fragments – although he appears as a character in Plato’s¬†Symposium¬†and in Aristophanes’¬†Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria). Neither of these depictions are very flattering.¬†He appears in the first act of¬†Thesmophoriazusae. In the play, the tragedian Euripides is accused of misogyny, and the women of Athens have had it up to¬†here¬†with him. At the Thesmophoria, a women-only festival, they plot their revenge. Euripides plans to have Agathon – a man notorious for dressing as a woman and for his submissive sexual exploits – infiltrate the festival for him (although this doesn’t work out and Euripides’ relative Mnesilochus goes instead).

Agathon is mocked pretty ruthlessly throughout his appearance in the play, although you could argue that he gives as good as he gets; honestly, I wish he was in the play more. He’s heavily coded by the narrative as gay, he dresses as a woman (for writing purposes) and it’s implied that he works as a prostitute, but it’s the latter two of these qualities that seem to qualify him for mockery. Nobody would have had a problem with him being gay; the Greeks didn’t really have a concept of homosexual or heterosexual. You were either dominant (penetrator) or you were submissive (penetrated). Agathon falls into that second category – the category reserved for pubescent boys and women.

The reason I bring up Agathon (aside from his general brilliance) is because he exemplifies how masculinity and femininity intersected in ancient times, and there’s a lot we can learn from his portrayal about how the ancients – and how¬†we – approach femininity and also what we might call¬†effeminacy. Homophobia and sexism are both social justice issues. We don’t necessarily lump them in together or deal with them in the same way, but I often find that people who are passionate about fighting one of those causes feel some affinity for the other too. I also think many homophobic stereotypes and cliches which accompany depictions of gay men¬†in media have their roots in misogyny and anti-femininity. That’s not to say the LGBT+ rights movement¬†owes¬†anything at all to feminists or to straight, cis women, but I do think there are some similarities to be acknowledged.

I’ve often argued that plenty of men’s issues are a direct result of our society’s demonisation of femininity. Men don’t have the opportunity to access domestic violence services and, even when they do, they don’t feel as though they can and still retain their masculinity. There’s a high suicide rate among young males, another result of constant social pressure to conform. This is when masculinity becomes toxic, something men have to labour under all their lives rather than something they settle into comfortably.

Perhaps this contributes to homophobia, particularly to femmephobia (discrimination towards feminine-presenting individuals, something that is perpetrated by gay men too, not just heterosexuals). Perhaps this insecurity manifests as resentment towards men who confidently, comfortably inhabit the space (a gap which is rapidly closing) between masculinity and femininity.

You might have seen an¬†image that did the rounds on the internet recently, of a man wearing a “No fats, no fems” shirt.

no fats no fems

Yeah, okay, it’s a hella cute shirt. Yeah, it was meant to be ironic. But it highlights a massive problem in the gay community, this idea that “twinks” – feminine gay men – are letting the side down and giving in to stereotyping. In a way, it contributes to both homophobia and misogyny in one fell swoop. You can read a gay man’s perspective on “anti-campness” here, from¬†Guardian¬†columnist Owen Jones. In the article, Owen states: “This anti-camp hostility partly comes from a desire to conform to traditional gender roles, which gay men have already subverted whether they want to or not.”¬†It’s all part of “internalised homophobia”, in which gay men (and gay women!) perpetuate harmful stereotypes out of fear and insecurity. However, this is steadily improving. I quoted RuPaul earlier. He’s a prime example; his series¬†RuPaul’s Drag Race¬†has been a smash hit with eight seasons (and two seasons of its spin-off All Stars)¬†under its belt. As drag has entered the mainstream consciousness – via the accessible “talent show” format that RPDR employs – so has the idea that mixing masculine and feminine gender expression is totally acceptable.

On a broader level – beyond just the gay community – I think we’d solve a lot of men’s issues far more quickly if we stopped enforcing this idea that feelings¬†= femininity = weakness. Even now, being called “a girl” is a grave insult for many boys and men.

Feminists have always had a complicated relationship with both masculinity and femininity.¬†When feminists critique¬†masculinity, generally what they¬†mean is more along the lines of¬†machismo¬†– a word of Spanish origin that denotes hypersexual manhood, denigration of women and adherence to a strict set of “masculine” traits. Men also put up with some pretty hellish expectations regarding their bodies and their lives.¬†I – and most other feminists I know – give a whoop and a cheer when a plus size man is hailed as a modelling icon or when the internet’s latest sweetheart is “unconventionally attractive” (whatever that even¬†means).

Owen Jones – I know, him again! – also wrote a piece for¬†New Statesman¬†about masculinity. I used a quote from that particular post¬†in my Quotes series. He wrote in that article: “…the point is this. Being a man is not static: it can change and be redefined.” I think that’s the crucial thing. The more we encourage people, especially young people, to see masculinity and femininity as fluid, the better our society as a whole will be. The pressure to conform to a rigid gender role can be so damaging and dehumanising, and it causes a massive disconnect between a young person’s inner identity and their outward expression. Imagine a world without that self-sabotage.

Really, we should see gender as a painter’s palette. Blend. Experiment. Why use just one colour for the masterpiece that is your life?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from¬†Thesmophoriazusae, spoken by Agathon. He has a lot of good dialogue in the play, but, after studying the play for my AS Level, this line stuck with me. I think it’s apt for what I do.

What you write depends so much on what you are.

People I mentioned/cited:

Owen Jones, How To Be A Man, New Statesman (x)

Owen Jones,¬†What Alan Carr Taught Me About Gay Men’s Homophobia,¬†The Guardian¬†(x)

RuPaul, RuPaul speaks about society and the state of drag as performance art, WikiNews (x)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, Section 2 (x)

A little more about Agathon:

Agathon is credited with being an innovator in the world of Greek tragedy. Athenian plays were almost always based upon mythology, although they occasionally had their origins in history. Agathon is thought to have been the first playwright to have written an entirely original play,¬†Anthos¬†(“Flower”). The reason we know about him – aside from his roles in¬†Symposium¬†and¬†Thesmophoriazusae – is because he won at the Lenaean Festival in 417BC. Greek playwrights competed at these festivals, showcasing their latest works, and it was a great honour to be awarded first place. I was especially surprised to learn that, as, in¬†Thesmophoriazusae, Aristophanes depicts him as being an incompetent writer.

For more about him, go here, here and here. You can find PDFs of Thesmophoriazusae online, although a published translation is generally a better bet (we used this edition at college).

#WhatIReallyReallyWant

Global Goals have produced this AMAZING video, championing activism around the world for¬†the rights of women and girls. Featuring the iconic “girl power” anthem¬†Wannabe¬†by the Spice Girls, it is promoting a campaign to show the United Nations what we really, really want – equality for women. Using the hashtag #whatireallyreallywant, you can help to provide Global Goals with material to present to the UN. You can find out more here.

Why OCG is the real OG

If you haven’t witnessed the spectacular work of Orange Coat Girl, you really should. There isn’t a copy of the video on YouTube, aside from one published on Milo Yiannopoulos’ channel which you can find here. The clip of her starts at 00:09 and ends at 00:39. I hate to give him any more views than he has (because his politics are gross), so you can also¬†access the video on¬†Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.

In the video, Orange Coat Girl, a student of UCLA, has taken down posters which read¬†“Feminism is cancer”, followed by an image of Milo Yiannopoulos’ face. She is carrying the posters, presumably to dispose of them. She is pursued by an aggressive anti-feminist – another student who had previously put these posters up – who yells at her and films the encounter. To her credit, OCG remains totally calm and dignified throughout, despite the other student calling her “cancerous to society”. Honestly, the student filming sounds completely desperate, demanding to know why OCG removed the posters and insisting that OCG nearly assaulted her when she reached past her to take down a poster.

I don’t know the full story; perhaps OCG was more hostile when she initially removed the images. But she was well within her rights to do so, as has been pointed out – material of that nature is against the university’s regulations. OCG herself called the posters “hateful” and “illegally posted”.

As of 3rd June, a clip posted by @itsfeminism on Instagram has been viewed 13, 565 times. Another I saw on Facebook, posted by BRUHH, has been seen 8, 545 times. Orange Coat Girl herself (who you can find on Twitter as @orangecoatgirl) has 9, 393 followers, and it’s still¬†trending. Little gestures of rebellion like this are great. They foster a much better, safer, fairer environment and they clear the path for more activism.

From Orange Coat Girl:

Just goes to show that you have a voice, no matter how small you believe it to be!

ocg

Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!

Before I start:¬†I’m aware that not everyone who menstruates is a woman, and not every woman menstruates. If I have referred to women menstruating in this article, it is because the statistic or scenario I have mentioned specifies that. I’m sorry if that’s uncomfortable or even triggering to anyone, but I wanted to report this accurately and fairly.

Since 2013, people around the world have begun to celebrate MH Day! Last year, 33 countries ran national campaigns, and the movement is growing. The aim of the event is to promote good menstrual hygiene and to reduce stigma surrounding periods. It focuses on¬†menstrual hygiene management¬†(MHM), which is defined by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF as: “the articulation, awareness, information and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using safe hygienic materials, together with adequate water and spaces for washing, bathing and disposal with privacy.” UNESCO later added further factors, including “informed and comfortable professionals”, “referral and access to health services”, “positive social norms” and “advocacy and policy”.

It’s a sad fact that globally there’s a severe deficit in terms of¬†access to menstrual products. In a lot of less economically developed countries, girls often have to miss school during their periods because they simply don’t have the materials to manage it. A study by the international development organisation SNV¬†in 2014 found that girls in rural Uganda missed up to 8 days of school every term, amounting to 11% of their school attendance. This, and similar situations in other places, account for the drastic number of girls who drop out of school. I think it’s awful that anyone¬†should have to forfeit their education for something that could be so easily managed. Even in countries like my own (UK), women from low income backgrounds and especially homeless women face the same struggle. There’s no standard practice of distributing menstrual products in food banks and it’s easy to forget just how expensive these products are until you consider the quantity we buy over our lifetime.

Furthermore, in many places menstruation is surrounded by social stigma. We see some evidence of it here: we whisper about it,¬†we invent new and creative ways to describe it without¬†actually saying the word “period”. Goddess forbid a cis man should ever be made to touch even an unused¬†menstrual product! We really shouldn’t fear or dread periods. I’m not saying we should jump for joy when it arrives, but it’s downright silly to demonise a natural process.

I’d like to share the story of one man – yes, a man! – who set out on a journey to improve menstrual hygiene for the women in his local and national community.

Meet India’s Menstruation Man, Muruga:

^ He’s literally my fave. He sacrificed such a lot and worked so hard in order to make life that little bit easier and less painful every month for the women around him, and that’s truly admirable. Thank you, Muruga.

It’s my firm belief that, frankly, menstrual products ought to be as easily available as condoms. You can get condoms for free at any family planning clinic in the UK, as far as I’m aware, and they’re available discreetly and – again! – for free at my college. Condoms are, of course, wonderful things, but everybody who menstruates¬†is guaranteed to¬†require¬†sanitary products throughout their lifetime. They should be free or at least not have an extra tax attached (which is their current status – it’s called the pink tax). Get on it, MPs.

Thank you for reading! Please like and share this to raise awareness! If you write your own post, make a vlog or otherwise celebrate the day, feel free to link it in a comment – I’d love to see it! To find out more, go to this link (for the official website!). I also adore Period Positive on Tumblr – check them out here.

Chibok – 2 years on

Although there has been some confusion as to the¬†identity of the second girl, it has been reported that two of the 219 abducted schoolgirls of Chibok, Nigeria have been found by the Nigerian army. The first girl,¬†Amina Ali Nkeki, has been reunited – along with her child – with her parents and recently met the Nigerian president.¬†I say “confusion” because, whilst the second schoolgirl, Serah Luka, was a student at the school, she was actually kidnapped from her home. There’s some dispute among Chibok campaigners regarding the exact number of hostages who have been rescued by the army.

You can read more about it at BBC News. An important point was raised by their Africa security correspondent Tomi Oladipo: “…¬†army records show (the Nigerian army) freed 11,595 people between February and April this year. That has barely been publicised… unlike the schoolgirls whose disappearance raised concern around the world.¬†As important as the Chibok girls are, it appears their fate is being used as a measure of success in the fight against Boko Haram.”

The campaign for the return of Chibok’s girls has garnered the support of human rights activist Malala Yousafzai and even the First Lady of the US Michelle Obama.

I’m so pleased that they’re finally home, safe and well. I can only hope that more hostages are found and freed. It has been two years since the abduction of the girls and, still, 218 girls remain missing in the hands of terrorist group Boko Haram. Love and light and solidarity, sisters, always.

More information: (x) (x) (x)