Interview with DU Feminism Society



At Durham University, Feminism Society began four years ago. According to Laura Tidd, President of DU Feminism Society, the society’s creation had been “a long time in the running” and the road to it was bumpy, due to what she refers to as the “traditional atmosphere of Durham”, the fact that the University is mainly run by “old, white men”, made it reluctant to accept such a “liberal” society. Nevertheless she does not think that feminism is “the opposite of traditional, conservative beliefs”, which she identifies Durham as having.   What really is the problem, she believes, is the “quiet atmosphere” which does not allow politically-active people free roam to express their views.

Durham is also not exclusive to such aversions. In Newcastle University, Laura claims the Feminism society “made a bit of noise and themselves known” after a variety of protests and demonstrations, including the ever-controversial Slut Walk.

Despite all this, Laura believes that students need DUFemSoc as a “safe space in which to express their opinions and they can be heard, and they can be validated. We are not going to be alienated or ostracized for our views.”

The idea behind it is that “DUFemSoc is an intersectional feminist space and we run a safe-space policy. Everybody is welcome, and I mean, everybody. What will not be tolerated is anybody who says anything that is going to offend or marginalize someone on person. We can ask you to leave if you repeatedly say something transphobic, racist, sexist, or homophobic. We want to create a space where people are free from that and they don’t have to hide who they are, for fear of people not understanding.”

On proposing that such a policy may stifle debate or infringe on free speech, Laura responds that this is a “vile misunderstanding” of what free speech actually is. Laws of free speech, she points out, are meant to protect citizens from the government stifling their opinions, not “the ability to freely use hate-speech”.  Although their safe space policy has been violated previously in meetings, there is yet to be an instance which has resulted in a ban.

DUFemSoc is most consistently a space for engendering discussion; however there are a range of other activities in which the society engages. They occasionally host panel discussions, as the one on feminist pornography last year, and also look for members to present their ideas at the General meetings to decide on campaigns for the year.

“We don’t want this to be a theoretical discussion group. We want to get out into the community and help.” First on the agenda for this year is the Take Back the Night campaign when feminists and allies host a march in the street to try and claim back their safety on the streets at night. Laura considers this to be a very pertinent issue to Durham due to all the previous problems with street lighting and river safety.

“We try to get everybody involved.” Although the campaign is run and organized by FemSoc, the issue could affect anybody. “You shouldn’t have to feel that your life is being put in danger just by being alone.” The focal point of the protest is that regardless of how much an individual has been drinking or what they are wearing they should be able to just be safe.

Another big issue that Laura wants DUFemSoc to get their hands on is the “pervasive sports culture” at the University, which has over the years “fallen into the hideous trap that is lad culture”. The consequences have been that “misogyny, transphobia and homophobia have come back into fashion”. These forms of prejudice have flourished under the excuse of being “banter, a word that is rarely used to describe any positive communication”, speech that comes “at the expense of someone else”.

DUFemSoc wants to eliminate the possibility of feeling threatened by “a group of sports players when they’re out at night”, as Laura claims one of the DUFemSoc’s exec had recently suffered from this type of harassment. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the University does not “go out of their way to help one society that felt that it was being treated unfairly in the wider university community”. Problems like this are, more often than not, left within the wider student body to deal with.

On backlash that DUFemSoc has received, Laura says that the most recent incident has been an article within The Tab on an “imagined war” they had fabricated between the society and the newly-formed Male Human Rights Society. “They were trying to pit us against each other as working for entirely different causes”, says Laura, and upon asking the writer in the section of the article, she only invited a further negative response. On the criticism riled at DUFemSoc for neglecting to help the Male Human Rights Society fundraise for a charity aiding the homeless, Laura is disappointed that DUFemSoc was the sole society isolated in this way. “It was irrelevant and inappropriate to bring up DUFemSoc in that article. It seems they wanted to provoke an argument that really wasn’t there.”

Laura denies outright that the issue could have anything to do with feminists’ dislike of meninists. “Meninism was a satire that was badly latched onto on Twitter. We have to separate the idea of what’s going on in wider social media and what we are actually trying to act on in real life.” Laura has spoken to the president of the Male Human Rights Society and concedes that they “have a lot of ideas in common”.

Looking further into the future, Laura wants for DUFemSoc to stay in touch with other North East feminism societies for cross-campus initiatives in order to achieve mutual goals. Meanwhile within the University they are reintroducing their zine Quirk, with a new editor, and are continuing to have weekly meetings on a range of feminist issues, the next of which will be on how class affects women.

Photograph: DU Feminism Society via Facebook

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