Why the feminist movement needs to use comedy if it wants to win people over

University feminism is at a critical stage and needs fresh strategies to move it in a positive direction

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The Independent Online

Following recent anti-feminist backlash in British universities, students need to be very careful that feminism isn’t pushed onto the fringe of student politics.

An article recently published by Durham’s independent student newspaper, Palatinate, criticised feminism for being outdated and unnecessary. Last year, the head of York’s feminist society faced verbal abuse and harassment as well as a counter-movement calling themselves Men’s Rights Activists. Rape culture still thrives, with a recent study by the NUS finding that 68 per cent of female students experience sexual harassment at university, and one in seven endure physical or sexual assault.

And yet, despite this depressing information, it’s still feminists who are frequently seen as the "killjoys", and feminism which continues to have an image problem. A recent YouGov poll found that while 81 per cent of the British population believed in male-female equality, only 19 per cent identified themselves as feminists; and while there has been an upsurge in feminist societies in universities, there are still misconceptions about feminism among students, which make them reluctant to embrace the movement. Whether it’s the word itself which triggers stereotypical images of man-hating, sex-negative, puritanical types, or simply its reputation from second-wave gynocentrism, contemporary student feminists need to act fast.

The core values of feminism need not be compromised, nor should they be satirised. However, we do need more accessible and inclusive ways of highlighting gender inequality, and satire would be a brilliant way to attract those who believe in gender equality but won’t identify as feminists - partly because some within the movement can appear to take themselves, and not the issues, so seriously (contributing to the common misconception that we are killjoys). The classic irony has always been that if satire is done well, it can make people take an issue more seriously and open up to it.

Aside from the anti-feminist wave across universities being cause for concern, students tend to be the largest group of unified activists and are in the ideal environment for original ideas, which is why we should be embracing tactics like humour. It’s also youth and students who speak the language of the internet so eloquently; the internet being the very place where the "fourth wave" of modern feminism has had its strongest platform thus far. The internet could be an ideal platform for satire, since this decade we’ve seen new forms of humour: from spoof product reviews, to memes and parody videos. It also allows people to view pre-existing forms of humour online, such as stand-up comedy as well as humorous web articles - an opportunity that was, before, limited.

Contemporary feminist comedy has already proven successful. A recently-launched website, Reductress, for instance, satirises the cynical types of articles often found in glossy magazines (“Is he eye-photoshopping you?”), and an Indian video satirising victim-blaming went viral. At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedian Nadia Kamil counteracted the rape-joke culture in comedy, wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan, “honk if you love feminism”, and she was joined by others such as Mary Bourke and her show “Muffragette”.

At universities across the globe, students aren’t hesitating to join in the action. Students from New Zealand challenged sexism in popular culture by creating a feminist parody of the controversial music video, “Blurred Lines”. And feminist comedians in universities in America command great deals of respect: when Tina Fey gave the inaugural speech for the University of Virginia’s Art faculty last month, it was one of the most popular events that year.

I’m no comedian, but I, like many, can already see the benefits of humour as an offensive mechanism within movements. In academia, feminism seems to be firmly taking hold - almost every Arts and Humanities degree talks about gender roles at some point, which students seem to easily grasp – but this isn’t translating in droves to most students in their everyday ideology. Feminist satire clearly seems to work so far, and as students we need to be seizing this opportunity to not let this political movement fall by the wayside.