Necessary rib: We need feminism on campus

With York University Student Union refusing to ratify a feminist society on campus, student campaigner Helena Horton remains convinced that they need one more than ever

I am co-ordinating a campaign to get the Feminist Society at the University of York ratified, and therefore accepted by our union. Along the way, I have gotten support from far and wide, from feminists and non-feminists alike, and this is so important, both for my own mental well-being and for the cause itself.

In my view our union tends not to listen to students in the first instance. To illustrate this, our recently ratified Palestinian Solidarity Society was not initially supported, despite repeated requests from a large number of students and other societies.

A similar situation is happening with FemSoc. YUSU hasn’t listened to petitions or protests from students. We get an automated email when we ask why they refuse to recognise a feminist society. However, if we apply pressure by using NCAFC  and other student unions - so far we have had support from UEA, Bristol, LSE, Royal Holloway and the University of Essex, and emails are still coming in - and hopefully make the union look bad, they will probably sit up and listen. It’s a shame that it will have to come to this, and that they don’t seem to listen to their own students, but that’s just the way it is.

Lecturers from the university are also getting involved, I have been in correspondence with people from the Philosophy, Gender Studies and History departments about the issue that we are unable to have a space to discuss feminism as an academic and political movement. It’s great to know that even people from our esteemed, world-renowned academic departments are getting interested. It shows me that we are on the right side of the argument, and that the union is in the wrong here. 

Of course, the union should be listening to the students who it represents, but again, it isn’t, so we are having to get support from outside. It’s also important to get our esteemed academics involved because a university is supposed to be a place of education and open-mindedness. This happens outside of seminar rooms and lecture halls, too, and if there apparently isn’t a place to discuss political ideologies such as feminism at one of the top Universities in the country, where is there? Limiting education is the last thing that our university should be doing.

Pressure from the national media is really important too. It has been raising the profile of our cause, which YUSU wants to keep quiet and bury. We refuse to be buried, and so have risen to the challenge and are trying to create as much of a ruckus as possible, so everyone sees our struggle and how difficult our Union is making things for us.

Lastly, a point which is probably the least important. Whenever one does anything ‘controversial’ (and sadly, feminist campaigning is currently seen as controversial in a lot of circles), one gets a huge amount of abusive backlash. I’ve had people being awfully abusive to me throughout, and have received rape threats amongst gendered insults such as ‘witch’, ‘bitch’, ‘screeching harpy’, and ‘whore’ and even a threat to rip my tongue out.

Needless to say, this gets very tiring and has caused me a huge amount of anxiety and stress on top of my university deadlines and the energy that hours of campaigning a day inevitably saps. However, the wonderful comments that I have had from people all over the world, especially those involved in the Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3 campaigns have got me through this. I’ve learnt about the stability and conviction that solidarity can give, and the balm it applies to abuse-inflicted wounds.

Over 500 people have signed the petition and to have this amount of people supporting us and our cause is breathtaking. The messages of support from all different people, all around the country and indeed the world have bolstered the campaign, and my spirits, and given everyone involved the strength to keep fighting.

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