Contrary to popular belief, all-girl’s schools aren’t full of ‘raging’ feminists seeking to topple the patriarchy. As a pupil of one, I find this appalling. Why aren’t we, as a whole, more passionate about the beliefs that allowed us to be where we are in the first place? Girls were refused education for centuries. The oldest recognised girls school in the UK opened in 1850 to ‘offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys,’ who started school in medieval times. In some parts of the world today, girls still are refused education. Has this just been forgotten? Personally, I blame the media and the bad rep they give feminists- we should follow Sweden with ‘Why we should all be feminists’ instead- but that’s another rant for another time.
And so to rectify this horrendous error in the matrix, I decided to run the Feminism Club that was started in my school last year.
Starting off is always tricky- there’s only so many posters you can put up and assembly announcements you can make before it gets tedious and for all that effort, in the end, there’s only five people there – which is what I had prepared myself for. However, what I got was a fairly large group from year 7 to year 13- some regular, some sporadic, but there- opinionated about everything from rights to rape culture. I started with topics I felt passionate about (body positivity and LGBTQ+ rights- for example), but soon I was getting requests. Everything from Disney movies to Islamophobia gets covered. Some students became really interested, beginning to form their own views on the wider feminist discourse. As one year 10 said- “feminism without intersectionality is not feminism”.
Speaking in front of large audiences is never easy. For many, it’s near impossible. I am one of those many. Why I volunteered to do an assembly- shameless self-advertising for the club – I shall never know. (Actually I do: it’s a blinding passion for equal rights and a need to tell people about it that far surpasses my fear of public speaking.) What I definitely know is that, with support from both teachers and friends, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
In fact, my fellow students listened intensely and expressed outrage that feminism is still considered a dirty word, largely because of old patriarchal ideology and harmful stereotypes. (FYI not all feminists are communist lesbian witches who like rock music.)
They were shocked that Malala Yousafzai wouldn’t call herself a feminist until Emma Watson’s ‘HeforShe’ speech. They were inspired by Mae Jemison- a real life superwoman: the first African-American woman to go into space, a doctor and dancer who got into Stanford University, one that has a 6% acceptance rate, aged 16 in 1973. Currently, she teaches at Cornell University now and runs a program to get minority students into science.
Finally, they were intrigued by CEDAW- the Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women – an international treaty adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 1979, vowing to make women equal. (I hadn’t heard about it until a few weeks earlier either.)
CEDAW is an international bill of rights- a big focus for the National Council of (Young) Women. The document defines what counts as discrimination towards women, as well as an agenda for nations to act upon to end this discrimination. Any state which accepts and signs the convention is obligated to undertake certain measures to make sure that CEDAW is implemented- but evidently, most of the states who signed it have a long way to go, because there is still a need for me to write this article.
The promise of free jaffacakes rather than thrilling conversations about the finer points of law may be credited to the increased interest in the Feminism Club, but either way, it worked.
Believing in equal rights is a necessity, of course, but just believing isn’t going to change the world. Talking about the issues everyone faces (women, men and everyone around and in between) when it comes to gender instead of sweeping them under the metaphorical rug, might just be the spark that ignites something brilliant- something that changes the face of society as we know it.
Maybe that’s my imagination running away with me- we’re not quite the Suffragists (yet)- but at least we’re talking about them.
Maya Biswas, a raging feminist.