Blue Stockings Week is a celebration of women in higher education and intellectual life and a time to focus on the achievements women have made in the sphere, and the obstacles they have overcome. It is also an excellent chance to bring some of the issues that may affect women in particular into the fore. The University of New England Women’s Society jumped at the chance to reach out to the UNE community again. We decided to try and capture a bit of the fun (and controversy) from last year’s Blue Stockings Week by holding a debate. We chose to debate the assertion “The problem with Feminists is they can’t take a joke”. We also ran a fundraising cake stall, provided a free BBQ for attendees (and hungry ring-ins), and the kindly staff of the Stro opened the bar for us as well. It was a great success; the generous attendees supported the cake stall whole stomachedly, and I’m sure there were some stom-acheys later as well (mostly for those of us who had to dispose of the left-overs).
I thought the debate was hilarious, which double proves the point that the negative team did by winning. That’s right ladies and gentlemen the problem with feminists isn’t that they can’t take a joke. Whether there is in fact a problem or problems with feminists remains a moot point.
It can be difficult to know how to have a conversation about gender as it can often turn into a hopeless endeavour with neither side really engaging with the other. The debate was fantastic, not only because it provided us all with half an hour of entertainment, but because it started conversations. It started conversations about the “F” word, about what it meant to each of us, and what it meant in a broader sense. These are important conversations to have, as feminism is often misunderstood. It is also vital for a healthy intellectual environment that no idea or movement exist without also being criticised, and interrogated. This particular F word needn’t be a dirty word. In order for feminism to achieve its goals it has to engage everyone, so it is important that everyone feels they can contribute to these conversations, even persons who, for whatever reason, do not identify themselves as feminists*. The issues that many feminists believe need to be addressed in our culture do not affect women exclusively or even men exclusively. It is radically mistaken and counterproductive to believe that there are only two sides to any debate; there are a plurality of viewpoints even within the feminist movement. So next time you hear the “F word” don’t tune out, the “F word” is for everybody.
I am proud to be a student at UNE because Blue Stockings Week showed me that we can have these conversations in a way that is respectful to all parties, that we can have these important and sometimes edgy conversations without the tone descending to vitriol. The same cannot be said for all universities. Thanks to all who made the day possible, and all those who showed their support by attending.
*I feel I should also take this opportunity to restate the fact, that even though many of the members of UNEWS (myself included) would happily identify ourselves as feminists, we also welcome women who do not identify themselves as such.
- Milly Roberts, UNEWS President