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Good Feminism, bad Feminism

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The campus has recently witnessed two bouts of noticeable feminist expression. The first one is the 'One Billion Rising' movement, which was a part of V-Day, and took place on Valentine's day. It spurred other related events, such as an information talk by the head of the York based sexual abuse charity Survive, and Drama Soc's The Vagina Monolgoues. The second expression was a response to the Sun's abhorrent front page of Reeva Steenkamp in a bikini, the morning after she was shot dead. A referendum was called for YUSU to stop profiting from 'offensive publications', which has now been confined to the Sun. As the 60 comments on the Nouse story attest, this argument has aroused much vitriol on both sides.

Whatever feminism's various forms and guises, its fundamental objective is the bettering of women's position. A noble aim in a society where though much progress has been made, gender inequality and issues persist. But noble intention doesn't necessarily translate to sound schemes. There can be good feminism and bad feminism. The V-Day movement was good feminism. The referendum is bad feminism.

It was hard to not been moved by V-Day and One Billion Rising. The one billion figure reflects the shocking fact that one billion women will be either raped or beaten in their life time. Numerous photos of students, both female and male, were published on Facebook, each containing an individual and a placard explaining why 'they're rising'. Hundreds gathered in Vanburgh Dining Hall to dance, sing, listen, to raise a finger to affirm solidarity with all those women that are still victims today, and to demand that things improve.

Drama Soc put on a show of the Vagina Monologues, which never had the Barn so full and was met with rave reviews. It was a stirring show, culminating in a final monologue expressing impassioned impatience with the status quo and imploring for change. At the end, audience members were invited to write on the back wall of the barn explaining why they were rising.

The referendum motion ban YUSU from publishing the Sun is bad feminism. The arguments for and against won't be gone into here; they can be sought out on the various Facebook pages related to the referendum, or on the comments on the original Nouse article. The larger point is that this approach is not the way to go about furthering the feminist cause.

Banning the Sun is inherently a negative mechanism. Rather than people choosing to not buy The Sun from YourShop, people are unable to. Banning the Sun is moralising: it says that we have a more valid moral compass that you do, it says we are making moral choices on your behalf. Choice is therefore negated. Top-down orders decide.

Contrast this with V-Day and One Billion Rising. It was empowering and inclusive. It forced you to consider the facts of on-going violence and injustice against women. You were able to make a choice: 'I think that the situation for women today has to improve. I want to give my voice this movement.' It brought people together, rather than pushing people apart.

And this is the great disappointment about the referendum. Both sides agree that the Sun does all too often publish sexist content and most were outraged by the front cover after Reeva Steenkamp's death.

But a referendum isn't the way to go about expressing such outrage. An approach which harnessed student outrage by allowing for consensual individual participation would have been far more powerful statement of solidarity with feminism. A petition for example, simply asking 'do you think the Sun's front page was acceptable?' would have drawn in thousands of signatures, especially in the context of general awareness about V-Day and One Billion Rising.

The moralising sentiment of a referendum and its inherent aggression is alienating those that actually sympathise with the gender issues raised by The Sun. It doesn't endear people to feminism, but turns them off. What would a banning of the Sun represent? The victory of a galvanised minority, rather than a reflection of change attitudes at the University of York. Short term satisfaction for a few, but cynicism about feminism for far more.

The Sun's sexism is gradually becoming less tenable. Rupert Murdoch's tweet that he thought page 3 might be 'so last century' sparked speculation of whether it would be stopped. YourShop removing The Sun from their shelves because of students choosing to not buy the Sun, rather than being unable to, would represent a far more significant progression for feminism. It would be consensual, rather than imposed. And thought provoking movements like V-Day can encourage people into making that choice.

Despite the virtue of the feminist cause, it is all too often derided and can fail to resonate. Part of the reason for this is that feminism frequently manifests itself in aggressive, carping ways, which undermines the support of those that are inclined to sympathise with feminist principles. The referendum is a prime instance of this. The empowerment and inclusivity engendered by V-Day fosters positivity and collective progression. The coercion and moralising of this referendum nourishes resentment and division. V-Day and One Billion Rising was truly inspiring, furthering the cause of feminism. This referendum detracts from the cause of feminism.

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21 Comments

doh Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

more men on campus media telling us about how feminism should work. how exciting.

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Ash Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I'd like to know how you feel V Day was actually more useful and instrumental to feminism that campaigning over women's portrayal in the media. The general message of V Day is of course sound - violence against women is abhorrent and must be stopped - but how it influenced the global situation was less clear. It sent a message, yes, it 'raised awareness', perhaps, but in countries where rape in used as a weapon of war, and indeed throughout our own country where rape and sexual violence continue to be endemic, I doubt that the behaviour of abusers was changed by some proportionally more privileged and educated women dancing in dining halls.

While I don't think that the campaign is perfect, by any means, a debate is needed about the way that women are portrayed in the media it's ridiculous to label a movement that (in contrast to the V Day movement) has clear aims and motivation and a strategy to achieve those aims, as 'bad feminism'. It's also silly to suggest that the campaign is undermined by a 'moralising' attitude. If, as you say, you find feminism to be necessary, you've taken a moral stance on society and any steps you take to that end will be in some way moralising. V Day also espouses morality, it's just arguably a stance that you agree with, so it hasn't shown up on your radar to the same extent.

If the kind of feminism society accepts is visual and not audible, if it dances, if it doesn't in any real way disrupt the status quo, then I'd question to what extent that is feminism.

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Chris Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Well-written and thought-provoking.

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Helena Horton Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

So interpretive dance about ending rape culture is 'good feminism', but taking action to try to combat it is 'bad feminism'? Dancing and singing and unity and dramatic performances are all fab and well and good but if we don't actually act to combat rape culture, even in a seemingly small way by asking our campus shop not to stock material that perpetrates this damaging portrayal of women, then we wouldn't have anything to dance about and celebrate.

I found this article quite patronising. Do you get involved with the feminist movement? Do you do anything constructive? Or do you just sit back and criticise? Also, at risk of repeating a cliche, check your privilege! Why should we be told how to go about ending the patriarchy by a white man?

& the whole 'don't be aggressive' thing- sorry but when rape culture means that, as One Billion Rising stated, one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, we aren't going to go about trying to combat this by hugging everyone and handing out flowers and dancing. Something constructive has to be done.

And regarding the cause- character attacks on a national media outlet, rape threats and being told that I only started the campaign to 'get dick' seems more aggressive than politely asking the University for a referendum. It's not the feminists who are aggressive, it's our society's rape culture.

I'm not saying that all feminists have to support the campaign that I began. I'm saying that it's not up to you to criticise the actions of the people who you categorise as 'bad feminists'. We have a perfect right to fight to be treated as people, however we see fit.

I'm also sick of people criticising 'division' in the feminist cause. Every social justice/political group has divisions and we are all people with different views. Debate can be healthy and the debate in the campaign, for example, has often been constructive (not that you would know, as you have not yet attended any of our events). Saying that feminists can't argue is perpetrating the myth that women have to sit pretty and be meek and mild, and I'd say that that was 'bad feminism' from you, if I got a kick out of telling people how to fight for women's rights.

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Jamie Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Excellent article. Sums up how I feel.

I am of the opinion that the Sun is a vile publication, but I'm sorry, it's not somebody else's place to tell me whether or not I can buy it. By attempting to force through the banning of the publication, it brings about a very dangerous precedent, and as this piece highlights, turns people off from feminism, which is a real shame.

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Liam Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@Jamie

Nobody is "forcing through" or "banning" anything nor telling you what you may or may not buy. There will be a referendum on which the whole of campus will be able to democratically vote on whether or not we, as the proprietors of YourShop, wish to sell The Sun. A democratic vote to decide Union policy on the matter - YOU get to decide just as much as I do, just as much as Helena does. We all get a vote.

It's not a ban or a restriction on what you personally can buy - The Sun will continue to exist and continue to be commercially available in many newsagents and bookstores and supermarkets in York. You will still be able to subscribe to The Sun and have it delivered to you if you so wish. Yes, it will be slightly more inconvenient for you to buy The Sun but YourShop does not stock every newspaper or magazine read or campus and other people manage to buy what they want to read.

The problem is, and long has been, that YUSU have no policy as a Union about what written materials we sell in our shop. That decision is currently being made for you without your input, most likely by unelected staff members. The only way to have any input into what is and isn't sold in our shop is to campaign and vote on policy - which is exactly what we are doing.

What would you prefer: someone you don't know and have no way of influencing deciding what is sold in our shop or a vote and a say in what is sold in your name?

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Anon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The moral compass point essentially underlies a large extent of the opposition to the movement which seems to have shot its self in the foot by poorly planning and wording what could have been a really moving and well supported cause. Very well written

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DF Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Just to point out a minor problem in your argument, as the Sun (and for that matter almost all newspapers) are stocked on a SoR (Sale or Return) agreement it costs yourshop nothing to stock it and so falling sales will most likely not result in it no longer being stocked. The only way to cause this effect is a conscious decision by staff to not stock it or a decision by YUSU not to stock it. Both of which can only be achieved through open public outrage etc.

So although the referendum may have had negative effects on conceptions of feminism, it is one of the few ways to remove the Sun from the shelves in yourshop and creates the necessary public debate to this end.

Sorry for the poor grammar etc. seriously lacking sleep right now.

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Ryan Wilson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I don't understand how any commenter, even behind the online cloak of anonymity, can call this article well written or excellent; it is in my opinion an unintentionally ironic example of content-free sermonising. The whole article is summed up with this paragraph:

"The referendum motion ban YUSU from publishing the Sun is bad feminism. The arguments for and against won't be gone into here; they can be sought out on the various Facebook pages related to the referendum, or on the comments on the original Nouse article. The larger point is that this approach is not the way to go about furthering the feminist cause."

Ok, so you're not going to bother giving any counterarguments against your position, so why am I reading your tendentious account of feminism here, rather than in the context it belongs to- posted in a Facebook debate page?

Ok sorry, you make it very clear that you like feminism in repetitive rambling paragraphs of purple prose. But even if you are the everyman feminist, and I'm sure you are, why don't you just then say that the "moralising" sentiment offends you as an individual, rather than presuming to channel the collective consciousness of the whole campus?

Then you could explain what you mean by moralising and explain why you think it's wrong in some more detail, using examples other than the cause you're trying to excoriate, recognising some of the thousands of examples of top-down moral judgements on campus, explaining what problems they commonly share. Perhaps you would say that moralisers are those who wish to attach their judgements to things they dislike in an indelible and unalterable way, as though sketched in permament marker- in cases where throwing equal light on the pros and the cons of something would be a viable and much better use of the moraliser's energies. And everybody in the comments section would criticise anyone who dared to commit such an 'alienating' act...

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S Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@Helena Horton, why does it matter the author is white? I understand, though not passing comment on whether I agree or not, why you are upset a man is judging feminism, but why the comment 'white man'. If he had been a different ethnicity would that have been okay? This is stupid, rude and wholly unnecessary.

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Beth Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

In agreement with Ryan Wilson; this is sloppy journalism. Asserting an argument without actually arguing it, based on an assumption that the reader somehow agrees with you? Not the way to approach a comment article. Attempting to remove yourself, and therefore validate your opinion from the debate, by saying you won't go into details is a counterintuitive approach where you've been offered a platform to fully articlate your opinions. (Are you implying you're above the details by refusing to go into them? Does this really work? Not rhetorical questions, do think about it.)

As for the actual article, I think the idea of 'setting a precedent' is pretty laudable considering what this debate actually doing: removing a newspaper from one single newsagent. YUSU is not the government, student politics is hardly powerful. Its powers are limited to one single newsagent - there is no 'precedent' to set. 'The Sun' won't be banned nationwide and your free speech is not being violated. A shop shouldn't be obliged to distribute goods or services if it doesn't want to, the idea that it should is a little absurd.

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M Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Ok so lets censor the referendum for censorship. Good plan?

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SS Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

We need a men's movement on campus.

Men are the minority and contrary to what these feminist say, men are marginalized in many walks of life, from family courts, education, health, crime, homeless ect.

I am sick of hearing that women are always the victims and men are oppressors.

Not every man enjoys a life of privilege over every woman.

We need to get rid of this extremist feminist movement on campus that fails to see the world from both genders.

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Ryan Wilson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Troll alert.

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JM Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

In agreement with the accusations of sloppy journalism; the use of the word 'moralising' as a pejorative is particularly trite and seems ill considered given the whole debate is essentially a moral one. Also, it seems fairly paradoxical to claim that a campus-wide referendum will only reflect the views of a "galvanised minority". Though Helena Horton was unfair to insinuate that "white men" have no right to comment on feminism: a vacuous statement and a lazy attempt at a slur.

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Rose Troup Buchanan Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Question: am I the only one who finds this entire 'debate' (I do not just mean this article, I mean the others published on Vision, the Yorker, the other Nouse article, and (of course) the innumberable social media expressions) painfully tiresome?

Whilst points of the original - when we were all still learning how to make fire - debate did have merit, they have now been forgotten in a swirling miasma of repetitively narscistic comments and personal attacks.

I'm not asking for people to drop the issue, all I am asking is that those of the student population of York involved remove their heads from inside their arses, and actually do something in order to help women, rather than simply writing comments and articles about how 'great' feminism is, yet how 'bad' it can also be.

Also, don't you lot have degrees to do?

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nodlesseldon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@SELDON "The arguments for and against won't be gone into here; they can be sought out on the various Facebook pages related to the referendum, or on the comments on the original Nouse article"

@ME Yet this is exactly what is done subsequently; one cannot bracket away hitherto 'for-and-against debate' as an aside then immediately move to issue ones own position as external to that debate (carrying with it connotations of greater or actual authenticity or being 'above the fray' of mere debate). This, of course, is ridiculous.

@SELDON "Banning the Sun is moralising: it says that we have a more valid moral compass that you do, it says we are making moral choices on your behalf. Choice is therefore negated. Top-down orders decide"

@ME This moral skepticism, for example, is stating a comprehensive philosophical doctrine (which counts as entering the debate); something, almost unbelievably, contradicted by its own implicitly normative derision of 'top-down orders', and further - and yet more absurdly - contradicted by your normative endorsement of feminism at the start of the article. Of course, stating without qualification a twice-contradicted meta-ethical position is, besides entering the debate (again contradicting yourself), an incredibly banal and unexceptional thing to say; it adds nothing. You cannot causally remark upon these things and expect or hope fruitful argument.

The actual claim that seems interesting and potentially insightful here, that of the proper means to achieving the objectives of feminism, is unfortunately under-developed and blurred by these above remarks. Whether such forthright protest prior to substantive gender deconstruction in the minds of students will simply provoke anger and thus - on consequential grounds - be unfeminist (or at least contrary to its aims) is important.

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aneleh Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@HELENA "Do you get involved with the feminist movement? Do you do anything constructive? Or do you just sit back and criticise? Also, at risk of repeating a cliche, check your privilege! Why should we be told how to go about ending the patriarchy by a white man?"

@ME While I understand this article was lacking, personal vilification is hardly the way to respond. When you have just decried someone for being supposedly patronising, it is hardly reasonable to then ask: "Do you get involved with the feminist movement? Do you do anything constructive?".

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Anon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I get the point, but I'm not sure you have any right to be telling women how and when they can protest the treatment of women in society and by the media. This article doesn't exactly give a message of female empowerment.

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a white male feminist Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

@Helena Horton

"why should we be told how to go about ending the patriarchy by a white man" - so many problems with this line of argument, almost as many as the article's. I don't agree with the critique of the referendum offered by the writer but I'm also a white male and a feminist - should I be expected to forfeit my opinions on feminism by the merest fluke of having been born with white skin and a penis? I'm not responsible, and neither, I'm sure, is Adam Seldan, for ingraining sexist and patriarchal attitudes. Neither are we responsible for the sexism of our white, male forebears. I'd hope that this would go without saying but you should really be careful of making such sweeping generalisations and lumping white men into a box labelled, "the enemy" - otherwise you alienate so many sympathisers of the feminist cause by making it into an "us vs. them" thing, which, I think, misses the point of feminism: that it is a universal movement for gender equality. So please criticise the argument, by all means, but leave your inverse-prejudice at the door before you do.

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k Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I don't necessarily agree with the article but the ideas in it are actually really original.

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