Last week, a campaign took the internet by storm. What started as a small project for Oxford University’s Women’s Campaign turned into something much greater. The idea is simple, men and women are photographed publicly holding signs, on which they write in a few words why they need feminism. Originally inspired by the Who Needs Feminism project started at Duke university in North Carolina, the images exploded on the internet, being shared around the world and gaining tens of thousands of ‘likes’ on Tumblr. The messages are diverse, from thoughts on gender norms, sexual harassment and violence against women to riot grrrl band Bikini Kill. They are refreshing, engaging, witty, and more than anything, they are statements of empowerment and pride. If you ever thought feminism was dead or a thing of the past, these are the images that will make you think again.
Simone spoke to Elisabeth, one of those behind the campaign about the state of feminism at one of the world’s most prestigious universities how the project got started.
Could you tell me a little bit about your society within a university context? Is it large, popular, has it been around for decades?
We are called the Women’s Campaign, and we are one of the autonomous campaigns of the Student Union, I think possibly the oldest although I’m not sure how old exactly. We have weekly discussion meetings on a wide range of topics such as everyday sexism, men in feminism, and women in media, usually attended by around 20-30 people, as well as a few larger events every term, such as a Slutwalk last year and our yearly Gender Equality Festival and Love Your Body Garden Party. One of the great things, I think, is that many people who don't necessarily come to our events do support our actions, but it is quite difficult at times to make sure all feminists in the university know we exist.
Do you feel that Oxford is suffering from the 'uni lad’ culture that’s being documented in England recently?
In my experience, Oxford is quite diverse in this sense. There are dodgy nightclubs, overly macho crew-dates, and a lot of other 'lad culture’ things around and these are often very public and hard to escape completely. At the same time, there are also a lot of nice, sensible people to hang out with, as shown by the amazing support for our campaign.
How did the photo campaign first come into being?
The idea is originally from Duke University in the US, where they held this campaign and subsequently spread the word online encouraging others to do the same. We encountered the photos online, and thought it would work perfectly in Oxford.
What were you imagining from it, and how do you feel now it’s taken off?
It has far, far exceeded our expectations. We were hoping for a hundred pictures on our original day, and far surpassed that with 195. After the pictures went on Facebook, there was a huge outpouring of support, as well as a lot of people who said they wished they had been there. We then organised a second session three days later, to allow everyone who wanted to to take part, and were blown away by the number of people that showed up - we took another 279 pictures. The reactions continue to be really positive, with many people saying it has prompted a lot of discussion about feminism, and it has gotten attention from outside the university too.
Any criticism / crazed men’s rights activists descending?
There have been some legitimate criticisms, such as a relative lack of people of colour in our pictures, which we are planning to take on board going forward. Sadly there has indeed also been trolling and people saying we’re crazy/whiny/misunderstanding everything, but a lot less than we might have thought, and those comments aren’t getting a lot of support.
It’s great to see so many men participating, is there generally good male support of feminist issues?
We were very happy many men took part, because one of the main messages that we wanted to bring across is that everyone can be a feminist, regardless of gender. In my experience, men in Oxford are very supportive of gender equality, but seeing them willing to take the extra step of declaring themselves a feminist was fantastic.
The original images that were circulating seemed to predominantly feature white people - are Oxford’s minorities invested in these issues?
This is something that has been remarked on before, and we absolutely agree that it’s very important for feminism to be intersectional. Part of the problem is that Oxford University is still, sadly, a very white place, something which access work is trying to improve. We are not entirely sure what accounts for the rest of the discrepancy, and we are keen to think more about how we can improve this in the future.
Other than projects like yours, how do you think we can make feminism a more acceptable, inclusive movement that isn’t limited by the ill-conceived stereotypes of its past?
Personally I think the most important thing is for people to be willing to say outright 'I’m a feminist’. That creates space for discussion on what feminism is and should be, and breaks the taboo that still exists around the word. It’s also important that feminist activism, whether that’s protests, lobbying, or awareness raising, is done in a way that fosters inclusivity and makes feminism understandable and relatable for everyone.
Simone agrees! Thank you so much Elisabeth and all those involved.
The Oxford University Student Union Alternative Prospectus: I’ve been working on this since July 2013, and finished February 2014. It’s an entirely student written and produced publication aiming to offer an ‘alternative’ view of Oxford life, away from the gowns and the elitism. I worked on creating a magazine feel, giving each section a different layout and feel, and overall the entire project was something I really enjoyed. More than anything I was able to polish my InDesign skills, and learn a bit more about producing large scale publications.
Our cohort nominated our mentor, Dr Dana Mills, for an OUSU Teaching Excellence Award and tonight she won! She truly has been an inspiration to us all this year, and we wouldn’t have achieved nearly as much as we have without her. Wonderful, wonderful human being and rad feminist.
The Oxford Guide to Careers 2016. Layout work alongside Theo Sundh (cover illustration and sector pages) and Simon Collins at the Oxford University Student Union, also involving the creation of sector illustrations and graphics to aid students in finding a job after graduation. Photos of the finished guide to follow!
Ousu is an awesome, eclectic, and old but charming shopping district in Nagoya. With over 400 shops there is nothing you can’t find here. Including a giant Beckoning Cat. This giant statue greets shoppers at one of the main entrances to the Ousu Shopping Arcade.
In the US we call these Lucky Cats, but in Japan they have a specific function. To beckon someone in Japan, people raise their arm and quirk their hand down, waving towards their backs. Much in the way that cats paw at the air. Hence, the Beckoning Cat. These are places at the front of businesses to beckon in customers. And so we have this giant Beckoning Cat to entice all the customers to the hundreds of stores here.
Like I said, you can find anything in Ousu. Kitchen utensils, instruments, antiques, and… Kpop. Like these gorgeous boys. Life size cutouts of Japan’s most popular Korean Band, Toho Shinki.
I loved the KPop stores, the anime stores, and the quirky stores. Like this one, practically completely dedicated to gumball machines. A good way to blow through your money in futile attempts to get that ONE keychain. But for though of us who aren’t searching for the thrill of the gamble, you can buy the same keychains for about 100 Yen more (roughly $1.50) in the store. Chaching!
What I love are the old, vintage shops. Check out the sign on this accessory store. Yes, in the old days the Japanese Yakuza (mafia) used to wear their hair like that. Fantastic, eh?
Ousu definitely has it’s own flavor to it. Like this Oni (demon) mural on the side of some apartments next to the Buddhist Temple, Ousu Kannon.
And in addition to kooky murals and vintage shops you will find cosplayers walking around regularly, showing off their styles or just doing some shopping as any proud Sailor Venus could be found doing.
And speaking of old and vintage, check out this traditional style kimono shop. Not only are the wears gorgeous, but so is the little building! Precious!
But Ousu’s highlight aside from its shopping arcade is its Buddhist Temple. So, you’ll find all sorts of Buddhist motifs like this wooden statue of a monk. Coincidentally, it’s just outside a pizza parlor called Cesari that is supposedly one of the best in the world (although those of us who ate there found it to be quite normal).
Walking through the shopping arcade you’ll find everything from shops to host bars to churches. And then you’ll find these giants balls hanging from the ceiling…
As I said, the landmark of Ousu is the Buddhist Temple, Ousu Kannon. A beautiful red palace-like structure, it looms at the exit of the shopping arcade. At this temple, the Buddha of Compassion and Mercy, Kannon (Avalokitesvara in Hindi), is worshiped.
At the entrance to the temple stands this gate (with a huge paper lantern) with two gigantic Nio guards on either side. These are one of the few (if not only) reference to physical force in Buddhism, justified to protect cherished and sacred objects, beliefs, or traditions.
Inside the temple is a wooden statue of Kannon, carved by Kobo Daishi which won’t be shown to the public again until 2030 (hence no picture). Instead, here is the offering box in which you toss in a 500 yen piece before praying with the bell pull which you ring three times after praying.
And here stands a statue of a Buddhist monk. I assume it is Kobo Daishi, but I actually do not know who he is. I do know that he is popular with pigeons….
Over the last few days, a few things have been getting to me, and having seen the OUSU’s ‘I need feminism because…’ I have decided to do my own.
Despite having signed to live in a house with four others girls and one guy, I’ve ended up living with five guys. The only other constant female presence is that of one of the housemate’s girlfriend. To be absolutely clear, I chose for this to be the case. My house is shit: too far away, the walls shake, there are leaks, etc. Add to that the various dramas that took place last term, and I’m much better off here. (For the record, none of the drama was mine, it just created a bad atmosphere)
This post is not intended to disparage the guys I’m now living with in any way, shape, or form. They are brilliant guys, and have accepted me, not as a girl in the house, but just as a person who likes to chill with them. They’ve never objectified me; they don’t assume because I hang out here it means I want to sleep with them, or that they have the right to try anything on with me; they even deal fairly well with periods, which I know as mature, modern men they should, but it makes a refreshing change from my ex ('ugh, it’s all, ugh, and ew, just don’t talk to me about it’).
Nevertheless. There are times when I feel marginalised here. I know this is, more or less without exception, unintentional. Equally, my response is, in many ways shaped by my own insecurities.
Yesterday, housemate 1 wanted to go to the river. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, when talking about the plans, he said 'we’ll all go, all the guys’, which elicits responses such as 'yesss the mangas!’ from various other housemates. Now, 99% of the time, I’m fairly certain that 'guys’ includes me. I don’t mind being referred to in this way: I call my female friends 'you guys’, or other variations. The fact remains, however, that it is a gendered term, and as such the plan did not necessarily include me. 'Mangas’ as well - while I’m not sure if I’m spelling it right, or where it’s arisen from, it is a term used for men.If I was a little more extrovert, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I could have just asked if it included me. And I wouldn’t have been offended if they’d said no: I understand that irrespective of gender we all have different relationships with different people, and if some of them wanted to have a DMC or something, my presence wouldn’t necessarily have been wanted.
Still. The moment when I would have felt comfortable asking didn’t arise, so when everyone started getting ready to leave, I didn’t know what to do, and just sat awkwardly in house mate 2’s room, until he came and asked me if I was going with them. My response - 'well am I invited?’ His: 'of course, of course you are!’ That’s all well and good, and the intention I don’t doubt was incredibly sweet. But I could have burst into tears (partly because I am an emotional wreck anyway, but that’s another story). I’m sorry, but how the fuck am I supposed to know if I’m included or not? And yes this is partially me: I panic when I don’t have a concrete plan, when things aren’t in my control. But would it really have been so difficult when making the plans in the first place to just say 'oh and Lorraine too’? It’s not like I wasn’t in the room. There was a chance I wasn’t invited, and I’m not presumptuous enough to assume I was.
Should have just fucking asked shouldn’t I? Because after that, of course, things began to strike me as slights against my femininity. Like when we were sitting by the river, and they were all admiring the silence - something they began doing while I was rolling a cigarette. So of course, the only noise in the silence was me flicking my lighter on - which made everyone laugh, and housemate 1 to remark 'Lorraine doesn’t give a fuck about the silence.’ It amused me, yes. But. I give many, many fucks about silence. I live in space that is defined by their noise, their music, their conversations. I live in silence. Not literally, of course: one on one, two on one, a conversation generally goes quite well. But increase the group size, and suddenly I become a spectator. It happens to 'the other girl’ as well. We’ll be having a conversation, me, her, maybe one or two of the guys, then the others run in, and suddenly whatever we were saying is utterly forgotten. We end up only really talking to each other when all the guys are there, occasionally interceding in the main conversation. I have watched the exact same thing happen to her as is always happening to me: she’ll be having a nice chat with one of the guys, then they get distracted by the main-flow of the 'men’s conversation’, forget all about her, and just stop responding. So I’ll pick up her point and we’ll carry on the chat.
Again, this is partly me/her. We have fairly similar personalities. Both of us like to get to know people before we open up, can be a little socially inept at times, are embarrassed by our failure to interact with other human beings…In big groups of people, especially if there are a few I don’t know so well, I do tend to take a back seat. I’ll be quiet, take a while to talk to people. But the guys in this house I’ve known for around a year and a half now. I consider them good friends. I am comfortable discussing the majority of my thoughts and opinions with them. So why do I suddenly turn into wallpaper when there are other guys for them to talk to? I don’t understand it.
So I’m sorry, housemates, if you’re reading this (there is one with tumblr), but why, why the fuck, should I respect a silence that you’ve manufactured? Men have forced women into silence, that’s how oppression works: you deprive your victim of a voice, of a self. The silence you guys are looking for already exists: it is called being female, a PoC, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, intersex, transgender, having a mental disorder, and many many more things. I apologise if any of the terms I’ve used there are incorrect, I’m new at this whole expressing my social opinion thing , but holy-fuck, are you as men really trying to tell me as a woman that I need to be silent when you say so? That we need fewer voices? That the silence that has surrounded these issues for so long, a silence that is only just being broken, should be reinstated?
Of course that’s not what any of them were trying to tell me. They were appreciating the beautiful place we live in. But that’s not how I felt about it. And it’s not how I felt when housemate 1 said 'next term, I’m going to come here so much, just on my own’.
You know what I would like? I would like to go to that river alone at night. I would like to sit on that bench alone with nothing but my own thoughts, and a silence of my own choosing. And as a woman, unfortunately, I don’t feel entirely safe doing that. I feel if anything happened I would be told that I, being female, shouldn’t have gone to somewhere dark and secluded on my own. That I was tempting fate.
A selection of work for Mind Your Head and ‘Check Yourself’, two campaigns run by the Oxford University Student Union. ‘Check Yourself’ also included the creation of the campaign logo, offering free STI testing to all students and working in partnership with the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. In order to make STI testing seem more accessible to students, I went with an idea of a fridge checklist, sourcing the content for this and taking photos for the base of the poster. I then worked over the top of this in Illustrator and InDesign.