UCD: A Safe Space For Feminism?

With no feminist society in place on campus, Eva Griffin examines whether UCD is a safe space for feminism.[br]"The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." Rose Schneiderman’s suffragist call for fair wages and dignified conditions in 1912 rang true decades later for a group of UCD students in the mid-1970s. The slogan became the name of a self-published, hand-drawn, black and white zine called Bread and Roses. With 18 pages of content and a distinctive feminist slant, it was published by the UCD Women’s Liberation Movement in an attempt to highlight issues such as abortion and the civil service marriage ban across campus.The contemporary campus has no such zine, and no women’s society to possibly helm a similar publication team. While UCD women’s groups have existed in the past, at least since the early 1990s when society records began, there is no such group on campus today.That said, a society’s name isn't always entirely and accurately reflective of the activities engaged in or the individual member’s political views. It is telling though that no feminist society exists apart from the subgroup of UCD’s English and Literary Society, the UCD Feminist Book Club which is dedicated to a shared interest in feminist readings. It does not publish pamphlets or organise political movements. With no clear space for the sharing and mobilising of feminist thought, can UCD be considered a safe campus for feminists?Dr Marie Moran, director of the Equality Studies graduate program answers with a resounding no. “I think the environment is quite hostile to feminism and it doesn't have to be overtly hostile for young women in particular to pick up on cues that it's not cool to be a feminist,” she says.“You're better off being one of the lads. Girls who complain about rape culture, even if they don't use that language, are told to lighten up or have a bit of a laugh.”With no clear feminist representation on campus, Dr Moran fears that the only image of women that impressionable students are given is a damaging one. “I think generally when women are depicted on campus it is in an anti-feminist way.” This, she claims, often comes in the form of on-campus promotions for club nights which are often hosted in tandem with societies. “In each case, they pick a gendered pair and the feminine is always in a state of near if not complete undress, is hypersexualised, and is clearly depicted as an object for the male gaze.”
There might be very many more women and men in the class who do hold feminist values but feel that they can't express them or feel some ambivalence or reticence or insecurity about owning a feminist perspective
“I think if you're a first year undergrad arriving to this new, wonderful experience of university and they're the images you're met with on campus, you're given a very definite impression of what's expected of you as a young women in this environment.”It seems that the images plastered across campus could feed directly into this dwindling of student groups dedicated to female empowerment and gender equality. This hinders the alleviating of the misunderstanding that faces modern feminism and makes it difficult for students to confidently engage with feminist values.Dr Moran often gives lectures on feminist theory as part of the Equality Studies program, and uses those modules as a chance to ask who among her students identifies as a feminist, with often surprising results. “This year it was really heartening to see that about 60 per cent of the class said they were feminists. The first time I taught the module was seven years ago and I think three hands went up out of seventy. That's why I ask the question every year since then, to do my own little check of who is a feminist and who feels confident enough to say it in a classroom situation. There might be very many more women and men in the class who do hold feminist values but feel that they can't express them or feel some ambivalence or reticence or insecurity about owning a feminist perspective.”Lucy Murphy, a 4th year Politics and History student in UCD, is a frequent contributor to house debates, often opting to partake in those that deal with feminist issues. While she agrees overall that the attending crowds are “open to feminist arguments”, she has been met with some responses which could be a result of this lack of comprehension.
It doesn't have to be overtly hostile for young women in particular to pick up on cues that it's not cool to be a feminist, that you're better off being one of the lads
“People who have an issue with my defending of the title feminist struggle to accept criticisms of lad culture and often say phrases like ‘just banter’ or ‘but men matter too’ without actually engaging with the issue of the debate. My issue with the crowd at debates, and this applies to much of greater UCD, is that even when they recognise problematic behaviour in debates they are reluctant to do anything to confront it. I often get told to leave it, or not take it so seriously. People who I know are feminists, who understand the nuance and complexity of gender issues, are happy to let it slide, because it is easier.”It is difficult to actively seek out a centre for a feminist community when the outside crowd can be less than accommodating. Despite these debates being will attended, and with Murphy conceding that “there are less trolls than one might think”, figuring out what campus feminism could mean seems to be a slow process. In comparison to the groups of the past, there seems to be less traction, which is surprising considering the press garnered by movements such as Repeal the Eighth and Waking the Feminists.The toxicity encountered by an actively engaged student like Murphy is worrying, and Dr Moran’s years on campus have done little to quell her worries about younger students seeking acceptance in their new domain. Echoing the sentiments of many, Dr Moran advocates for a feminist friendly campus, one that would be receptive to both male and female students. “I think a very strong message that needs to go out, and I'm not sure whether it should come out from the student body or from staff or probably both, is the recognition that a feminist campus, a feminist society is not just good for women, it's good for men too, that there are benefits across the board from creating gender equality.”