Forty years ago radical women based in and around the University of Leeds took part in militant feminist activism and revolutionary feminist thinking. The Reclaim the Night march they started in 1977 is still organised annually in Leeds and across the country. While we’ve moved on in many ways, both in style and point of view since then, it’s still an exciting city for student feminist activists in 2014.

There has been plenty written about the gender related problems students across the country face; 1 in 7 women students told the National Union of Students that they experienced sexual harassment or assault while at University, but less than 10% had reported it to the police. A type of behaviour referred to as ‘Lad Culture’ by activists and the NUS prizes a particular type of masculinity and valorises sexual assault; it’s difficult for students to avoid. Clubs aimed at students have started to adopt the rhetoric of websites such as ‘UniLad’ and used them as a marketing tool. Unfortunately, Leeds is no exception; last October Tequila UK released a promotional video in which they mocked male clubbers for being virgins and asked them how they were going to ‘violate a fresher’. However the reaction that the video inspired was unexpectedly positive.

Janette Walker [Lab Headingley] speaking against Rape Culture in Leeds Council
Janette Walker [Lab Headingley] speaking against Rape Culture in Leeds Council
150 people turned out to a night time protest impressively rejecting the dangerously misogynistic marketing. The campaign was supported by local residents, University staff, and Labour councillors. It resulted in the club losing their license in December.
Freya Potter and Headingley Councillor Neil Walshaw
Freya Potter and Headingley Councillor Neil Walshaw

Over the last few years student feminist activism in Leeds has experienced a resurgence. This year our Union Feminist Society membership has boomed, having to change venues for our weekly meetings to find somewhere big enough for everyone! Feminism is no longer a taboo campus subject, more and more students are talking, writing, and protesting about feminist issues, and are more willing to proudly call themselves a feminist. In February the Feminist Society organised the second annual National Student Feminist Conference-the Feminist Jamboree-attracting over 200 students from across the country to Leeds. Among talks and workshops about sex education, women in academia, sex work and biphobia, were crafts, cake, performance poetry, live music and art. The success of the event was testament to the revived passion for feminism in Leeds.

It’s not just the Feminist Society who are active in Leeds, student activists and organisers from all areas of the University and Union are also involved in many local Leeds based charities and organisations which help women. The newly formed Leeds Students for Women International Society, Student Action for Refugees and Leeds University Amnesty International society are campaigning on issues such as Female Genital Mutilation, working with organisations such as the Together Women Project, and involve women who have sought asylum in Leeds in their campaigns.

While certain types of sexism seems to be on the rise, there is a reassuringly steady resistance to it, student feminism right now in Leeds is fun, inclusive and very active. The Tequila campaign was exciting and effective, and the Feminist Jamboree enabled us to make links with feminists in Scotland, Manchester, Sheffield, Oxford and Hull to name a few. But crucial to it all is the support from the local Leeds community, graduates and councillors.

Freya Potter

Freya PotterFreya is a third year History student at the University of Leeds. She’s a co-ordinator of the Feminist Society and secretary of Leeds Labour Students and writes regularly for the Leeds Student.

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