Fancy a Consensual Sex on the Beach? Or a Bloody Mary Wollstonecraft? Those aren’t propositions or threats, just cocktails that Oxford University’s Women’s Campaign served up as part of their efforts to engage students in female rights. Frankie Goodway reports on the state of feminism in 2014

Oxford has always been a crucible for feminism. Emily Davison, the martyr of the suffragette movement who died stopping the King’s horse at Epson, studied at St Hugh’s College at the turn of the twentieth century.

In October of 2013, new publication The Feminist Times launched as a print and online magazine funded by members and readers.

“The last few years have increasingly seen a renaissance of feminist activism and broader interest in feminism, so I think 2013 felt like the right time for an organisation that seeks not only to offer a feminist alternative to the mainstream media but also to campaign on issues and bring our members together,” said Sarah Graham, deputy editor of the magazine.

“I think online feminism has had a big role in the renaissance of feminist activity that we’ve seen in the last few years but I think that’s catalysed and facilitated a lot of today’s feminism, rather than defining it.” But for Graham, while the methods have changed, the message is still the same. “I don’t really think the core issues feminists are fighting for have changed a great deal.”

Cheris Kramarae, the American author of A Feminist Dictionary called feminism “the radical idea that women are people,” and that quotation still holds power today. But what is a modern feminist?

A woman? Not necessarily. In 2013, the Oxford University Student Union ran a Why I Need Feminism campaign, photographing students holding up signs with their answers. The majority of those pictured were young women but amongst them were a scattering of men with slogans like “I need feminism because constantly reading about men is one dimensional” and “I need feminism because it’s opened my eyes to a real problem.”

So what else might feminists be? Type ‘feminists are’ into Google and it suggests ‘sexist’, ‘stupid’ and ‘annoying’. The last of these is beyond dispute – feminists are generally people and people are generally annoying, at least some of the time. The other two, however, are typical responses feminists encounter online.

Caroline Criado-Perez hit the headlines with her campaign to keep a woman (other than HRH) on British banknotes and she was subjected to torrents of abuse. John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley, were convicted of threatening her over Twitter. In the face of so much badly-spelled vitriol, it would be no wonder if modern feminists threw up their hands in despair.

But they don’t. Instead they’re fighting back, with wit and reason and, more and more, sheer force of numbers. They might not wear signs – although Bill Bailey looked very dashing in shirt that read This is What a Feminist Looks Like – but online more and more women are calling themselves feminists.

One online project, The Everyday Sexism Project, which collects women’s complaints, has passed 50,000 entries.

Katie Lowe, 26, who created the Fat Girl PhD blog which is read by over 100,000 people, says she came late to feminism. “I spent a long time thinking it was purely academic, or only the domain of activists, so I struggled to identify properly with it,” she says. “Turns out I had very much the wrong end of the stick.

“I think it’s changed a lot over recent years, because the debate has widened up – which is amazing. “The fact that we can have instantaneous discussions over media like Twitter, and generate a response to feminist issues immediately, and on a large scale, is fantastic.” Indeed, the Twitter-storms that regularly rage across social media might be one of the best proofs of a new, tech savvy generation of feminists.

Simone Webb, 20, an Oxford-based feminist and student who has been described as ‘a big mine’ in the warzone of Twitter says her feminism is “striving towards intersectionality – a feminism which focuses on the intersection of gender discrimination and other axes of oppression such as sexuality, race and class.

“This means looking at the specific issues faced by women of colour, for instance, or transgender women.”

According to Sarah Pine, the Vice President for Women at Oxford University, intersectionality has become a “buzzword” as feminists reach beyond their own experiences. Today’s feminism has perhaps received what many prescribed for it – a strong dose of perspective.

So a movement that was suffering a serious image issue – the man-hating, bra-burning, foaming-at-the mouth type (who was really about as common as a lesser spotted unicorn) – now looks fresh faced, diverse and increasingly young at heart. Louise Livesey, a member of the Oxford Feminist Network, says there are more really enjoyable activities bringing feminists together, including the ‘Disco for choice’, another of which is planned for the end of January. “A bunch of use got together to protest against repressive anti-choice laws, and we danced. “We had a CD full of great women- empowering songs, and we danced.”


Oxford graduate Frankie Goodway explains why she’s a feminist

Becoming a feminist was for me, as simple a choice as bacon for breakfast. It was easy for me – being a white, middle-class, well-educated woman; the ‘mainstream’ movement was full of people like me. But that is thankfully changing, the mainstream is opening up to reveal that anyone can be a feminist.

And if anyone can be a feminist, a feminist can be anyone. Feminism is wider and more open than ever before.

To me the issues are, broadly, representation and misogyny. Women remain vastly under-represented in many walks of life, from jobs in science to media roles to the mother of them all, Parliament. ‘Strong female characters’ may get lip service, but our TVs need more Buffys, our films more Wonder Women.

As for misogyny – that is, the hatred of women – it’s a more visible, but difficult struggle. Women are disproportionally victims of domestic violence and rape. If women are still told to be afraid when out at night, how can we expect their lives to rival those of men?

There’s never been an easier time to learn about feminism. There are more blog posts, Twitter hashtags and discussion groups online than any one person could keep track of, meaning there are always opportunities to find out more. I started as a student feminist concerned and, quite frankly, annoyed by the way some men treated me in clubs – within six months I was following developments of sexual harassment in atheist circles (where various high profile men have been accused of abusing their position) and the fallout from a racist sign at New York slutwalk (a protest march against trends of blaming rape victims), stories that might otherwise never have crossed my mind.

More people are writing about feminism and re-writing feminism. Groups that have been isolated by feminisms of the past – women of colour, transgender people, and other neglected voices – have created close online communities and powerful projects to highlight their specific oppressions, and these are finally getting more attention.

Today’s feminism is sometimes more like feminisms, plural. I’m a student feminist. I’m also a reading feminist – that is to say, I spend a lot of time reading feminist work, online and off. At least for now, I’m a journalist feminist, and from time to time, I’m that most zeitgeisty of creatures, the Twitter feminist.

Modern feminism is whatever modern feminists – and you should count yourself among them – make it.