It started where all the best ideas start…down the pub. I was chatting to some colleagues about a lecture I had to give on the first-year module Critical Contexts. The lecture was to be called ‘Gender and Sexuality’ and it was part of a series of lectures exploring how literary and cultural theories have shaped our understanding of identity.
My plan was to chart the history of feminism and (along the way) explore how feminist theories have interrogated identity. How has feminism, in its fight for equality and parity between men and women, complicated our understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality? How has feminism helped us to recognise the way our identities are labelled, regulated and disciplined?
But I had one niggling misgiving. Ever since I began teaching in Higher Education, I have noticed an increasing tendency for students to preface sentences with the phrase, “I’m not a feminist but…” What follows is almost always a statement that needs no excuse and certainly requires no apology. Teaching feminist criticism and feminist theory has also become increasingly difficult. For many, feminism has become tainted by negative stereotypes touted by certain media outlets (e.g. angry, humourless, unattractive, man-hating women). For others, in a society where women can vote, own property, enjoy education and have a job, feminism has lost its cutting edge.
I wanted to challenge these ideas and to open a debate with our students over the value and continuing relevance of feminism. I also wanted to challenge negative stereotypes and to ask our students to think critically about what it means to say, “I am a feminist”.
So, as I shared these worries and ideas down the pub, a plan was hatched. What better way to challenge preconceptions about feminism, and what better way to provide a range of views and arguments, than to draw upon the breadth and wealth of experience within the School of English here at the University of Sheffield?
Armed with a video camera and a pair of feminist t-shirts, twenty-one colleagues have been filmed offering their views on feminism. The result is ‘We Are Feminists’: a YouTube playlist and series of blog posts (of which this is the first).
So thank you to Chris, Dave and Graham for that chat down the pub. Thank you to Jamie and Kaz for their filming and editing skills. And thank you to my colleagues who volunteered their services and allowed us to invade their offices and point a camera in their face. I hope this archive of videos will continue to grow, and I hope that it will provide much food for thought.
We Are Feminists.
To see all the individual videos, please visit our YouTube playlist.