University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Feminism in Academic Spaces: A Battle that’s Been ‘Won’

Ilana Munk-Upton

ByIlana Munk-Upton

Apr 16, 2024

The University of Sussex has a reputation for being modern, forward-thinking and progressive. Yet its teaching of feminism in its politics degree, and elsewhere, is severely lacking. Coverage of feminism as an ideology is sparse and barely has its own week in most modules. When it is covered, it is done so from a historical perspective, which implies the fight for feminism is ‘won’ or an issue of the past. However, as we all know, that is certainly not the case – with the rise of figures such as Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson plastering the social media feeds of men everywhere, poisoning them with misogynistic and toxic masculine rhetoric. The popularity of these men no doubt coincides with the fact Gen Z men are less likely than Millennial and Gen X men to identify with the label of ‘feminist’ and more likely to agree that feminism has ‘gone too far’ (look up the stats!). Therefore, it is the job of academic institutions such as schools and universities to not only arm women with the tools and knowledge to stand against this new wave of misogyny, but also to educate men that the patriarchy negatively affects them as well and they too should be feminists.

This is the line of argument I used when talking to one of my senior lecturers. In his module about political theory, he didn’t include any dedicated week for feminism or even a mention of it. After emailing him my worries, he invited me to talk about it with him in person, so I did. Now, I’m not saying the conversation went terribly or that this lecturer meant to come across badly, but things were said that were uncooperative and dismissive. Let’s just say, being accused of “sneering” and “looking for disagreement” are probably not the most productive things to say to a female student when discussing feminism in an academic space. Despite this minor hiccup, after the discussion I left with a feeling of satisfaction as I stood my ground and he genuinely seemed receptive to what I was saying. Progress, right? Well, yes and no – on the one hand, I came away feeling listened to and respected (somewhat) and that my criticisms had been acknowledged. But on the other, why was it so hard to get there in the first place? And why was certain language used to frame me as being overly emotional and illogical?

As I’m sure most of our female readers know, specific language is used against women in arguments or debates to undermine what they are saying due to the supposed or actual presence of emotion. This tactic is damaging as it is used predominantly against women, especially concerning matters of feminism. What most men don’t understand is that the objectivity they present and value in discussions like this is actually a privilege and should be recognised as such. The frustration of having to plead with your lecturer for female representation, noticing men talk more than women in your seminars (again statistically true!), and having men speak over you in group situations are all issues that are so incredibly personal and warrant an emotional response. 

So, do I feel it was right for me to be critiqued in this way by my lecturer? Absolutely not. My main purpose of writing this article is to tell other women that it isn’t okay if it happens to them either – and to push for more education on feminism. Hopefully, education will empower women against the multiple barriers facing them in academic spaces. 

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