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School of Thought: The Feminists

25th October 2015 · 11:30am - 1:00pm

In person | Virtual event

 School of Thought: The Feminists

School of Thought: The Feminists – A bite-sized introduction to feminism at the Bloomsbury Festival.

Everyone is a feminist now, celebrities and politicians even wear t-shirts proclaiming it, but what does feminism mean and why does it matter? The facts on the ground are confusing. On the one hand, girls are getting higher marks at school, more women attend university than men, and the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. It sometimes seems therefore that women really might have it all. Women just have to ‘lean in’, to quote Sheryl Sandberg, who herself catapulted over the glass ceiling to become CEO of Facebook. On the other hand, for all their potential, women tend not to be promoted at work, their earnings level off at the age of 34 and in the media they are regularly reduced to objects of desire.

The battle, then, is far from won, but what exactly is it that we’re fighting for? Caitlin Moran, who has injected feminism into the mainstream, says that the movement can be summed up with the words: “women are equal to men”. While equality is indeed central, however, Germaine Greer points out that women do not necessarily want to be the same as men; what they want is to be free to be themselves – which is why the notion of women’s liberation is also key. At its base, perhaps, feminism is a response to the idea that there are certain essential differences between men and women from which certain norms and roles must follow. Feminism pushes back against this essentialism, revealing the ways in which gender is a construct, not a given, or as Simone de Beauvoir put it, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”.

The class will examine these ideas, tracing them from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, through the subsequent so-called waves of feminism. Drawing on the lives and experiences of everyone in the room, men and women alike, we will get clear on what is at stake in feminism, and how we might we bring it to bear on our own lives in a useful, helpful way.

Hannah Dawson

Having heard Hannah speak recently, one man said he’d like to throw his TV out the window and put her in the room instead. Educated at the University of Cambridge, where she obtained a double first in BA history, a MPhil and a PhD, she was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and then appointed to a Lectureship at the University of Edinburgh. She is now Senior Lecturer in the history of ideas at The New College of the Humanities. Published widely and a regular contributor to broadcast and live media, her most recent book is Life Lessons from Hobbes.

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