One event I always look forward to is the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar. By far my favorite activity of the many things we do as WHT scholars; I was excited to find out that the subject of the second follow-up Moral Philosophy Seminar would be Feminism, as this is something I’m passionate about. I went to the seminar with the expectation of being intellectually stimulated and enlightened and I was not disappointed. The Seminars have typically been an avenue for us to critically consider and dissect topics of importance in today’s world and this was no different.
At about 5:30PM on Friday the 1st of March, scholars at the height of the stress of Hilary term gathered at Nuffield College around now familiar faces to have open intellectual and moral examination of a contemporary issue as they have done a few times before. The seminar was hosted by Dr Nikolas Kirby, WHT Academic Advisor, and moderated by Dr Diana Popescu. The event had a great turnout, with most of the scholars taking the time out of their busy terms to come and share thoughts on this very relevant issue.
The seminar opened up with Dr Diana Popescu stating the importance of allowing everyone to share their diverse ideas on the issue of Feminism. Participants began by defining what feminism meant to them. For example, Hannah Kamaric relayed the importance of women having ‘true choice’ in defining feminism (as opposed to traditionally prescriptive definitions). Antonio Beun, added the acknowledgement that sexism is carried out in everyday life, saying that “things we take as normal, are actually oppressive to one gender of human beings.”
The discussion featured readings from historic and contemporary feminist thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone De Beauvoir, Sojourner Truth, and more. Scholars were able to examine how discussions around women’s rights have evolved over time, and the relativity of what is considered as “radical” feminism. In discussing approaches to “radical” feminist rhetoric and shock value in social movements; Ayushi Agarwal articulated the significance of making choices on rhetoric that was either more palatable to the masses or that would garner results in the long term.
The discussion moved to analyzing the inhibitions that have hampered the level of success of feminism so far. The scholars discussed how women negotiate their identities and defining women as “The Other” in relation to men, with men always being the template for humanity. Zuzana stressed the importance of feminism having a relationship with men that was both oppositional and allied, since women have positive emotional relationships with men as no other group has with its ‘oppressor’.
The scholars also discussed intersectionality in feminism, and how important it is to take into account the different meanings and interpretations of feminism to women as influenced by their race, social class, and culture. We progressed to the topic of work and economic freedom for women, exploring how economic opportunities for women are hampered by them still having to do the majority of work at home, and the need for a change in the extent to which we attach economic value to the work that women do in the home.
For some contrast, Grace Mzumara discussed an example of a matriarchal society, citing a town in her home country of Malawi. She elaborated that there were problems of marginalization of men in that situation as well and urged the need for a focus on equality as a solution to oppression.
As discussions progressed, we were so engrossed in our debates that we hardly realized we had used up the allotted time while everyone still had much to say. We opted to take a break for dinner and made our way to the large dining room where a delicious assortment of food awaited us. During dinner the discussion carried on as everyone dined and socialized, smiles and laughs of friendship resonating all around the long dinner table.
We reconvened after dinner in the meeting room for a second round of discussions, glasses of wine and cups of tea in hand as we picked up where we had left off with a discussion of ‘third wave feminism’. Pornography and its influence on behavior in society as relates to rights and perceptions of women was at the heart of this discussion. There was some division in views on whether or not pornography and sex work in general, is degrading to women. In the end, consensus was that there is a need for reform in that industry. Ayushi articulated the need for a rethink on the ‘proliferation of porn’, considering the harmful effects it has on how men view women as sex objects. We agreed that there is a definite need for reform in society to inform reform in porn, as it is a consumer-based industry that feeds off of the desires of men in a patriarchal society.
As the evening wore on, we were eventually able to wrap up discussions so scholars could disperse for the night. The seminar was no doubt an incredible learning experience for all of us and it was with wistful hugs that the scholars finally parted that night, the wonderful experience a fitting finale to WHT events for this Hilary term.