Feminism at Cambridge: an introduction

JPC's Women's Welfare Officer, Belén Bale tells us why we should all be feminists.

As a fresher, you will soon find that the stereotype of Cambridge being a place steeped in tradition is a reality that is alive and kicking.

Wearing gowns down King’s Parade isn’t seen as out of place, drinking port is positively encouraged, and a mumbled Latin grace is still spoken before every Pembroke formal. But the stereotypes aren’t always so harmlessly kitsch. Women of colour take up places here in shockingly small numbers (despite recent incremental improvements), and some college drinking societies still attempt to make sharking (sexually predatory behaviour towards first years) an unwelcome worry for female and non-binary freshers.

That said, it is without doubt that our university is becoming a more inclusive and balanced institution. Caius has just appointed its first female Master, just over a year after Peterhouse. And then there’s the students - the stereotype of the King’s socialist is now less particular to our most famous college as it is the whole university. With every new cohort of students matriculated, we are becoming the most determined, forward thinking, and (above all) equality-driven group of undergraduates that Cambridge has had to date. And if you aren’t already all of these things, you will become them here.

Why do I sound so certain? The answer is simply because you must. Its no secret that being at Oxbridge gives you a level of privilege higher than other universities in terms of career prospects and quality of education. While you will spend time discussing the obviously elitist bases for this, there’s no getting away from the fact that you applied here. And now you’ve got here, you might as well use what power you have to affect the world around you in a positive and long-lasting way. Whether you identify as female, are non-binary, or are someone who is a feminist and supports the fight towards gender equality - you’re now also a Cambridge student. Do you know how much power you have,even in your first year? Your position, your views, your very existence at this college and at this university is helping to win an ongoing battle that has been going on for centuries. You are both lucky to be here, and deserve to be here, even if at times you have to remind both yourself and other people of that fact (even if it is now three times harder to get onto Love Island as into Cambridge, but I digress).

If you need a bit more convincing, then here are some facts. Our university was founded in 1207, but women have only been permitted to study here since 1869. Their degrees became as equally valid as everyone else’s in 1948. Kings, Clare and Churchill only took in women in 1972... and our college, Pembroke, only did so in 1984. That’s 33 years. Pembroke became co-ed the year Khloe Kardashian was born. Shall I let that sink in?

And despite progress for women and non-binary people in the wider world since 1869, the struggle is by no means over. The gender pay gap, political representation (particularly for women of colour) and equality of opportunity in careers are all still controversial topics across the world - not least in the UK, where only 32% of MPs are women.

If anyone tells you that being a feminist is no longer relevant, remind them that 62 million girls, globally, are still out of education. If you’ve broken tradition that was previously thought as controversial just 33 years ago, and unbreakable 148 years ago, then you have that obligation to break it for everyone.

Belén Bale is a second year HSPS student and a content editor for Pembroke Street