Month: October 2014

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

– Daisy Hughes 

Before I came to Cambridge, I’d never particularly noticed that I was a woman. Of course, I was aware of my sex in a physical sense, and even my gender in a social sense. But I’d never really politically identified as a woman. I’d never really felt in my admittedly very privileged upbringing that there was less space in the world for me and my voice because I was a woman. I would’ve called myself a ‘feminist’, but I’d never really noticed how that term had specific relevance to me.

But then I came to Cambridge. And not only did I come to Cambridge, but I decided that while I was here I wanted to try and change some things about this place.

I began my involvement with the Living Wage Campaign towards the end of my first year. It had taken me a while to settle in to this strange world and I finally felt that I was able and ready to engage with it in a different way. It was during the course of this campaign, however, that I really began to notice how little space there is here for women who want to take part in, let alone lead, any form of political action.

I was running the campaign with a male friend of mine, who I have a huge amount of respect for. However, each time there was any reporting on the campaign it was always his name and not mine that was mentioned. Each time anyone had a question about what we were doing and why, they would address him and not me. It was as though people were assuming that he was the leader, while I was the secretary. I found myself in JCR meetings in which his voice was privileged over mine – in which he was listened to, while I was spoken over and dismissed.

Finally, a man with whom I had previously been involved, suggested to me that the reason I was doing these things – the reason I was dedicating hours of my time and all of my emotional energy to a campaign I was sure I believed in myself – was because I had become friends with another strong, vocal woman in our college. I was quite literally being denied a voice of my own, by someone who I had previously assumed respected me. Implicit in his comment was a fear of women who speak out, and it was framed as ‘concern’ for the influence she appeared to have over me. Clearly, I couldn’t be doing these things because I wanted to do them.

As a woman involved in ‘activism’, I found I was far more likely to be painted as a ‘radical’ than my male counterparts – although clearly this goes alongside a fundamental misunderstanding of what this term actually means. Very simply, I was ‘radical’ because I had noticed an injustice taking place in our community, and as a woman, my place in pointing this out and fighting against it was unexpected and unwanted.

It is too easy, in this very male-dominated and male-orientated environment, for women who speak out to be silenced. One only has to look at the treatment of the Women’s Campaign in the student press to see a persistent fear of the female voice. There is very little space here for women to have this voice and trying to carve one out is, frankly, exhausting.

‘I Wrote This For Me.’

I Wrote This For Me. ­

-Mariam Ansar

I wrote my first poems with tired eyes and tousled hair, stole away
the words that had remained since before I knew about ‘context’ and ‘literary devices’,
but knew to trust my mum’s knowledge and my sisters’ feelings,
tucked them in my pockets, stained my fingers with the pace that I could follow sentences at and
laughed aloud at adventures which
never concerned me,
or at least,
did so without me realising. I was a
12 year old with serious habits, critiqued advertisements and emailed companies for being too ‘white-
centric’, too ‘un­inclusive’, too… ‘fake’, and then dipped straight back into that Harry Potter like
Hermione Granger had never shaped me, or I couldn’t hear The Babysitters Club in my ear, or Maya
Angelou standing firm, delicate, strong and wild and beautiful all at the same time, all to dash my
problematic habits, thinking about Other Girls and Cool Girls and Gamer Girls and dividing the
differences that disappeared as I drew on what I didn’t always know.
What I didn’t always know:
What reading lists don’t tell you, save for the colour of the paper they’re written on, direct reflection of
the content, almost… almost… ALWAYS, I am a
little girl who wondered if the hero could, yes, think like me, and yes, be the blurry imaginary best
friend I took to talking to in corners of the playground in primary school and yet,
did they ever dare to let me wipe back the fog on the window, clear it with my sleeve and see… me?
Within the opacity, see
brown girls who brought books to snack on and then choked on them later, felt the sting of a whiteness
which just…
Wounded, I am a
student who wrote in Murakami, Baldwin, Ishiguro on the library bookmark of ‘esteemed’authors they
gave us, bit away the core of the apple
and choked on it, but rose up, not from any kiss anyone could give me but the
kiss I gave to myself, told myself to
In the same vicinity of middle­class institutionalised racism, and ‘oh, are you a foreign student?’ and
stares down the street from those who see too much and not enough and are blinded by a headscarf
and just never know it, I am a
brown girl reading and thinking and wanting to grow,
evolving? evolving, and refusing to back down, this is my
rebellion and I am the one causing
the ripples of water that extend to my own feet and outwards,
brown girl, book child,
talking, writing
Within the silences that rise around me, I am deafening.
The funny thing is, I’m not always trying.

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