Ause Abdelhaq looks at one of UCD’s more recent groups, and their goal of removing the stigma sometimes attached to feminism.
FOR many students, the word ‘feminism’ can be empowering and exciting; for many others, it can be a taboo – something to be avoided lest they be branded ‘uptight’. The movement has had its fair share of difficulties and criticisms, but the reality is that it’s impossible to come to college and not encounter it in some way.
One of those ways is through the Feminist Book Club, an group that describes itself as “a safe, nurturing space for UCD feminists to be introduced to feminist texts, to have a platform to share feminist pieces on and to meet fellow UCD feminists.”
The initial idea for the Feminist Book Club was to reconnect friends who had met in feminist modules, according to final year Law student and co-founder of the club, Niamh Ní Chormac. She believes that at their first meeting, many people were there out of pure interest in the topic.
“We felt that it was better to keep the book club an open space where people could come and feel like they’re part of it”
“The first meeting was so optimistic” she says. “There were so many people that hadn’t even read the book but just saw the word feminist and were so excited that there was a space there.” She claims that, since then, the club has expanded far beyond its initial intention to become “that space on campus for feminists to come, develop their feminism, engage in discussions and bring people into that learning curve.”
With notable guests in the past including Niamh Hardiman and Colin Scott, the club has certainly gone from strength to strength since its founding in 2015. That said, there have been multiple secessions from the organisation in the past. One former member, who asked to remain anonymous, said that their experience with the club was a far cry from the safe, nurturing circumstance described in its mission statement.
“I don’t mind being wrong, but I felt afraid of being shouted down rather than being conducive to an actual discussion,” said the source. “I was wary of expressing an opinion for fear that it would be the ‘wrong opinion’ to have in a discussion group where, in my view, there should be no wrong opinions.”
“Feminism is a learning curve”
When asked about the organisational structure of the club, the source claimed that there exists a gap between the knowledge of some members over others and that “that creates a hierarchy where, because they’re so well-read, certain individuals are going to preach at you”. However, this is a claim completely refuted by Ní Chormac.
“The way the book club works is non-hierarchical,” she says. “The whole reason for that is because we wanted to reject society culture – that has a place in UCD, but we felt that it was better to keep the book club an open space where people could come and feel like they’re part of it, regardless of whether they’ve been there for ages or they haven’t.”
Ní Chormac believes that the negative experiences which some have had with the Feminist Book Club stem from the confusion regarding the organisation’s Facebook page, which was never intended to be a representation of the club’s ethos.
“This comes back to the development of the Book Club, because so many people know of it through Facebook,” she points out. “The page was actually set up just after our first meeting because we thought it would be the easiest way to organise meetings, but it just accidentally grew to become that UCD feminist presence online.”
The club’s Facebook page has now grown to have 309 members. Ní Chormac refuses to class them as members, however. “While there may be 300 members on the Facebook page, I don’t think I could say there are 300 members of the Feminist Book Club,” she declares. Part of her insistence is due to her own experience with the club; she cites the physical meetings as the places where she has grown the most as a feminist. “Feminism is a learning curve, and the feminism that I had when I first started this club is vastly different from the feminism I have now,” she says. “It’s through the discussions that we’ve had in book club meetings that I’ve come to that point.”
“I would hope that it doesn’t become a society, simply because then it can stay true to its non-hierarchical structure”
With the graduation of Ní Chormac, the Feminist Book Club will lose the last of its original founding members. When asked, she says it’s impossible to tell the future, but she disagrees with the assumption that it might one day become a fully-fledged society on campus.
“The way that societies are run in UCD is quite restrictive,” she says. “A lot of it conflicts with the way that the Book Club is run, so I would hope that the it doesn’t become a society, simply because then it can stay true to its non-hierarchical structure.”
Ní Chormac is anxious to contest the feeling amongst students that feminism is a dirty word. She believes that opening yourself up to different opinions, even those that have been stigmatised, can only ever be beneficial. “Sometimes, we become embarrassed from feminism because there’s a label attached to it,” she admits. “What I would say to that is: just come along; you will be amazed at the amount of common ground you have with people in the room, and the amount you can learn from just coming to a meeting.”