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FemSoc, women at Hughes, and a journey in equality

Hughes Hall, with its vibrant and varied community, has always had a wide range of clubs and societies Current students, led by the MCR Committee, are reinvigorating collegiate life after the pandemic by establishing new societies…and reestablishing old ones!

Hughes undergrad Olivia O’Dea is doing just that with the seemingly extinct Hughes Hall Feminist Society. She shared her aims for the Society and reiterated its activism pledge:

“As part of our mission as Hughes Hall Feminist Society, we will be supporting two campaigns a term. This will involve organising events to both raise awareness, and funds, for our chosen initiatives. It is important to integrate some form of activity into our practice of Feminism in college, as well as permitting the exploration of feminism in a way that is both intellectual and personally enriching.”

Olivia is currently seeking members of the FemSoc Committee as well as of the Society itself so please get in touch if you’d like to find out more and get involved. She has also recently been elected MCR Female and Non-binary Welfare Officer so you can contact her via: mcr.welfare.female.nonbinary@hughes.cam.ac.uk.

We spoke to Olivia about her efforts to re-launch the society, her commitment to feminism and equality, and her inspiration.

Tell us about your background and inspiration

Hi, my name is Olivia! I am a first-year Philosophy Undergraduate here at Hughes Hall and grew up in London. I went to Catholic Schools in London for all my pre-university academic career, where I wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of feminist literature (or feminism, in general)!

My relationship with feminism has evolved as I’ve encountered various works of literature over the years that engage with ‘feminism’ in distinct ways; and it changes with experience, and with exposure to the sentiments of my peers. I also find it can be healing to deepen my own understanding of woman in society, in a historical context. Feminism is, of course, political as well as personal, and it always should be.

“I find it inspiring to see people engaging with feminism in the ways that are most authentic for them at any particular time in their lives. We are all always learning, and even more so, we are always learning from each other. Something that I feel so grateful for, being at Hughes Hall, is being able to have inspiring conversations with my peers about their own Feminist convictions, and what shaped them.”

Olivia with some of the women at Hughes Hall who have inspired her to reestablish FemSoc

How does feminism relate to your academic interests?

Being a philosophy student, I engage critically with a lot of the feminist media I’m exposed to, and it is a privilege to bear witness to the interconnectivity that exists between the subject areas of, say, ethics and political philosophy, and feminism. It is particularly interesting for me to apply the various “arguments” of feminism to the rules and standards of argumentation that I come across as part of my reading Philosophy (in Formal Methods). It allows me to ensure that I only present those convictions of which I’m certain, and it encourages me to challenge the justifications that I have for believing particular things. I have a special interest in the subject area of Metaphysics, wherein the conversations on “causation” and “laws of nature”, for example, have enabled me to experience feminism and feminist argumentation in new ways.

“It is so fascinating to consider the idea that the position of the woman in society has been in some way “caused” when I, myself, am uncertain of the validity of ascribing the property of ‘causation’ to anything at all. It can be incredibly difficult at times to marry my political convictions to my epistemic hesitations.”

Tell us about your experience as a woman at Hughes and at Cambridge?

I feel that Hughes Hall needs a Feminist Society. The experiences of women at the University of Cambridge are experiences that should be talked about, and it is important to have a structure within which to come together, to debate, to support, to engage and to campaign.

No place is perfect but we have a collective duty to aim towards some idea of “perfection” as part of an adherence to the beautiful and unequivocally important ideals of feminism and feminist equality including a right to safety and security. Hughes Hall lent a great deal of support to its students this year in response to some challenging events during difficult times and there is, as always, room for improvement, both on the part of the college and the students.

On a personal note, it would be nice to feel that we, as a student-run society, have imparted some change on the experience of future Hughesians (and current ones too hopefully). On an even more personal note, since arriving at Hughes Hall, I have had the absolute privilege of forming the most wonderful friendships with some of the most incredible women that I have ever met.

Get in touch if you are interested to join the society committee

What next?

I would love to work in conjunction with my fellow Hughesians to nurture a real feminist space in college. A space in which we can come together to celebrate the beauty of femininity, and a space that we feel we are able to challenge one another in. I want more conversations about intersectionality, and the actual implementation of the feminist and political ideals that we so often hear one another discussing in the bar or in Formal Halls. Let’s be upfront about the things that require change in college, and in the university as a whole, to ensure that our experiences are both supported and equal.

We are an amazing college, with a such a diverse student population (and staff population), and we are privileged enough to exist in this singular space for the duration of our course. It would be such a shame to fail to share our ideas and our relationships with feminism with one another.

You can contact Olivia on mcr.welfare.female.nonbinary@hughes.cam.ac.uk and read about the other MCR committee members here: https://mcr.hughes.cam.ac.uk/mcr-committee/.