An inspirational panel of women came together via an online event to celebrate the launch of Professor Bryson’s new book which makes the case for an inclusive form of socialist feminism that puts women with multiple disadvantages at its heart

WHO needs feminism? The short answer to this question is everyone.

This and the issues involved were discussed when a panel of inspirational women came together to celebrate the launch of a new book titled, ‘The Futures of Feminism’ written by the University of Huddersfield’s Professor Emerita of Politics, Valerie Bryson.

Valerie has published extensively on feminist theory and politics and was accompanied on the panel by activist and actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation Kim Leadbeater MBE and the University’s Director of the None In Three (Ni3) global research centre, Professor Adele Jones OBE.

Who Needs Feminism panel Valerie Bryson (pictured above next to 'The Futures of Feminism' book cover) was accompanied on the panel by (pictured left to right) activist and actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, Kim Leadbeater MBE & the Director of the None In Three (Ni3) global research centre, Professor Adele Jones OBE

The debate was chaired by Dr Georgina Blakeley, Director of Teaching, Learning and Student Experience for the School of Human and Health Sciences with all four panel members contributing to the discussion through their own particular lens.

Published by Manchester University PressThe Futures of Feminism combines academic rigour with accessibility and makes the case for an inclusive form of socialist feminism that puts women with multiple disadvantages at its heart.

The event began with Valerie outlining how her ideas for the book had developed over time.

She explained that her own feminist ideas are bound up with more collective experiences and developments, reflecting the times she has lived through, the general political climate, and developments in feminist theory and politics as well as her own experiences, which included the enormous importance of female friendship.

She described how she had always thought of herself as a socialist feminist and had been aware of the inequalities of class as well as gender but admitted that she didn’t initially appreciate the extent to which other inequalities were built into society, and how they could change the very meaning of what it meant to be a woman.  

“I didn’t fully see that when I thought I was writing about feminism,” explained Valerie, “I was actually writing as a white woman, about mainly white European and US-based feminisms.” 

Since then, she added, she has read a lot of black feminist theory which she hoped had changed her understanding for the better and made her feminism more inclusive. 

Valerie, who is an affiliate member of the University’s Centre for Citizenship, Conflict, Identity and Diversity (CCID) reasserted the argument for the kind of socialist feminism which puts the most disadvantaged women at its heart. She explained how this was very different from the kind of feminism represented by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as his predecessor Theresa May, who both described themselves as feminists, although their Conservative Party’s policies had done so much damage to so many women. 

To conclude Valerie delivered some grounds for optimism about a future that could be both more feminist and more socialist.

Socialist Feminism

Valerie welcomed the webinar’s first speaker Julie Hesmondhalgh who was perhaps more well known by her work as an actress rather than as an activist.  Julie, who also co-runs Take Back Theatre, a Manchester-based company that creates immediate responses to social and political events, began with an appreciation for the book and reflected on the ways it had spoken to her personally.

As a socialist, Julie said she particularly welcomed the book’s chapter on trans rights which featured Valerie’s argument that both socialist principles and an intersectional approach could suggest ways of moving forward, beyond the increasingly fraught disputes which could often be seen in the women’s movement around the topic.

The talk that followed was delivered by the University’s Professor of Social Work Adele Jones OBE where she described her own feminism journey and referred to a time when, as a  young academic, she had made a stand with Black students against racism only to find herself on the receiving end of a backlash by White women in the department.  This made her wonder how it could ever be okay for one group to feel that the discrimination they faced meant they were beyond discriminating against others. 

The Director of the None in Three research centre for the global prevention of gender-based violence, revealed how her political footing didn’t return until she became inspired by the writings of women such as Audrey Lorde, Bell Hooks, June Jordan, Heidi Mercer and Amina Mama. 

“I began to understand,” explained Adele, “why Alice Walker coined the term womanism, in opposition to a feminism that seemed preoccupied with the interests of White middle-class women and why Audrey Lorde felt compelled to write, ‘when radical lesbian feminist theory dismisses us, it encourages its own demise’.”

What is intersectionality

However, it wasn’t until she stumbled upon the concept of intersectionality that she began to fully reconnect with feminism. Since then, she described how intersectionality had been the route through which she was able to expand her own versions of feminism and in doing so had reclaimed her space and peace as a feminist.

Adele emphasised the importance of ‘inclusive activist feminism’ and disclosed how in the 1980’s she was one of many Black women who waved placards and protested against the treatment of women who, having left their violent husbands, were put into holding centres only to eventually be deported and forcibly separated from their children. 

“Imagine how deeply depressing it was to learn 30 years later that the domestic abuse bill currently being debated in parliament again disregarded the specific needs of migrant women,” she said. 

In an act of political solidarity, Adele explained how a coalition of more than 50 Black Asian and minority ethnic migrant and women's rights organisations accused the Government of placing the lives of these women at serious risk and it was this activism which had forced the Government to rethink. 

“Feminism is nothing without activism and this, dear friends, is what inclusive activist feminism looks like,” she added.

Intersectionality

Kim Leadbeater MBE an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation which was set up after the murder of her sister Jo Cox MP in 2016, also chairs the Batley & Spen ‘More In Common’ volunteer-group and was the event’s final speaker and panel member. 

Kim, who is also a spokesperson for The Great Get Together, an annual weekend of community events held in June across the UK, referred to a question her sister Jo was once asked which was, ‘What kind of a feminist are you?’, to which Kim said her sister replied, ‘A massive one!’ and explained how this was evident in the work carried out by Jo when she was an MP. 

Kim said her sister Jo was previously quoted as saying that only 23% of the House of Commons were female and if women didn’t make that 50/50, then the people making decisions about their communities were never to going to reflect their needs. Although this number was now standing at 34%, which Kim disclosed was an all-time high, there was still a long way to go if the country was ever to achieve equal representation. 

In her role as an ambassador, Kim said she is often invited to talk at events on a wide range of topics but is often struck beforehand with feelings of self-doubt.  However, there was no shame in this and feels it is important for female role models to be transparent and open about their vulnerabilities.

Kim concluded with an inspirational note and thanked the thousands of women around the world who have rolled their sleeves up and made many amazing things happen after being inspired by her sister Jo. 

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” said Kim. 

“Be a role-model to other women and indeed men. Be a strong resilient, powerful woman, but also be kind to yourself. Look after the basics of your health - sleep, nutrition, stress, hydration, physical activity - and don’t be afraid or embarrassed about asking for support when you need it because you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

“And as I’m still trying to put into practice myself,” she added, “asking for help is a strength and not a weakness. We all need feminism, but we also sometimes just need a helping hand, no matter how fierce a feminist you are.”

In the webinar, Professor Emerita of Politics Valerie Bryson discusses her new book titled, The Futures of Feminism, with actress and activist Julie Hesmondhalgh, ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation Kim Leadbeater MBE and the Director of the None in Three (Ni3) global research centre Professor Adele Jones OBE.

Valerie introduces the key feminist concepts and each speaker contributes to the discussion through their own particular lens. The event is chaired by the University's Dr Georgina Blakeley, Director of Teaching, Learning and Student Experience within the School of Human and Health Sciences.

The webinar drew to a close with Julie reading out the short concluding chapter from Valerie’s book before Dr Blakeley invited Huddersfield Students’ Union, Women’s Network Assistant, Isma Rashid, who has done a huge amount of work to empower women and tackle gender inequalities, to facilitate the final session of the webinar which featured a wide ranging Q&A session with the panel. 

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