On Sunday 8 March, International Women's Day, Newcastle University Feminist Society (Femsoc) hosted the inaugural Newcastle University Feminism Festival at the Students’ Union. The sold-out event welcomed speakers Flo Perry, Fope Olaleye and Iqra Choudhry, as well as an ‘Ask a Feminist’ panel discussion.
Femsoc president Sian Dickie began the day by explaining the society’s ethos, and giving an overview of its activities this academic year.
The first talk was from Iqra Choudhry, a Newcastle alumna who is currently based in Manchester, and runs the ‘Brown Girls Do It’ podcast. Choudhry spoke about her journey to becoming a feminist, giving an account of the various struggles she has faced throughout her life. She particularly focused on the intersections of being a queer, working-class, Muslim woman of colour, and how she has encountered multiple forms of oppression as a result of her identity.
A panel discussion titled ‘Ask a Feminist’, followed Choudhry. The panel comprised Eleasha Forster, Beth Lawrence, Victoria Osho, Sian Dickie, Harriot Sloane and Alice Fish. They covered issues such as the prevalence of fatphobia, the use of language and terminology, and combatting transphobia and TERF (‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’) ideology. They also discussed their feminist heroes. The panel’s overall conclusion was that feminism requires collectivity and mutual support across its intersections, as well as an effort to humanise the groups most alienated in wider society.
The second speaker was Fope Olaleye, Newcastle graduate and former NUSU LGBT Officer. Their talk, titled ‘Decolonising Feminism’, challenged attendees to consider the impacts of colonialism on women and queer people of colour. Olaleye used examples of trans and non-binary gender identities in non-European cultures to demonstrate how the gender binary has been forced on the Global South by colonialism. They also explained how the notion of androgyny is often framed around thin, white, masculine-presenting people, and why that is a particular problem for queer people of colour.
The final speaker of the day, Flo Perry, gave a talk titled ‘How to Have Feminist Sex’. Perry, a freelance writer and illustrator with 53,000 Instagram followers, spoke candidly about sex positivity, dating, rejection, and virginity. She unpacked the problems with society's perception of virginity, using the witty analogy of eating a chocolate croissant to explain why we should not expect sex to be perfect every time.
After the event, Dickie said “we wanted to put on the conference to raise the voices of feminists who we believe are important to the current wave of feminism. The topics covered such as decolonisation, intersectionality, feminist sex, are all conversations that we need to be learning from, particularly our members who may be new to the movement.” She added that organising it “was really tough and it took a long time to put together but in the end it was worth it because the day was really successful. People left inspired and motivated and that was all I really wanted people to feel.”