If you’re one of the many people in Trinity who identifies as a feminist or the sort of hack who keeps up with interesting drama and developments, you might be aware of the current controversy surrounding the Central Societies Committee (CSC) and the Dublin University Gender Equality Society (DUGES). On Monday, March 20, the members of DUGES voted unanimously for the motion to change the society’s name to the Dublin University Feminist Society. At the CSC Annual General Meeting the following day, the motion failed due to the procedural problem of not meeting the quorum of treasurers to vote on it.
“A fundamental breach”
“Former DUGES chairperson, Áine Palmer, has previously expressed frustration that the CSC has been unclear about which part of Article 10 would be violated.”
In a statement to Trinity News, the CSC Secretary, Patrick O’Boyle, said that regardless of the motion by DUGES members, the name change would not have been possible even if there had been a quorum. “The position of the CSC was that the motion represented a fundamental breach of Article 10 of CSC’s constitution.”
But it is unclear which specific part of Article 10, Determination Of Recognition and Organisational Type, would be “’fundamentally” breached, even after close reading of the document. Former DUGES chairperson, Áine Palmer, has previously expressed frustration that the CSC has been unclear about which part of Article 10 would be violated.
One possibility is a violation of 10.1.3.ii., stating “the primary object of the proposed organisation [must] not already [be] covered by or encompassed within the primary object of any other recognised University Society, Capitated body or dependent group thereof” — due to the existence of a Gender Equality Officer in the Student Union. Such an argument would be completely undermined by the simultaneous presence of an SU LGBT Rights Officer and Q-Soc.
“Given the historical contention between DUGES and the CSC, it is reasonable to ask, why does this name change matter enough that the society is pressing the matter even in the face of institutional resistance?”
In 2012 following the controversy of DUGES wanting to attend – not even organise – a march in remembrance of Savita Halappanavar, an Editorial of this paper observed that not only was the CSC limiting the scope of the activities of DUGES, but that that it was wrong to do so, stating, “It is important that students follow the developments between the CSC and DUGES closely”.
The resistance to the desired name-change is certainly one of those developments. Given the historical contention between DUGES and the CSC, it is reasonable to ask, why does this name change matter enough that the society is pressing the matter even in the face of institutional resistance? Aren’t Gender Equality and Feminism the same thing?
Of the latter question, Áine Palmer puts it extremely well: “Having a proudly feminist society on campus is so important – both in terms of destigmatising the word (’cause we should all be proud feminists), and embracing an inclusive and intersectional feminism. We want to move forward into the new year with a name that reflects not just our commitment to gender equality, but a commitment to discussion of intersectional feminism, and all of the inequalities that fall under that term.”
“Within a larger, international context, narrowing the scope of feminism and feminist action to merely a function of gender equality is reductive and troubling.”
Intersectionality, as a philosophy, acknowledges that gender is only one piece of a linked web of oppression that includes race, class, religion, sexual orientation and other influences on people’s lives and an agenda narrowed to “gender equality” occludes these intersectional aspects of feminism.
Within a larger, international context, narrowing the scope of feminism and feminist action to merely a function of gender equality is reductive and troubling. Furthermore, it is a red flag to anyone with a progressive mind to be wary of possible connections to racism, national chauvinism and transphobia.
“the mathematically-implicit binary in the word ‘equality’ can alienate potential members.”
There is an oppressive, conservative strain of feminism often referred to as Trans-Exclusory Radical Feminism – or TERF – that has been part of a great cleavage within the feminist movement. Concerns regarding the narrow scope of a “Gender Equality” society, and the mathematically-implicit binary in the word ‘equality’ can alienate potential members from the society because it inaccurately reflects the character and aims of the society.
Nothing of DUGES’s mandate, activity or agenda would change along with the name but the change is nonetheless important as a matter of pride, conscience, inclusivity and also simple accuracy.
We are living in a time of immense political cleavage and a resurgent fascism that seems to be in part a backlash to progress made by women, people of colour and sexual minorities and therefore it is incumbent upon institutions like Trinity to lead the way in resistance to this backlash. Our Students’ Union is making strides towards this by advancing a progressive agenda and working tirelessly towards ever-greater inclusion but that should include an awareness of nuance and terminology. As a proud feminist, a proud committee member of DUGES and a proud member of Trinity, I believe that it’s time that the CSC started using the f-word.