Earlier this week someone reminded me that it is now a year since I was filmed explaining how feminism helps to inform my approach to the study of early eighteenth-century print culture.
I remember there being some speculation among my close friends as to how exactly I was going to do this, given that my research is on eighteenth-century periodicals written for men, about men, to be circulated in a predominantly male coffee house culture (‘You’re off to a good start’, one of my friends quipped upon watching my introduction to the finished video).
The video I was preparing, this week last year, was to be part of the University of Sheffield’s ‘We Are Feminists’ project, produced by the School of English.
As the story goes, the project started when Amber Regis decided to film colleagues and peers discussing what feminism meant to them with a view to using the collected footage in a lecture on feminism. This was intended as a demonstration of the versatility and diversity of feminism both as a critical approach and a subject with everyday implications.
In this, it was highly successful. But, as the last 12 months have demonstrated, the story doesn’t stop there…
So, I had a weekend to decide what to say in my video.
I think it is fair to say I found the prospect fairly daunting. This wasn’t because I didn’t know what to say about feminism in my own research. I knew exactly how feminism influences my thinking. As I (now famously) say in my video, I think of feminism every time I pick up my pen. No, I was daunted because there was going to be dozens of these videos being filmed and I had no idea what everybody else would be saying. I was worried about repetition. I was nervous that my video, which seemed to me to be fairly obvious, would replicate exactly what everybody else would be saying, but possibly less eloquently…
Monday came around, and my video was recorded:
Feminism, as an approach, helps me ideologically and methodologically in my research as I attempt to uncover silenced and maligned voices, to undo canonical damage and to sensitively reconstruct a complete picture of a past literary culture.
As the webcam blinked at me and I began to speak I became increasingly concerned that everybody would be saying something similar…
As it happened I need not have worried.
The diversity and richness of the videos collected really has to be seen to be believed, as everybody did something different with the remit. I don’t have enough room here to commend and comment on all of the videos, but if you haven’t done so already I do implore you to check out the entire playlist. It is astonishing.
There were others who, like me, raised the issue of canon formation and the violence and silencing that can be implicit in this. Both Jane Hodson and Amber Regis discuss this theme, but with reference to different texts and different literary periods (and the project later produced a dedicated post upon the subject of canonical forces).
Some offered a detailed and concise introduction to feminism as a critical approach, with both Fabienne Colignon and John Miller encouraging viewers to interrogate any and all notions of the ‘natural’ that they encounter.
And then there were those who talked very personally and openly about how feminism had effected not only their research, but their own everyday lives and experiences. Dave Forrest talked movingly about his childhood, and his relationship with his mother. Angela Wright revealed that as a female academic she feels indebted to the pioneering women writers and scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And Janine Bradbury talked candidly about the influence of Black Feminism upon her life and research, revealing that the two have become one and the same and have played an enormous role in making her the person that she is today.
The lecture that these videos was produced for came and went, but the catalogue of videos kept on growing. More staff and students continued to come forward, whilst the blog on which the videos first appeared proceeded to illicit further responses from universities around the world.
In recent months the videos have even been made available to download on iTunesU, where they are enjoying a healthy second life.
On a smaller scale I have found myself referring to and using the videos in my own teaching time and again. When teaching I frequently find myself encountering a scepticism, wariness or outright antagonism towards feminism, which is usually revealed almost immediately to stem from a lack of awareness or consideration for what feminism actually is.
Where once I would have to try and dispute the misconceptions that surround feminism all by myself I can now redirect them to the ‘We Are Feminists’ playlist and they can see dozens of people explain what it means to them.
And on an even smaller scale than that, the project has had a huge impact upon my own life, thinking and research. It led me to reconsider and clarify my own relationship with feminism, and thanks to this playlist it is something I have continued to think about and engage with.
So, thank you ‘We Are Feminists’ – may the project continue to grow for many more years yet.