40 Years of Progress: Oxford, gender equality, and academia since 1980

The 1980 Society

This year, the 1980 Society has gone from strength to strength, kicking off with an inaugural ‘Wine and Whine’, to discuss the impact of this summer’s double blockbuster, ‘Barbenheimer’ and its differing representation of women in cinema. It was delightful to see such a strong turnout, particularly among the first-years, thanks to Georgia Hall’s (Gender rep 2023/4) flashy advertising. Each comment in the discussion was interesting and thoughtful, allowing it to cover points about the role of women in front and behind the camera to female contributions in the scientific community. 

The next ‘Wine and Whine’ was a joint event with Balliol and allowed us to delve into more serious topics concerning abortion and its status across the world. Hosting an intercollege event was hugely rewarding in it allowing us to foster relations with other feminist societies and exchange our views and experiences.

In addition to the bi-weekly ‘Wine and Whine’, we continue to hold staple events such as ‘Cake and Compliments’, with the evening acting as a reminder of the heartwarming Mertonian community by indulging in delicious cake and writing notes to be pidged to students across the college.

Diners in Hall

After the huge success of last year’s alumni dinner, commemorating 40 years of women at Merton, this Michaelmas term’s big event was the panel conversation hosted in 7th week on ‘Breaking New Ground - pioneering women at Merton’. Isabelle Bland (1980 Treasurer) and I, were lucky enough to interview the panellists: Usha Goswami (Merton’s first female JRF and Neuroscience professor at King’s College, Cambridge), Gwen Burnyeat (JRF in Anthropology with a special focus on the Colombian peace process) and Alison Blake (first female Governor of the Falkland Islands and Commissioner of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). They spoke about their time at Merton and their journeys since, imparting valuable lessons and humorous anecdotes. It was especially inspiring to hear from such successful women about their experience of gender in their careers, and how they have built networks of support to help them progress. The event truly helped cement links between the women of Merton across all periods, and in the future we hope that the 1980 Society will continue to be a valuable connection between alumni and current students.


For the rest of the year, we have an International Women’s Day formal planned for 8th week Hilary, followed by a drinks reception to allow the undergraduates and fellows to come together to celebrate the event. Additionally, we aim to meet up with more feminist societies across Oxford, with a joint event in Queens planned for the second half of Hilary, as well as expand our current events to include film nights and potentially develop a termly newsletter. We can’t wait to see what the future of the 1980 Society holds!

Mathilde Persidat and Jessica Lonnen (2022)

1980 Society President and Secretary 2023-4


I am so grateful to have been the president of the 1980 Society this year. Following on from the celebrations of Merton Women: 40 Years and being able to host more in-person events has made this experience so fun and rewarding for me.

This has been an amazing year for the 1980 Society, seeing an increasing number of people becoming involved with the society. We have continued classic events of the society every term, including ‘Wine and Whine’ and ‘Cake and Compliments’ as a collaboration with Welfare. Our discussions in Wine and Whine have been extremely productive and interesting, discussing feminist issues on anything between ‘What does feminism mean to me?’, ‘Is masculinity always toxic?’, ‘Career gaps vs pay gaps’, ‘Singlehood from a feminist perspective’ and ‘Sex work’. This allowed students of all genders to share their experiences, and for us to talk about how we believe things could be improved within Oxford and in wider communities. Our collaboration events with Welfare, ‘Cake and Compliments’, have also been extremely popular with the JCR. This allowed students to come together in a friendly way, and also to enjoy some cake.

In Michaelmas, we hosted a Big Night In as a counteraction to a nationwide increase in the spiking of drinks. Big Night In events were hosted across various colleges and other universities across the country, so it felt amazing for Merton to be involved in this. The premise of this event was to emulate a classic night in, making it a chill night. Attendees were also able to sign an open letter that I wrote addressed to clubs and bars in Oxford demanding them to suitably counteract spiking.

Hilary was an especially exciting term for the 1980 Society. We held our first collaboration event of the year with another college, which was a mixer with University College’s 1979 Society. It was amazing to meet like-minded people and for feminist societies across Oxford to share solidarity. Next, I worked with Michael Zajac, Jennifer Shaw and Jared Martin (all 2020, and on the committee of Merton’s History Society) to host Dr Emily Rutherford for a talk entitled ‘Historians Will Say They Were Just Good Friends’. The talk followed the story of female academics in Oxford who did not fit heteronormative stereotypes of their time. Especially after the 40 Years celebrations, it was so refreshing and interesting to hear about some of the lives of the women at Oxford despite its masculine cultures. We are so grateful to Emily for joining us in this event, which was enjoyed by various students and staff members. At a drinks reception following the event, we were able to raise money for the Black Trans Alliance charity.

The end of Hilary saw our International Women’s Day celebrations in Merton. I hosted a Formal in College, followed by a women’s drinks reception where people were able to share their experiences. I am grateful to the Warden, Professor Irene Tracey (1985), Olivia Elder (2010, Corpus Christi), Francesca Lovell-Read (2015), Nikita Nunes (2020) and Isabella Dobson (2020) for starting the discussion and talking about their own experiences. The society was also involved in International Women’s Day celebrations outside Merton, contributing to the organisation of an IWD Gala, held at Freud. This was a lovely collaboration with other colleges, and a wonderful way to celebrate International Women’s Day.

In Trinity, we collaborated with the feminist societies (or equivalent) at University, St John’s, St Hilda’s and Wadham colleges to host an event, which was an exciting start to term, and we hosted the first book club of the year. In this term, 1980 also developed and launched a podcast on Spotify, entitled ‘Wining and Whining by Merton College 1980 Society’. This podcast discusses feminist issues and was so exciting to create and record. We celebrated the launch of the podcast with a party, which was an amazing send-off to this year for the society.

I am excited to see where 1980 goes in the coming years, especially for an upcoming alumni dinner, which will hopefully happen next year. This society has been an integral part of my experience at Merton, and I look forward to reading about it in further Postmaster editions.

Sadie Chamberlain (2020)
1980 Society President 2021-22