With women* students being only a recent addition to Merton’s centuries-long history, the 1980 Society offers a women*-led space that values education, intersectionality and inclusivity at its core. Founded in 2018, we held our inaugural event in Michaelmas term 2019 with welcome drinks in the MCR. Corks flew, introductions were made and the run-up to celebrating 40 years of women* at Merton began.
Both Michaelmas and Hilary terms included a diverse range of events as we sought to ensure an inclusive environment for all JCR members. In collaboration with the Neave Society, a debate on the term ‘feminism’ was held, and a feminist book club was hosted alongside the Merton English Society, which I hope will become a recurring event. Discussion groups also took place, which looked at women*’s guilt, media representation, and the pitting of women* against one another. No events required any prior knowledge, but they were instead opportunities for individuals with all levels of prior feminist knowledge to discuss and learn from one another. Conversations like these are what makes being at university such a character-building and rewarding experience, and the Merton environment ensured they were not only thought-provoking but welcoming evenings. There is still much that 1980 and the wider Merton community must do to increase intersectionality and equality within our community. We hosted a virtual discussion on black feminism, intersectionality and theory to this end, which entailed meaningful and self-reflective conversation. It is vital that 1980 is not a society which reflects gender equality only for privileged individuals, and we hope to continue discussions such as this next year and beyond.
In addition to discussion groups, we sought to create an inclusive social space. 2020 began with a women*-themed bar quiz, featuring rounds such as ‘firsts’, ‘herstory’, and the discovery that the jockstrap inspired the modern-day sports bra. We hosted a social along with SpeakOut Oxford, a student-run advocacy and support group for victims of sexual assault, in the Merton JCR. The 1980 Society hopes to continue encouraging an atmosphere of consent, belief and support at Merton. One of the year’s most heart-warming moments was the ‘cake and compliments’ afternoon. A ‘postbox’ (a Yorkshire Tea tin) was filled with notes of gratitude and messages of inspiration written by students to one another. We pidged so many notes our arms ached, but each one reminded me why I chose Merton, and how grateful I am to be a part of such an incredibly supportive community. In lieu of a garden party, we have marked the end of Trinity with a raffle raising money for The Okra Project and My Sisters’ House; with feminist prizes, including a copy of Girl, Woman, Other, we are rounding off an often-difficult year with positivity.
Throughout the year we have showcased inspirational women*. The Tinbergen Society hosted a talk by Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, and after her presentation we held a Q&A on the changing experience of being a woman* in STEM, and the advice she would offer current students. Popcorn and gin accompanied a screening of On the Basis of Sex, depicting the powerhouse that is Ruth Bader Ginsberg, while the 1980 Instagram account has provided a platform to showcase the achievements of women* from afar. From inspirational women* of the JCR, nominated by their peers, to the women* featured in the Black Cultural Archives’ Breaking Barriers exhibition, the extraordinary and the everyday achievements of women* are something we believe is important to highlight. Without in-person events, our Instagram became a source of education and inspiration. A team of students created film, music, book and theory recommendations, and wrote definitions of terms from ‘patriarchy’ to ‘consent’. We posted daily reminders of self-kindness coupled with informative resources, as we sought to meet our three core aims regardless of our remote position.
The highlight of the year is undoubtedly the tri-college women*’s formal hosted at Merton. A talk in the TS Eliot Theatre was given by Irene Tracey, Helen Small and Marion Durand (Corpus Christi), who discussed their experiences as women in academia. A drinks reception and formal dinner followed, and attendees discovered mutual interests, shared experiences and the everyday inspiration of fellow women* students. Credit must go to Jessica Searle, Gender Equality Representative 2019-20, and her counterparts at Oriel and Corpus Christi, for its inception. As the four of us stood and gave a speech to a hall and high table filled with women*, I was struck with awe and pride at the accomplishments of our attendees and predecessors. I hope this will become a regular and equally cherished tradition for future women* of Merton.
I am deeply grateful to all those who helped with both events and content creation, especially the 1980 committee members; all have been a continual source of inspiration. Individuals of all genders have a role to play in holding the JCR to the highest standards of equality, and ensuring that Merton is an inclusive, welcoming place to call home. As I hand over to the new 1980 President, we hope to continue with these aims, and use the 40-year anniversary to connect women* of Merton past and present. I look forward to reading Postmaster in 40 years’ time and seeing the further advances towards equality that will have been made, and I shall look back with pride and warmth at a society that is becoming a part of Merton life.
Olivia Tan (2018)
President of the 1980 Society 2019-20