We’re all in this together: Cambridge and activism

Alice King 26 October 2017

Emrys Travis


My last column – about validation, and how the hard work that goes into making material differences often goes unrecognised – came appropriately a couple of days before Murray Edwards published their updated policy detailing that the college now accepts trans women applicants who have not had their gender legally changed on their birth certificate (a long and pointlessly bureaucratic process that is inaccessible to a multitude of trans people for various different reasons). Positive, vital changes like this are the result of years of unseen work from staff and students alike, and the input from various individuals – present and past CUSU women’s officers, the Medwards women’s officer, and various members of CUSU LGBT+ among them – went mostly unacknowledged in statements from the college as well as in the vast majority of press coverage.

One of the biggest downsides of this lack of transparency is that it can provide an inroad for certain ever-present public figures who aim to present progress as something polarising, rather than as the material outcome of intra- and inter-community solidarity that it actually represents. Disappointingly, the national press’s transparent efforts to dig up opinions from certain “feminists” who disagree with the inclusion of trans women in women’s spaces (and to present those opinions as in any way legitimate or valid) has been mirrored in the student press. An article entitled “Cambridge women react to Murray Edwards policy change” wasted almost half its wordcount detailing comments made by Germaine Greer, who resigned from Newnham after the college appointed a trans woman fellow, making her apparent inclusion under the category “Cambridge women” a mystery to me. More importantly, though, the press turns to people like Greer whenever it wants an “opposing view” – a clickbait quote that it knows will reflect Greer’s trademark discrimination against trans women – and then pits that view directly against trans women’s voices (specifically, in this article, a quote from Dr Rachael Padman), playing into the myth that trans inclusion is an issue that divides trans and cis women on separate sides.

This is, in a word, bullshit. Generations (at least in Cambridge terms) of women and non-binary people have been working together, cis and trans alike, towards improving the university’s trans inclusivity; the current working group aiming to expand Medwards’ policy to Newnham and Lucy Cavendish (email womens@cusu.cam.ac.uk to get involved!) is a microcosm of this work of feminist solidarity. It is woefully irresponsible to allow people like Greer to dominate the narrative, especially when multiple Medwards students, fellows, and alumni, regardless of gender or trans identity, have spoken out in support of the change. Instead, we need to continue working together, keeping up the positive momentum from the Medwards policy change and redoubling our efforts to expand it to the other women’s colleges.

I’ve seen four years of activist committees and communities grow and change hands in Cambridge, and, whilst the autonomous campaigns (women’s, disabled, LGBT+, BME, international) have always interacted and worked together with one another and with other activist bodies in Cambridge, this year’s joint efforts (helped by an excellent CUSU sabb team!) are looking even more positively intersectional than I’ve ever seen before. Pull back the flimsy veil of shitstirring and lazy journalism, and you’ll find genuine, productive solidarity between activists – both cis and trans – working to make Cambridge a better place for everyone who faces gendered (and other forms of) oppression. Roll up your sleeves and join us – we’ve got work to do.