Bloom writer Katy Faulds met with history student Amber Barrow; current chair of the Feminist Collective society at University of Manchester. The society got highly popular on Instagram following a post made after the killing of George Floyd. In the interview she discusses the society’s recent popularity boom as well as what it means to be a feminist and what she would change in the world if she could.
- Name: Amber Barrow
- Age: 19
- Pronouns: She/Her
- Committee Position: Chair
- Home Town: London
- Studying: History
Can you briefly explain the history of your society and how you run the day to day functions?
The society as it currently functions, was largely the result of our current deputy chair’s hard work last year. Our society has existed for a while in the University but did not hold weekly meetings or regular socials. It has always been focused on intersectional feminism.
Our day-to-day functions have shifted a lot in light of the pandemic – with a lot of focus on our instagram over the summer.
Ultimately we do function as a collective – whilst we all have official positions, there is no internal hierarchy. As Chair, for instance, I don’t have the final say on things – we all discuss ideas and implement them as a team. The different positions that we have serve to focus our efforts – for instance our Disability Rep, champions the rights of disabled people and ensures that our discussions are accessible.
We tend to have regular zoom meetings as a committee and our group chat is very active. This year a lot of us have never met face to face but that hasn’t stopped us from becoming an incredibly tight-knit and hard-working committee.
What is UoM Feminist Collective’ main objectives?
I think our objectives are two-fold.
Firstly, from a university perspective, we want to foster a community of feminists that allows active debate. We’re super focused on ensuring a strong sense of community and we’re planning on setting up a big group chat for our members to keep in contact.
Secondly, and this is an objective that has developed a lot over this summer, we want to use our platform to champion and educate about intersectional feminism. Our instagram has an unusually large following for a university society and we are all very aware of the privilege that we now have with regards to being able to get our message out there.
In your opinion, why is your society unique?
I think our society’s accountability is one of its unique traits. A lot of university committees can become slightly like cliques, and that element of democracy and accountability can be eroded. One of the strengths of this society is that we listen to the feedback – both within and outside of our committee.
That does not mean we are perfect! But I am proud to be involved in an intersectional feminist movement that isn’t blind to criticism.
What do you consider to be a feminist?
That is a very tricky question. Firstly I think it is worth pointing out that you shouldn’t gate-keep the word feminist. Yes you can disagree with someone’s feminism but that’s not quite the same as saying they can’t call themselves a feminist.
To me, I would say that if your feminism isn’t intersectional, I’m not interested.
Being an intersectional feminist doesn’t mean that you’re a voice for all women and non-binary people, it means your recognise that you CAN’T be that voice. It means knowing what your lane is and amplifying voices that might be better suited to given situations.
Whenever I am asked to speak on panels, the first question I always ask is how many thin, cis, white women do you already have speaking? Because at the end of the day, we have enough thin, cis, white women speaking – their voices are still valuable, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that these women face the least marginalisation in feminist spaces.
How did you join the committee?
I turned up to some of the Collective’s meetings last year as a fresher. Around November, they held applications for a few positions they hadn’t filled up on the committee and I got the position of general member.
I was not expecting to get the position and, looking back, that moment has definitely altered my university life. I would not have applied for Chair this year had I not had the experience of being a general member.
What is your society’s story of getting as popular and noticed as you currently are?
We did not mean to get this popular! It happened almost overnight and it shocked us all. I think there were two posts in particular that had huge engagement.
Following the murder of George Floyd I made a post in remembrance of some of the black Americans who had lost their lives at the hands of the US police force during the lockdown. Following that post, I then made a second graphic that discussed racism in Britain – it was this post that blew up, getting something like 60,000 likes.
Our account started getting so many followers. I can’t tell you at what rate because we weren’t monitoring it at this point.
Then our deputy chair made a post titled ‘The UK is not innocent’. This got something like 86,638 likes and was reposted by celebrities including Dua Lipa.
Our following was now well into the 1000s and we realised that we suddenly had a huge platform. It has been an incredibly steep learning curve and mistakes have definitely been made. None of us really had experience running an instagram account and none of us joined the committee expecting the instagram account to be important.
Having said that, we are all so grateful to have been the opportunity to champion the intersectional feminist cause.
What is the most pressing topic for yourself right now?
That is a super hard question. One of the benefits of being an intersectional feminist is that you don’t have to narrow it down too much. All our committee members have different focuses – sexual liberation, LGBTQ+ rights, anti-racism etc.
I think currently we would say trans rights and sex worker rights – in the sense that we want to pay more attention to these. Most of our posts get a lot more positive feedback than negative but whenever we post about the trans community or the sex worker community, the trolls come out in droves.
The Black Lives matter movement is incredibly central to our work, however, and we are all focused on tackling the colonial and racist legacy of feminism.
Has there been a single situation that has pressed you to identify as a feminist?
I slightly fell into the feminist identity – although looking back, I’ve been living my life as a feminist for a long time. My dad is actually a huge feminist and instilled a lot of values in me about equal rights and justice.
I always turned away from the label, however, for fear of alienating myself. I think when I was in 6th form I began to get really interested in the theories of feminism. My friends also ran the school feminist society so I felt very comfortable beginning to use the label.
Nowadays, I use it very proudly and I am definitely a lot more confident in myself because of that. Instead of noticing sexism now I tend to call it out – and that feels great.
Do you see any inequalities throughout your university or in your course?
I personally feel very seen as a woman studying history. I have always had access to a wide range of interesting questions about gender in history and I’ve never felt that my lecturers perceive my choice to focus on gender as inferior.
However, I do see a huge racial inequality within the subject. When I look around my lecture halls, I rarely see faces of colour and I hardly ever see black faces.
The history that we study is still euro-centric and it is still white-washed. Most of my academics have been white. History is still a white subject. The history that we are taught in school is even more colonial and so it is less likely to inspire anyone who isn’t white to take the subject.
If there was one thing you could change in society what would it be?
There’s an easy answer here: Inequality. But I think I would actually opt to change tribalism. If you look at our political landscape today, a lot of the issues emerging are due to tribalism and too little debate. Inequality is also interlinked with tribal instincts so I would like to hope that combatting tribalism would indirectly improve equality.
Lastly, if you could tell your younger self something what would you say?
I would tell her that one day she’s going to be her own feminist icon.
Featured image credit: University of Manchester Feminist Collective (Facebook)