With over 17 and a half thousand followers on Instagram, the University of Manchester’s Feminist Collective is one of the largest societies on campus. At the start of a new year, a new committee, and a new calendar of weekly talks to look forward to, I sat down with the Collective’s Deputy Chair Loz Pontone to talk about everything from intersectionality and Reclaim the Night, to upcoming socials and how you can get involved.
Loz began by introducing the society to me as “Manchester’s feminist society […] a space to come, share our ideas, and to create a space of like-minded people.” Joining a new society at university can be daunting, yet they stressed that “You don’t need to know everything,” and that “It boils down to just being a nice, inclusive, fun feminist space.”
Intersectionality is at the heart of the Feminist Collective‘s values, and Loz told me “It’s just about making sure that no one’s voice goes unheard and that everyone’s voice is welcome.” They described intersectionality as important to ensure “that every individual that comes into our space, no matter where it is or what we’re doing, feels included. It’s about making feminism accessible to anyone and everyone.”
They also dispelled a misconception about the Collective, telling me that “I think people assume that means it’s a very woman-dominated society, but both myself and one of our Co-Chairs are non-binary people. So, it’s just about making people aware that feminism is for everyone.” This sense that feminism should be accessible to all was evident at the Collective’s welcome meeting, where there were over 70 people in attendance. Despite this, Loz said that he didn’t feel overwhelmed: “It was so easy for me to go and sit down [and talk] with random groups of people.”
The Feminist Collective’s Plans
At the start of a new academic year, I wanted to chat with Loz about the Collective’s plans for the coming term. He told me “We have a talk on the exclusion of black people from feminist spaces and activist spaces […] and Aaliyah [The Collective’s Anti-Racism Representative] is leading that. We have a talk about working-class feminism, and I think it’s going to be centred around how working-class people are excluded from higher education spaces.”
The content and format of talks are varied throughout the year: “It can just be like, we’re going to have a discussion, or it can be really researched […] It really varies from week to week. We have panels and they’re amazing because you get such a wide range of opinions and views […] you hear everyone’s perspective, which I love.” It seems to be a true team effort, with Loz praising the Committee’s shared ‘Ideas Google Doc’: “I love it, it’s just nice to see ideas forming.”
They also spoke to me about their exciting plans for socials, where the aim is to “bridge that gap between attendees and committee members.” The plans include a “jar painting social” and “our formal, at Christmas time.” The socials are an amazing way to meet like-minded people in a safe environment: “We can just all be together and know we’re safe because it’s Fem Soc.”
When asked about which other University of Manchester societies readers of The Mancunion should have on their radar, Loz stressed the importance of The Butterfly Effect. “Aaliyah, who’s our Anti-Racism Rep, works with The Butterfly Effect, which is a campaign that’s trying to decolonise the curriculum and make it a lot safer for people of colour to exist at UoM.” Loz mentioned in particular the society’s Black Feminist Book Club, which the Feminist Collective highly endorse and support.
The Feminist Collective has further plans for upcoming society collaborations with the English Literature Society and Resist Rape Culture. Loz told me “We are planning to do a collab with the English Lit Society. We want to do a feminist spoken word poetry thing […] I think it’s really empowering.” The Collective has previously joined forces with Resist Rape Culture – “Our paths cross so often!” – and has plans to “run a talk with Resist Rape Culture again, probably around Reclaim the Night-time.”
We went into further detail about Reclaim the Night, the annual campaign against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and The Feminist Collective’s role in the event. Each year, protesters take to the streets of South Manchester, with the march culminating in speeches at the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, and, as Loz summarised, “I don’t think there is another space or evening ever like that.” Reclaim is run through the Students’ Union, yet Loz said “We are very lucky that we have the following that we have and that we can bring awareness to the topic and get people there […] we are there to show our solidarity.”
The Feminist Collective is always present at the march, and is further involved with “the discussions you have afterwards”; last year’s Committee Chair Emilie made a speech alongside Resist Rape Culture. Loz reaffirmed that “it’s probably the most powerful night […] of people existing within the student space within a city,” and that “it’s nice to see students talk at Reclaim the Night, as that is who we are looking to identify with.” Reclaim the Night takes place in Manchester on the 29th of November 2023.
Learning and Growing
When asked about the things he is most looking forward to in the Feminist Collective this year, Loz told me that, “As the years go on, I learn more about gender, and we’re going to do a panel about gender again […] I’m really excited for that.” They also shared that “I’m running a talk with our Co-Chair Jess on infertility […] I’m not gonna be like, oh, it’s going to be the most fun session ever. But it’s something that means a lot to me. And it will mean a lot to talk about and I’m happy that I’m now in a place where I feel like actually I could deliver that session.”
The Feminist Collective is evidently a space for growth, learning, and exploring intersectional feminism in a judgement-free community. Loz explained, “I’ve learned so much during my time in the committee,” and that “it’s such a place to grow, and if you come away learning one thing or just hearing one new opinion, then I think that’s the best thing you can get out of it.”
The space to grow and learn about feminism from a community has been important to Loz personally, as someone who is non-binary and transgender. They said that they “didn’t realise that feminism included non-binary people, I think because I hadn’t been taught about it at all at school […] One of the first talks I came to was non-binary feminism, and I was like, ‘What do you mean non-binary people can be feminists?’ […] You just weren’t taught that, and that’s why you’re coming to this space.”
We also spoke about the more heavy topics for which the society provides an important space for facilitating discussions. “I like having talks where it’s like, yeah, maybe it does feel a bit heavier. Maybe it does feel a bit like ‘Whoa, that was a lot to process’. But I leave the space going ‘Yeah, I’ve learned something’, and not at any point did I feel like I was in a lesson. I just felt like someone was telling me about something because it matters to them.”
The Feminist Collective meets weekly on Tuesday evenings, usually from 19:15 to 21:15 in The Hive on the first floor of the University of Manchester Students’ Union. If you want to keep up-to-date with upcoming talks, the best places to go are the mailing list, which you can sign up for through Students’ Union membership, and their Instagram page. As Loz emphasised, “We’re free! So, it’s brilliant.” The Feminist Collective’s blog is also getting a reboot this year, and will be the place to go “if you miss a talk […] it will be really great to have the resources and the information from the talk somewhere accessible.”
The Feminist Collective is open to anyone, not just current students at the University of Manchester, evidenced by the fact that “the old committees will come back sometimes,” and that “people are prolonging their involvement with the Feminist Collective beyond uni.” Loz made it clear to me that anyone and everyone is welcome to attend talks, panels, and socials: “So long as you come with an open mind and a good attitude, essentially, we’re open to anyone.”
Before we left, I asked Loz for the Committee’s intersectional feminist recommendations, for any readers wanting new ways to gain more knowledge about feminism. He recommended The Pankhurst Centre as “a feminist space to occupy”, as well as books Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis, The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye, and Feminism, Interrupted by Lola Olufemi: “It’s a really good short, but detailed, book on feminism.” He also recommended The Guilty Feminist podcast as “nice, easy feminism […] it’s so easy to engage with, you don’t feel like you need to know everything.”
Loz’s final recommendations were to “follow the Instagram, and keep up to date with the blog.” After speaking with them, it was abundantly clear that Loz and the rest of the Feminist Collective Committee have so much passion for their society, and that the space that they’re creating on campus is welcoming, inviting, and essential. To end with Loz’s words, “I want anyone and everyone who’s ever thought about getting involved in feminism to just come along,” and, if you do, you’ll be welcomed into an environment where everyone’s voices are heard, and everyone’s identities are valued.