Project picture

Think About It!

The Univeristy of Manchester

Project Summary

Is feminism relevant to young women today? – an ethnographic research and reflection into public engagement and social participation working with local young people.


Project Partners

Dr Niamh Moore
Role Description:
Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change, The University of Manchester
Amelia Lee
Community Partner
Role Description:
Youth Participation Programme, ICA UK (Institute of Cultural Affairs)

Benefits & Impact

  • Working in partnership with the community youth workers developed my competencies and experience of working with young women and girls. Developed a sense of the communication skills and styles desirable when working with youth groups
  • Extended my community networks in Manchester
  • Sharing skills and knowledge enabled the local youth workers to develop contacts with the University and acquire knowledge of the possibilities open to young women
  • Local youth workers also gained contact with other youth workers, and other groups of young women
  • Young women got an introduction to feminism, and
  • Young women began to see universities as more accessible. As one young person stated – “I’m sure that I want to go to university and I found out lots about feminism.”
  • Contributed to a key interest of research on the impact of age/generation on forms of participation and engagement by the rethinking of the understandings of participation and engagement within CRESC from documenting good practice around the embedding of work including public engagement in research cultures, as well as providing a supportive research environment in which to develop this work further.
  • Offered an extension of this emerging work by enabling a focus on participation not just in external cultural institutions, but also in the University itself; at the same time as in effect offering the opportunity of an ethnography of public engagement and social participation
  • Provided an opportunity to pilot a novel approach to research with young women
  • Organised and ran an event
  • Produced a short video of the event.


‘I’m sure that I want to go to university and I found out lots about feminism.’ School-age young woman from a local youth group


Lessons Learnt

  • Developing this work takes a lot of time and commitment but is definitely possible and valuable
  • Working in partnership with community youth workers to share skills and experience so that I could ‘translate’ some of my research questions and interests into tasks and activities that made sense to the young women whose opinions and experiences I was interested in, so assisting me in meeting the methodological challenges of working with young people.


The project was conceived as a means to enable me to work together with a local youth worker in a way which would allow us both to pursue and address some of our shared and overlapping concerns around young women and feminism, albeit in different contexts (youth work and academic research).

I am interested in manifestations of contemporary feminism, and in particular in accounts which suggest that feminism is defunct, often recounted through narratives of generational conflict. Thus young women are often positioned as rejecting feminism, or as developing their own forms of feminism, against previous feminisms, variously ‘the third wave’, or other forms such as the ‘riot girl’ movement. Thus the supposed lack of interest that young women currently have in feminism was a key interest of mine.

However I am particularly interested in young women who are not part of such self-identified groupings, neither forming feminist groups of their own, nor making an explicit rejection of feminism, that is, in young women who have never or barely heard of feminism, and who therefore neither reject it nor fashion it for their own ends.

I was interested then in how might we understand this kind of apparent lack of engagement with and participation in feminism, in whether feminism might have any relevance for these young women – and specifically, in the huge methodological challenge of how to research a topic when the research subjects know nothing of the topic (feminism)?

These interests are situated institutionally for me in the context of a research cluster on ‘Culture, Participation and Inequality’ at the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). This cluster builds on existing work in CRESC which has produced accounts of the rich cultural life of those who do not appear to be participating in social and cultural events or organisation in any recognisable – or perhaps easily measurable – ways.

In order to address these matters, I wanted to work with Amelia Lee, a local youth worker, in charge of the Youth Participation Programme with ICA-UK. Amelia is interested in girls’ work, and is negotiating current policy contexts where 75% of youth work funding is directed at young boys, often around gangs and knives; and where the funding which is available for work with girls tends to be directed around avoiding teenage pregnancy. Amelia has been a linchpin in a project called Feminist Webs which aims to both capture the vibrant history of feminist youth work in the North West and also to find ways of enacting feminist girls’ work in the current time.

Aims & Objectives

  • to pilot a joint project involving me, a university-based researcher, and a local youth worker
  • to develop plans and activities for an event which would meet both our needs/interests, and be an enjoyable learning event for the young women we were inviting
  • to successfully run the event
  • to explore the possibilities of using youth work methods and methodologies as part of social science research with young women
  • to enable me to develop some skills and competencies and experience of working with young women and girls
  • to extend my networks among youth workers in Manchester
  • and for local youth workers also to have an opportunity to network
  • and in particular to develop contacts with the University
  • and to use the event itself as a site of ethnographic research.


The first stage was meeting with the youth worker to work up plans we had initially developed over e-mail. This in a way was one of the most interesting points for me, as I went along with a series of research questions, but not at all sure of how to translate them into an event and series of activities which would both be enjoyable for young women and also a productive learning experience for them. But by the end of the meeting this was all in hand and we were in the process of devising a series of exercises and activities which we thought would include a good mix of new information and ideas and opportunities for young women to develop and express some of their own thoughts.

One of our initial decisions, taken prior to the application even, was to select a topic which would provide a focus for our overarching interests in feminism and young women’s lives. We decided on education and aspirations as a focus, for a number of reasons, not least because I was clearly coming from the University. But we also identified local youth groups as an important point of contact for a public engagement programme as participants may be considering, or more importantly, failing to consider, the University as a possible choice for themselves. Relatedly in the process of planning and running the event local youth workers would develop contacts with the University and knowledge of the possibilities open to young local women. The focus on education and aspirations then provided a theme for the event.

Amelia came up with a title for the event, ‘Think about it!’ and we planned and designed a flyer to advertise the event, which Amelia circulated widely, as well as targeting specific youth groups:

  • Roller Sports Club, Hulme
  • Powerhouse Youth Club, Moss Side
  • Asian Young Women’s Group, at Longsight Youth Club.

We then went away to progress this individually and I worked on developing some of the ideas and preparing and collecting materials. That said, in addition to all the planning we also continued to refine our plans on the last day and indeed during the session in response to the ‘needs/interests of the day, as we continued to think through what activities to finally settle on and how these might work in practice. But ultimately through a mixture of discussion, practical creative group work, and role play, the young women were asked about their aspirations, introduced to some basic ideas about feminism, and led through activities to discussions about whether they planned to go to university, what they thought of higher education; why they would or wouldn’t go to university; what choices they see for young women, and how they see these choices shaped; what role youth work can play in this; what universities could do to be more plausible options for young women; and whether the possibilities for girls have changed over time.

The activities included:

Arrival Sign in; Short questionnaire and consent form; and food

Icebreaker including names and what people wanted to be when they were older

Ground rules eg mobiles on silent

Short video on ‘What is feminism’ and brief discussion (including ‘can men be feminists’ etc)

Activity: ‘Would you believe it!’ various statistics and facts about women’s lives eg around gendered pay gap; number of women MPs (including numbers of Black women MPs, lesbian MPs), as well as on rape conviction rates and experiences of homophobic bullying by young people etc; true and false posters on different ends of the wall, with everyone having to run up and down the room according to whether they thought the various statistics presented were true or false, with short discussion of these

Role play with props: ‘Imagine’ … you wake up in a parallel universe where girls stay home all the time and are not allowed to go to school and you are part of a panel of visiting experts from another planet, where all girls can go to school and university and work outside the home, and your job is to convince people on this planet of the importance of girls being able to do whatever they want …

Craft activity: ‘University Challenge’ to build a 3D university as they currently imagined universities and then what they saw as their ideal learning environments

‘What young women want’ Postcards: a short activity completing a postcard on ‘what young women want’; this is part of Feminist Webs’ ‘Post Feminist’ project, where young women are asked to complete postcards on ‘what women want’ and these will be gathered and collated into a Post-feminist Postcard booklet, which will be launched at the national (at the Women’s Library in London in International Women’s Week 2010) and regional launches (Manchester April 2010) of Feminist Webs, and sent to MPs and key policy-makers.

‘Time travel with the doctor’: me explaining what a doctorate was and then leading the young women on an imagined journey to the future where they can be whatever they want – and using post-its to put these on the wall – all to the Doctor Who theme tune

All rounded up with a one-word summary of the evening from everyone.

And a final questionnaire.