New feature: Why feminists should join the fightback against higher education cuts and fees

// 1 April 2011

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Critical skills taught on university humanities courses challenge the world view of students and make them a breeding ground for resistance to the status quo, argues Nola Kay

It is strange and troubling to look back and realise that 1997 – the year when parliamentary politics became visible to me, with the celebrity-spangled election of Tony Blair’s New Labour – marked the beginning of my depoliticised and disengaged youth.

As a teenager, like so many others then and now, I was both self-obsessed and acutely lacking self-confidence. My friends and I spent so much of our school years consumed to the point of paranoia with our self-images. We constantly reassured one another that we were unique, interesting and attractive. Our struggles and concerns, preoccupations and passions, were almost entirely bound up in our individualistic bubbles of self-interest.

Three women on a catwalk wearing brightly coloured tightsWe made no link between our individual lives and the wider political culture. It did not occur to me that the way to feel better about myself and my body was to stop thinking so damn much about myself and my body. It did not occur to me that the problem was an individualistic culture which promoted the idea that the route to happiness was to buy things. It did not occur to me that my own obsession with self and shopping was a product of the economic and political orthodoxy.

Every Saturday would be spent buying a new outfit for the evening’s alcohol-based fun, as if I could renew myself every week; as if I could purchase the possibility of a cooler, sexier me with a dress from Topshop. I hated shopping and the way that it made me feel – the hours that I have spent cringing at the sight of myself in dressing room mirrors were like poison to any burgeoning self-confidence.

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