An Activist within Academia

An Activist within Academia

- in Portrait
@Tove Nordén

It all started with a gender equality group in upper compulsory school, and since then, Mirjam Katzin has been driven by her belief in a more equal society. Although, she is both a politician and a doctoral candidate, she is first and foremost an activist. 

Mirjam Katzin is riding a city buss in her hometown Jönköping; she is thirteen years old, has just joined Ung Vänster and has their party program lying on her lap. As she is reading their feminist manifesto, she overhears a conversation between some girls in the front of the buss. They are discussing a mean guy in their class and the anxiety of having to lose weight. Thirteen-year old Mirjam Katzin looks up, thinking that it does not have to be like this.

“I remember all of the sudden getting what feminism was all about. Finally, I had words for what I’d been feeling for so long about the injustice in society”, she says.

Mirjam Katzin. Photo: Nike Eliasson

In upper compulsory school, she started an equality group with some friends. They organised an equality day for all the students in the ninth grade, protested against the school’s Lucia try-out and wrote to Jönköpingsposten regarding the H & M lingerie commercial. That is how it all started, she says, with local activism. Today, she lives in Malmö and we meet up a day in June in Folkets Park. A row of colourful pennants flutters in the breeze between different booths where you can buy knitted wrist warmers with purple woman symbols, feminist necklaces, or pottery with menstruating women. These sales booths are part of Feministisk festival, which Mirjam Katzin helped initiate.

Activism and politics occupy a centred position in Miriam’s life. She has always been active in different groups, and finds support and empowerment in friends who share her beliefs and fight for the same things. For her, commitment is about being true to yourself.

“There was never really an alternative for me. Life would have felt quite meaningless without the collective effort towards making the world a better place. It’s also about always encountering injustices, and wanting to do something about them. Once you’ve adopted a feminist view of the world, you unfortunately can’t get rid of it” she laughs.

“Even though you sometimes wish you could stop noticing injustice completely”.

She left Jönköping at seventeen, because she could not take it anymore. Instead, she spent her senior year of upper secondary school at Katedralskolan in Lund. She went on to study at university, and eventually started studying law. Today, she is active in feminist associations; she is on Vänsterpartiet’s municipal executive board in Malmö, and is writing her PhD in law at Lund. These are three quite different assignments, but for Mirjam Katzin they all share a common ground.

“It’s about wanting to change society, and about equality. The academy is, for me, an important part in the struggle for justice. There, you can discuss what problems there are in society and how it could look instead”, she says.

Sometimes the thought of changing society and its structures feels overwhelming, perhaps most so at her workplace, the Faculty of Law. This faculty actually chose not to publish the results from a survey targeting gender equality, because it reported serious problems with the teaching and course literature. Instead, a second survey was ordered, which concluded that the teaching was not a problem.

“It’s a very curious thing to do in that situation. However, as a lecturer, I can still make a difference by choosing to include other perspectives in my teaching. And it’s still better that the subject is being discussed than not giving any space to these questions”, she says.

Being a doctoral candidate is a mixture of liberty and anxiety according to Mirjam Katzin. When she started studying law, she never thought about continuing to doctoral level. However, she felt that she wanted to continue working with social structures in a broad sense rather than helping with isolated cases. The academy is, according to her, a place where you still have the chance to question and investigate.

“Historically speaking, the academy has been a free zone where activism often is born. These days, I experience a lot of cowardice at the University. Many people stay silent in order to remain hireable”, she says.

Isn’t it stressful, wanting to improve society? Never being satisfied?

“Of course, there’s a frustration when you feel that things are moving in the wrong direction. But, I don’t hold my breath waiting for things to deliver results straightaway. You have to think of it as a lifelong commitment”, says Mirjam Katzin.

She has promised herself to not continue her research, if she no longer has room to be awkward and look at old questions from new perspectives. For Mirjam Katzin, the future involves much of the same thing as it did when she was thirteen: more feminism, more organising, and winning small equality battles, but above all, to stay obstinate within academia.

Translation: Sofia Nordstrand

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