There are some who would like to believe that sexism among the student population in the UK is becoming a thing of the past. Events unfolded this Saturday at the Glasgow University Union’s (GUU) annual debating competition, the ‘Glasgow Ancients’, that might make these people think again.
Rebecca Meredith, of King’s College, Cambridge, and Marlene Valles, of Edinburgh University, were attempting to debate the centralisation of religion when they were confronted by a slew of derogatory, sexist comments. Audience members reportedly commented on their chest sizes, how they were dressed and their general level of attractiveness.
When Meredith and Valles spoke of women’s rights and equality, they received boos and cries of “Shame woman”. One of the judges, Kitty Parker-Brooks, remarked that a group of men from the GUU were ‘physically picking them apart’. When she attempted to quiet them, she was promptly called a ‘frigid b***h’. Though the competitors held strong and continued the debate, Miss Meredith has since commented on how she was close to tears on a number of occasions throughout.
The Cambridge Union Society (CUS) have condemned the event. CUS Women’s Officer, Christina Sweeney-Baird, told The Independent that the “GUU will have to show that it has changed considerably before Cambridge will send debaters back to one of its events.” In an open letter to the GUU, the CUS Standing Committee has demanded that internal disciplinary action is taken, and that the GUU take “strong and clear steps towards changing the attitudes and practices that led to these events taking place”.
The GUU has issued a statement apologising and promising that action will be taken, adding that it is an organisation based on “inclusivity, fairness and respect”. This latter point, however, is disputable. The GUU has a history of what could be considered to be sexist practices. Membership, up until 1980, was only available for male students. Though this formal discrimination was forcibly removed by the University, its legacy still lives on in the society’s annual ‘Last All Male Board’ dinner (LAMB). LAMB is an event where male members of the society’s boards past and present meet to commemorate the last all male board of managers.
Questions must be asked about what sort of message this dinner sends to the society’s members. Essentially commemorating the fall of inequality in its leadership is tantamount to the endorsement of antiquated, misogynistic views. The events on Saturday, then, are hardly surprising. To quote Ben Kentish, president of the Cambridge Union Society, “This kind of behaviour belongs in the 19th century.”