On Friday March 8th, International Women’s Day, Socialist Appeal supporters were amongst 200 students demonstrating against misogyny at Glasgow University. Rachel Gibbs of the Glasgow Marxist Society reports.
On Friday March 8th, International Women’s Day, Socialist Appeal supporters were amongst 200 students demonstrating against misogyny at Glasgow University. The rally was a result of the an incident at the Ancients Debating Championship held at the Glasgow University Union (GUU), one of the university’s two student unions, where two female debaters were subject to heckles of ‘shame woman’ and comments about their physical appearance. When a female judge attempted to quiet the heckling she was labelled a ‘frigid bitch’.
Whilst this event in itself is despicable – particularly as women are frequently informed that sexism no longer exists in Western societies – It is in fact just one in a long line of scandals around misogyny at the GUU. Having been exclusively male up until 1981, the GUU retains its “old-boys” roots, as shown by events such as the annual “Last All-Male Board” dinner. The LAMB dinner is an event attended by past and present male board members to commemorate the final all-male board before the union was opened to women. In 2002 the GUU produced leaflets for freshers’ week with a section entitled “No means Yes and Yes means Harder”. A Facebook page dedicated to sharing experiences of sexism at the GUU shows that these particular examples are part of a general trend; women are frequently subject to groping and sexual slurs during nights out at the union.
This behaviour is obviously completely unacceptable, but for a long time the GUU has faced no consequences for such actions. There were no consequences for the several guests of the GUU presidential inauguration party who entered the occupied Hetherington postgraduate research club naked, stole the occupation’s banner and vandalised the area. It is clear that a culture of misogyny has been allowed to continue at the GUU, one that is fuelled by its being an old-boys’ network with close links to university management and political bureaucracy in Scotland. Former GUU member and Spectator journalist Gerald Warner recently used his position to defend what had happened at the Ancients Debating Championship, stating, “Photographs of the two finalists do not suggest they have anything to fear from assessment of their looks”. Other former GUU members include ex-RBS chief executive Fred Goodwin and former Secretary for State, Liam Fox.
However, it appears that this latest incident may result in some action from the university, Principal Anton Muscatelli having assured students of his concern over the issue and announcing an investigation. Muscatelli’s response is likely to be borne out of the bad press Glasgow University has received in the past week with several national newspapers reporting on the event and Cambridge University debating society, whom one of the victims was representing, stating that it will not return to debate at Glasgow. We must ensure that university management follow through with this investigation and that the perpetrators are subject to appropriate discipline. However, this alone will not change misogyny at the GUU or on wider campus. We must continue to campaign for change at a union that is supposed to provide an enjoyable, safe space for all students. There must be an end to the old-boys’ club mentality and the union being exploited as a networking opportunity.