An article recently appeared in The Guardian, reporting on incidents of gender-based heckling. Liam King gives his opinion on the matter…
The Guardian recently reported that during a prestigious debating competition at Glasgow University, two participants, Rebecca Meredith and Marlena Valles, were heckled on the basis of their appearance, specifically, due to their being women.
Upon complaining, they were informed that this was ‘to be expected’ and ‘par for the course’ for female participants. I don’t believe I need to explain that this is unacceptable behaviour in 2013. According to that article, it pervades every facet of college life, from the gym to the library. That such attitudes can still exist with such ubiquity at this point in time is genuinely appalling. And it seems they still do, despite some perceptions to the contrary.
Rebecca herself states that she has been contacted by multiple people in the wake of the incident with stories of their being victims of misogyny, including those who have abandoned debating in light of this, with comments about how wearing a shorter skirt may help in winning debates, or to defer to their male partner because “men are more convincing.”
The incident at the GUU has since resulted in a number of societies disassociating from the union, a rally containing up to 400 protesters, and a petition approaching 4,000 signatures at the time of writing calling for the expulsion of the alleged perpetrators. The Union President has apologised, stating that such incidents are “entirely incompatible with our values”, while the Cambridge Union has pledged to no longer send debaters to the competition until the matter is addressed
There will always be those with distasteful opinions in corners of the internet, but open derision of someone at an on-campus event solely on grounds of their gender cannot be tolerated in modern times. Multiple human rights documents have stressed that discrimination on the basis of gender is a breach of a fundamental right.
So how do we rate for avoidance of sexism here at NUI Galway? I’ve attended several different societies and sports clubs in my time here, and have very rarely encountered it, at least in situations lacking quite a lot of alcohol, and rarely even then.
Our own Lit&Deb Society, which I’ve attended several times, occasionally echoes with shouts of “RESIGN!” whenever a member of the committee takes the stand, but I don’t remember a single misogynistic comment, and if one did arise I can’t imagine it passing unchallenged.
I’ve attended film screenings on campus, and when something less than politically correct came up from a dated film, it was usually greeted with jeers and laughter rather than a positive response. While I wouldn’t try to say that these attitudes are entirely absent from NUI Galway, they don’t seem to permeate college life here in the same way as was described in The Guardian’s article.
Possibly we have not entirely achieved parity — in the most recent Students’ Union elections, the overwhelming majority of the candidates were male. But so far as I’m aware, the criteria for candidates involves twenty signatures, filling out a form by a certain date, and the willingness to run a campaign, which I don’t believe constitutes a deliberate barrier to women.
This seems a far cry from a campus in which heckling on grounds of gender is “to be expected” as a matter of course. And it seems that this is set to change, with Cambridge Union stating its refusal to send further debaters until the incident is resolved with an apology and steps taken towards gender equality in the university. The message must be sent that gender based heckling is no longer acceptable in today’s world.
Do you think female students are treated equally to male students here in NUI Galway?