It may feel to readers like Mr St Andrews is an event that has been hashed over far too many times by now. Contrary to what the readers of The Albany Parker might believe, The Saint does not balk at investigating events hosted by the Union – we simply decided to take the time to investigate properly and discuss at length exactly why Mr St Andrews was wrong. What we have discovered is that the pageant is far more than an isolated instance of sexism: it is a symptom of chronic misogyny plaguing our student population.
I believe that the sexism inherent in this RAG Week event extends far beyond the obvious. Yes, sexism in any institution is bad, but at a university renowned for producing princesses, the effect of such a barefaced misogynistic event could have serious consequences on the outlook and prospects of our graduates.
To summarise briefly, Mr St Andrews was bad for three main reasons. First of all, it is incredibly sexist towards men. Effectively, we are objectifying fellow students and suggesting it is acceptable to judge people by arbitrary (sexual?) skills and appearances. What’s more, this is done in the name of charity.
A number of students I spoke to suggested that the reason organisers had chosen to do a Mr St Andrews as opposed to a Miss St Andrews is because there would have been uproar if we had forced girls to degrade themselves in such a way. By inverting the stereotype of American beauty pageants it was supposedly made ‘okay’ – not so. To force either women or men into an objectification spectacle is unacceptable.
Secondly, the ‘challenges’ that took place were, in my opinion, downright humiliating. Using women as stripper poles (subtle) or creating a situation in which boys have to race to unclothe them on stage – wait, re-read that, yes, that was an actual challenge – and, as a result, pull their knickers down. A girl was completely exposed, at a University-sanctioned, charity event. Stay classy, St Andrews.
Several people have suggested that the involvement of these girls was not entirely voluntary. While there is no evidence that any AU club forced participation, it has been mentioned that it was expected of members, and the pressure of adhering to conventions may have meant that girls who weren’t entirely comfortable with the situation ended up being used – in the worst sense of the word – in a competition to find the biggest ‘lad’ in St Andrews.
This seems incredibly perverse to me-but it may not have been an isolated incident. Later in the week at Catwalk (another RAG Week event), some attendees told me that members of the audience were trying to pull the models’ knickers down as they walked by. Considering this was meant to be a fun event, a fashion show no less, the kind of behaviour displayed by the audience is just unacceptable.
In the recent Race2Berlin one of the principal rules was that every team had to have a boy in it because of the – in my opinion misguided – notion that a boy would serve as protection. It is fair that, in some cases, having a male team member would serve as a deterrent for abuse, but having an institutionalised prerequisite for a man seems wrong.
I have met many girls who I would trust with my life and many boys who struggle to sit the right way on a toilet seat; we should not adhere to the ‘traditional’ notion of men as ‘protectors’ and women as perpetually vulnerable. If it had been suggested that every team had to have a girl in it because of their better organisational or cooking skills there would (hopefully) have been widespread condemnation.
It is interesting that many of the examples of gender inequality I have found in St Andrews are at charitable events. We need to get past this idea that charity justifies acting badly. It is completely wrong that the good causes RAG Week works towards are being tarnished with displays of discrimination. Perhaps the committees who work on RAG Week – or any charitable event – need to start considering the wider implications of the events they run.
I am fairly sure that charities like Macmillan Cancer Support, Medecins sans Frontiers and Maggie’s Cancer Caring Center would not particularly like to be associated with an event like Mr St Andrews, regardless of the donation they might receive as a result.
By running an event that seems to become more risqué year on year, I fear that RAG Week runs the risk of losing the support of its sponsor. The KPMG Code of Conduct highlights the necessity of respecting the individual and ‘acting with integrity’: I struggle to see how Mr St Andrews 2014 met these criteria. Raising money for a good cause while being discriminatory is not, in my opinion, particularly charitable.
But perhaps St Andrews students aren’t particularly interested in this form of discrimination. Having spent time gauging opinion outside the library, it became clear that, despite the blatantly sexist nature of events, many people felt like it was simply ‘a bit of fun’. For others, the ‘shenanigans’ regularly associated with RAG Week had already put them off participating, and many were not aware of Mr St Andrews or the events therein.
The volume of events in the first few weeks of this semester alone that could be construed as sexist towards both men and women is truly frightening. We may be a traditional university, but that does not necessitate old-fashioned and discriminatory attitudes.
It is undeniable that at St Andrews we have a huge ‘princess culture’. The excitement I felt when telling people I’d been offered a place here was considerably dampened by the question ”Are you looking to find your prince?” There is a connotation attached to St Andrews girls that their primary incentive for coming to this university is to find a rich man and marry him, a notion that has occasionally seemed depressingly close to reality in a ‘girly chat’ after a couple of bottles of wine.
It is therefore absolutely key that we try to address outmoded ideas of gender. When talking to someone who was asked to be a ‘pole’ during Mr St Andrews, she said: “I felt it would be embarrassing and I didn’t want pictures of that on the Internet because I need to graduate and get a job. I just don’t want to be perceived in that way.”
What we do at university can have real implications for our later lives, as well as the reputation of the university as a whole.
In October 2012, The Saint ran a survey on sexism, finding that 68 per cent of those polled detected a worrying amount of sexism at this university.
St Andrews events seem to have a persistent and insidious strain of sexism running through them, as though our student population cannot enjoy themselves when no one is being degraded. Statistics show that St Andrews students are manifestly aware of the stereotyping and, to an extent, neglect of the rights of female St Andrews students. The irony lies in the fact that Mr St Andrews was an event that objectified men – and yet it was, inevitably, a bunch of female students who were reduced to playthings for the contenders.
It is a genuine shame that this level of controversy has occurred, particularly in a week when we were meant to be celebrating gender equality. Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the union (ha-ha) of the separate male and female students’ unions, yet I fear that the unity is nominal at best.