Stripping, sexism, and Mr St Andrews


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.


    • “In three years in our little bubble it is the best thing I have read here”

      good lord, your reading material must have been limited to the backs of shampoo bottles or worse, the stand.

      this pitiable rehash of feminist tropes isn’t worth the 12 kilobites of space it took upon on my laptop.

  1. Fucking sensationalist journalism at it’s worse. How about interviewing the girls in question, not just printing photos of them? How about retaining some level of anonymity after public exposure? It’s frankly disgusting.
    Also, your flippant tone- ‘Stay Classy St Andrews’ is at once a boring, tired and plain not funny tagline and at the same time making an individual’s potential for embarrassment all the greater.
    Well done, I hope your future at the Daily Mail is successful for you.

    • I doubt the Daily Mail would appreciate an insightful feminist article! Constructive criticisms are all well and good; aggressive, worthless put-downs are not.

  2. Unfortunately those I contacted that were actually involved in the event refused to comment, which says it all. In addition this is a well-informed opinion piece, rather than a balanced news story! Finally I don’t believe the opinion of the girls to essentially be crucial. They may or may not have been fine with being exploited, this has little impact on whether the audience felt that they were viewing something sexist or wider institutions will view St. Andrews as sexist. For example, many page 3 models do not see how page 3 can be construed as sexist at all, but many campaigners disagree and think the wider affect of page 3 is what makes it sexist. I would suggest a similar thing about the event, it’s the view of women that the event encourages that makes it bad! Thank you all for your comments 🙂

  3. The girls’ refusal to comment does not, as you so presumptuously put it, ‘say it all’. Perhaps the girls simply did not want to be included in an article that undermines its own argument by ultimately being sexist itself. (N.B. your attempt to address the issue of gendering)

    I do not endorse the unfortunate exposing of a girl at Mr St Andrews yet I strongly believe that focus on the incident should have raised questions about actions of the contestant involved rather than condemning all involved to be ‘sexist’. As an audience member I perceived all other contestants to be respectful to the girls on the stage thus highlighting the mere piggish nature of one contestant.

    The event itself clearly involved a great deal of organisation and ultimately raised money for charity. So rather than adopting a some what unnecessarily negative attitude, I think it is time the Saint focussed on some positives. Well done to the girl who dealt with the incident with such dignity, well done to the contestants who in no way allowed themselves to be brushed with a misogynistic label, and ultimately well done to those who have highlighted the flaws in this article.

  4. I would be really interested to hear why you find this article sexist? In my opinion, the fact that no one from the event felt they’d be able to comment of either side of the debate does suggest something amiss.

    I’m so glad to hear that the contestants were able to undress girls in a respectful manner – I’m glad you believe there is a way to undress a total stranger as part of a competition in a respectful manner, unfortunately I think this is a completely ridiculous idea. Let’s think a little bit about what we’re suggesting, when one of the challenges to judge the best male in St. Andrews is how quickly he can undress girls. How you can argue this doesn’t have even a mildly sexist background to it is beyond me!

    Finally, as I addressed in my argument I do not think it’s acceptable to defend an inappropriate event on the basis it raised money for charity. The organisers have tainted the charitable nature of the event and should be held responsible for that. Events like this risk the support of their sponsors. As a writer for the opinion section of The Saint it is not my job to force out positives from every event the Union puts on, I write about things as I see them, it is purely my opinion!

    If you are interested in pursuing your rebuttal of this article perhaps you would be interested in sending a letter to the editor to potentially be published in a couple of weeks. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  5. First of all, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suppose that anyone was forced into participating in the event, male or female. In particular, if the poor pole girl really felt so strongly about/against the event, she simply should not have got herself involved. It really would be tragic if this girl felt that there was no way she could escape participation. I deeply suspect this is not the case and that in fact she maybe loosely regrets her spinelessness for being roped into it.

    As for ‘producing princesses’ (para. 2), I must have missed all the other royals we are churning out. That said, suppose for a second that we were not in fact renowned for ‘producing princesses’ – would the supposed sexism be any less detrimental to St Andrews graduates’ prospects? Let’s hope the poll (what, the one from October 2012…?) doesn’t get leaked, otherwise our University’s reputation really might go down the drain and no one will ever apply and we will get slagged off in the Daily Mail and it will all be because of RAG week and it’s so terrib- hang on. We’ll be fine.

    Whilst on the subject of princesses (I can’t be sure obviously but) I think the whole ‘finding your prince’ question (para. 15) might refer to Kate Middleton meeting Prince William (that did happen in St Andrew right?). If you take this question, as well as anything you write about in this article, THAT seriously then I’m afraid you will be constantly upset, for the rest of your life, by many things that don’t really matter unless you ‘construe’ (para. 14) them in a certain way, and certainly don’t merit an article.

    Aside from the article’s banal content, it is stylistically horrendous. Sitting myopically on some (presumably very tired) high-horse you assert that you are in fact dealing with serious subject matter. Yet you seem determined to sacrifice any small scrap of authorial credibility you have (well, had) by throwing in trite conversational expressions. Heaven knows how dynamic your journalism could be if you could include emoticons mid-sentence to better articulate your astoundingly misplaced opinions. In addition, littering the article with ‘to me’, ‘in my opinion’, ‘I believe’ ‘I fear’, left me a little confused (well, not actually, just thought I’d say) as to whether this article is your opinion or the Saints’? Luckily the Saint provides the disclaimer that your views are not necessarily representative of the paper’s. In this case, the Saint’s disclaimer is not only a resounding salvation after wading through your mucky article, but it is also the most valuable aspect of the entire piece. No one would wish to identify with this disastrous article, both for its pitiable content and its abysmal ineloquence.


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