St Andrews is largely fortunate in that it has a group of incredibly dedicated voluntary and sabbatical officers that run its Union, one of the best Feminist Societies in the country (according to a Buzzfeed article at least) and clearly hundreds of people who truly care about our Students’ Association being as welcoming and inclusive as possible. Despite this commitment (or perhaps because of it) student activism within St Andrews is often low-key, if not non-existent. The clear exception to this rule has been the recent campaign to change the name of Friday nights at Club 601 from P.U.L.L. to frankly anything less awkward.
This campaign has received a huge amount of attention, both within the Bubble and out of it. Within an hour of it going up my Facebook page was crowded with friends declaring they’d signed it, citing reasons including a sense of exclusion or feeling uncomfortable with the sexual connotations of the name. With the success of the petition (at time of writing 440 people have signed it) the Union responded and changed the name back to the Bop. Within a few days national newspapers had seized the story, reporting it as news but by and large implicitly suggesting that it was another action proving just how out of touch student bodies were with the rest of the population.
I myself signed the petition without really giving it much thought. The name P.U.L.L. had never bothered me particularly, aside from some minor embarrassment at the contrived concept of it being an abbreviation, but I definitely did not like the idea of fellow students feeling uncomfortable within their Union. Yet some of the outraged online commenters raised some interesting issues about the implication of the switch.
A number of the people commenting on the articles did seem to be trolls and misogynists, and the people who organised the petition had a large amount of unfair dirt thrown at them for even daring to speak out about something that bothered them, but the sensible few who seemed genuinely confused as to why a university should start taking what appears to be quite a prudish stance have a point.
Hook-up culture is an inevitable fact of university life. It’s perhaps a regrettable and often ill-advised aspect of our lives, but one that the majority enjoy in perfect safety on a day-to-day basis. Whilst maybe it is not entirely appropriate to name a Union club night after the fact that a number of us intend to ‘pull’ (in the same way it probably wouldn’t be okay to name a Union night ‘five Sambuca shots in one hour’ which is often my intention when I end up in the Main Bar) the idea that this admission made people feel uncomfortable is a little worrying.
There is nothing in a traditional definition of the word ‘pull’ that suggests non-consent or anything unpleasant. ‘Pull’ is a word available to both genders and all sexual preferences. ‘Pulling’ generally involves trying to be the most attractive version of yourself, a sexual dynamic set up where emphasis is placed on winning a person’s approval and attracting them and where the power is equally distributed between the ‘puller’ and the ‘pulled’. If anything students trying to woo each other by splashing out on an extra vodka and cranberry seems quite innocent and endearing in a world where we’re constantly on the look out for the more dangerous side of sexual relations. As soon as we accept that the relatively nice side of hook up culture is something that we can’t talk about or something that makes people feel excluded it becomes more difficult to distinguish between the good sexual behaviours and the bad.
The ability to be able to reference sex without causing offence in a group of people of our age is incredibly important. Hook up culture, one night stands and ‘pulling’ are nothing to be ashamed of or worried about if people know about the importance of consent and safety. Whilst Sexual Health Awareness Week (amusingly SHAG, perhaps another sexually inappropriate pun?) and the Union’s consent campaign are sure to have some impact this campaign implicitly suggests that sex is not up for open acknowledgement or discussion.
No one deserves to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or like they are going to be sexually preyed on in the Union and I think most people are relieved the name has changed if simply because it was a tad embarrassing. There is nothing misogynist or non-consensual in the name P.U.L.L. – to suggest so does a discredit to the diligence of our sabbatical team and the large number people who approved the name before it was publicised. At it’s very worst ‘P.U.L.L.’ was just a bit lame.