"Frigid bitch" – Sexist heckles blight university debating championships

Hazel Shearing - Deputy News Editor 7 March 2013

The Cambridge Union Society voted on Monday to revoke its membership of the Glasgow University Union (GUU) after two female students were subjected to misogynistic verbal abuse at the Glasgow Ancients debating competition.

Rebecca Meredith, a politics student at King's College, has been ranked as one of the best twenty public speakers in the world. Yet in Glasgow she found herself booed and harassed by Union members along with debating partner Marlena Valles, a Law undergraduate at Edinburgh University who was named Scotland's best speaker at the 2013 Scottish National debating championships.

Meredith has publicly described the competition as "one of the most unpleasant incidents of my life".

The prestigious inter-varsity competition takes place each year and includes teams from Britain's oldest universities. However, the recent debate on the motion ‘This House Regrets the Centralization of Religion' took a negative turn.

Meredith told The Cambridge Student: "They booed us during the speeches regardless of what we were saying… They told us afterwards they booed us because we were women". According to the speaker, GUU members asked "what qualifications do women have to speak anyway?"

Kitty Parker-Brooks, who was judging the competition, heard male Union members "making audible derogatory comments about the speakers' appearances – their hair, dresses, chest size, how attractive they were – as well as yelling 'shame woman' and booing". When Parker-Brooks asked them to stop, members called her a "frigid bitch".

Meredith claimed that after the debate "one of the men who was booing us said quite audibly 'Get that woman out of my chamber'."

TCS understands that such incidents are not unprecedented at the GUU, and that female members are beginning to boycott Glasgow's Union. An online petition to have the offensive members banned from the Union has been signed by over 3,000 people.

Students at Glasgow told Meredith that female students were often heckled – called "whores" and "sluts" by certain male Union members. The GUU condemned the behaviour of its members and has issued apologies to both speakers.

The Cambridge Union Society has decided against sending any more students to debates at the GUU until changes are made to prevent the expression of such attitudes.

In a statement issued on Tuesday 4 March, two days after the incident, the GUU outlined new measures to avoid a repetition of the events. These include "the introduction of a code of conduct to union debating, Board of Management equity training in order to deal with complaints appropriately, and amending our Standing Orders to ensure that it is made clear that any offensive heckling will not be tolerated and will be dealt with immediately."

According to the statement, "action is now being taken in line with our discipline memorandum" regarding the hecklers.

Meredith has claimed that this is not the first time she has encountered prejudices when debating: "I have been told as a female debater that I should be careful not to sound ‘hysterical' and I have been told to defer to my male partner on analysis and economics because male debaters are ‘more convincing'. But never have I been openly disparaged in a final merely for being a woman

Hazel Shearing – Deputy News Editor