I am all for the eradication of grossly sexist behaviour within student culture, but I cannot help finding the recently launched petition to ''Ban ''gentleman's'' clubs and sexist drinking societies at the University of Cambridge'' a bit naive. Undeniably, there are a few bad eggs that behave in truly disgusting ways towards women, but the majority of boys in drinking societies are no different from the average student. I myself am a president of a drinking society and find it surprising how ignorant this campaign is of the wider picture. I don’t really fit into the ‘over-privileged toff’ bracket the organisers seem to think is indicative of such societies. I was the first in my family to go to university, and I receive a full bursary. The rest of the guys in my society come from an incredibly diverse mix of backgrounds – a true reflection of the inclusivity the university should be striving for.
If such societies were really so ‘woman hating’ why would groups of women agree to go on swaps and socials with them week after week? The petition's page on change.org states that the intent of male drinking societies is to "dominate, humiliate and control women". I don’t even know where to begin with this statement. Everyone in my society would just like to have an enjoyable and jovial evening with a group of women each week. Yes, there is the odd challenge uninitiated members have to do, yet I see no cause for concern when these are performed by consenting adults of BOTH sexes. In my experience this has always led to all smiles and no tears from males and females alike.
Some of the stories that have come out of such events are indeed vile and should definitely be condemned. But to paint all drinking societies (both men’s and women’s) with the same brush is grossly unfair, and not unlike the mainstream media's ‘scrounger’ bashing because of the odd benefit claimant playing the system.
This hostile campaign would be taken more seriously and probably be more successful if it adopted an approach that sought to work with drinking societies to promote the eradication of the behaviours it rightfully opposes. The Cambridge for Consent campaign was a fantastic example of this, which I believe has had a genuine positive effect.
I honestly believe that the few idiots who demonstrate such disgusting behaviour would probably do so regardless of whether or not they are a member of a drinking society. To use these societies as the scapegoat is not the right way to go about making change. Instead, I would urge campaigners to involve the societies themselves, and work with them to bring about a collective change in attitudes towards abhorrent sexist behaviour.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below, or email email@example.com to pitch a response. You can also click here to read Natalie Holroyd's piece, 'Not just sexism: How drinking society culture targets women with body image issues'