The CUSU Women’s Campaign has launched an important new survey in order to flag exclusively negative experiences regarding drinking societies. We all know that Oxbridge drinking societies are notorious for being (among other things) misogynistic, classist, and elitist groups, typically consisting of white males, and it is great that the Women’s Campaign is working to investigate whether these preconceptions propounded by the British press are in fact true, relying on first-hand accounts which is of course an admirable method. However, while negative experiences are undoubtedly more important than positive ones, the survey does fail to give opportunity for students to voice the enjoyable aspects of drinking societies.
It is important that the Women’s Campaign provides a platform for positivity, so that drinking societies can follow the example of others as to ensure that their society practises decent conduct and is a safe space for people inside and outside of the group alike.
My own experience of being in the female drinking society at Girton has been largely positive. Our initiations were instead called invitations, and open ones at that; we were encouraged by members to bring along anyone interested in joining in. The Girton Geckos’ Caesarian Sunday event was attended exclusively by self-identifying women, but nothing was said either for or against extending the invitation to people of other/no genders.
Many women, quite justly, may only be comfortable in female-exclusive drinking societies due to the plethora of horror stories about all-male societies. Yet, being refused membership within the famously male drinking societies is blatantly problematic. Being allowed to lunch at the Pitt Club just isn’t good enough. The issue of gender exclusivity in drinking societies is certainly in need of pursuit, and the Women’s Campaign is right to open a discussion capable of including this.
Perhaps I am lucky that the drinking society I joined is a thoroughly decent one. Just as every individual experience with these groups differs, so does each society. For us, everything is totally optional: the most outrageous thing we were encouraged to do on Caesarian Sunday was have our faces painted, and even that wasn’t compulsory. You didn’t even have to drink in order to be included.
The freedom from peer pressure is absolutely fundamental within drinking societies, and it seems to be a major evolution in the nature of drinking societies in comparison to how they used to be. I cannot say, however, whether such freedom exists in all drinking societies, and I applaud the Women’s Campaign for addressing the issues surrounding drinking societies in Cambridge. I do, however, believe that the survey in question is too narrow, excluding those positive experiences which can and should be an integral part of the conversation.