Yesterday afternoon an event was held at the University of Dundee that brought together two generations of students to pit their skills against each other. I was shocked to find that none of the eight participants that had made it through the selection process was a woman. A remarkable fact worthy of mediatic attention as Tay Productions confirmed during their coverage of the event. It is neither acceptable nor unavoidable that the university and DUSA were yesterday represented by nine white men.
As Tay’s Station Manager, I was obviously involved in the decision to highlight this fact, and I couldn’t be more proud – despite the external will to make us feel otherwise. In fact, as soon as the event was over, some of the university’s external relations staff approached us in a very unfriendly fashion to try and persuade us to delete part of our Facebook post. They told us that there had been an application process whereby the best candidates had been selected and that, somehow, gender imbalance had just occurred. Now, I welcome you to feminism 101: If you think that equal representation should “just occur”, you’ve got another think coming. Gender balance can’t be expected to occur naturally on a regular basis, not because women are a minority, or because they are less competent, but simply because gender equality is not yet a reality.
The fact is that Dundee University has a female:male student ratio of 60:40. All students are talented and capable, irrespectively of gender, class or race. Now, either all women disappear due to force majeure whenever the university nominates student representatives or there is indeed a lack of conditions for gender equality to take place. I find the former a bit difficult to believe. Easy as that. Unfavourable conditions for equal representation are many and include the fact that – surprise, surprise – women face systematic and systemic oppression every single day of their lives. Perhaps universities are not the safe places we’re inclined to believe. Perhaps deeply ingrained gender bias plays a part in discouraging women from participating in events of a certain kind – even when the discriminatory practices may not be explicit. That is one of the perks of institutionalised oppression: Most of the times it’s more about what one doesn’t do to make a change than what one does to keep things unchanged. And both DUSA and the university do far from enough.
I believed them when they told me that not enough women turned up for the application process. I had, as a matter of fact, imagined so myself. However, that doesn’t excuse the complete lack of female participants in an event that measures gender-neutral skills. Or the favourable reception of this fact by the event organisers. Instead, it should be regarded as an obvious sign of alarm, and immediate action should be taken to solve the underlying problem. I hope the university understands that gender balance cannot be just wished for but strived for. It can only be achieved with the institution’s willingness to establish appropriate policy and to actively commit to the creation of safe spaces where women feel comfortable, valued and free to express themselves. Anything less would fall short.
Finally, I will not tolerate censorship or dissuasion of any kind, not now or in the future. It is only our duty as student journalists to hold the university and our students’ association accountable for what they do and fail to do. A university is a place where talented and motivated women and men come together to learn and cultivate themselves. There shouldn’t be room for gender bias in a contest that measures their capacity to do so successfully.
Link to the broadcast: https://www.facebook.com/tayproductionsdundee/videos/1528996850484057/