St Andrews University has found itself in the news this week after a Mr St Andrews male beauty pageant – held to raise money for charity during RAG week – became a ‘public exploitation of sexuality and the female body’ that went ‘way too far’, according to two female students who attended.
Clara Jenkins and Katharine Gemmell said they went to the event because it had been billed as a ‘night of boisterous fun, debauchery and indulgent revelry, where the best St Andrews has to offer battle it out for the ultimate title of Mr St Andrews’ - and they thought a write up of it would make a good piece for the student magazine they edit. But the pair felt moved to speak out when it descended into ‘condoms; cucumber; human poles; vibrators; lube; nudity; nipples; sex positions; lingerie... and a bare vagina.’ (The bare vagina, if you’re interested, was revealed during a race to see which guy could strip a willing female participant to her underwear the quickest. Presumably one of the contestants was all thumbs).
The pair told The Debrief they didn't really feel like they could ignore what they saw as blatant, and celebrated examples of misogyny. 'We felt it would be morally wrong to ignore the shock we felt at the sexist and inappropriate events we saw take place which should not be permitted in today's society.'
St Andrews RAG week co-ordinator Fiona Lewis however has disagreed with the girls' interpretation of the event. 'Mr St Andrews is intended to be a playful and satirical event that raises money for charity. All the participants were aware in advance of the nature of the event and no one was forced or explicitly requested to do anything - everything that occurred was the decision of the participants. We take the welfare of all our participants very seriously and are always happy to deal with any concerns raised by them before, during or after the event.'
Or, as Jenkins and Gemmell have heard many times since raising their complaints: ‘ANYWAY, IT’S ONLY A BIT OF FUN.' But actually, it’s not, is it? It comes in a week where Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates described how Facebook ‘spotted’ pages are providing a new outlet for misogyny at universities - and off the back of new research showing that young men are being peer pressured into becoming sexual predators as part of the ever-prevalent ‘Lad’ culture at university. Last week’s Ladism and Higher Educaton conference highlighted how victims of sexual assault at university often still find themselves sitting next to the person who's attacked them at lectures because universities are so ill-equipped to deal with it.
As Jenkins and Gemmell pretty succinctly put it: ‘There we were, wondering what was more wrong of us - to laugh along, or sit incredulous and wonder why others aren’t doing the same. How many other girls are willing to turn a blind eye to this behaviour in order to be more appealing? Are we striving to become lads ourselves? How big is the glass ceiling at St. Andrews?’
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.