Our town: Not the place for women’s issues?

An isolated university town with a phallocratic past, home to a male dominated sport and plenty of gentlemen’s clubs: does St Andrews lack an audience for feminist issues?

The more I think of St Andrews and feminism, the more I begin to believe they are contradictory words. This is the place where, at the admission of female students, male students allegedly cast away their mortarboards with outrage into the North Sea. This has left us with the tradition of men not wearing academic caps to graduation. Admittedly this was around 1892 but perhaps these sentiments live on if you consider that our first female Principle, Dr Louise Richardson, was denied the gift of membership to the R&A Golf Club, an honour bestowed upon her two male predecessors. No wonder then, that she seemed keen to support the Kate Kennedy Fellowship which styled itself as a revised Kate Kennedy Club, whose membership would not be exclusively male. But when the KK / KKF split happened last year, despite women’s representation being at the centre of the argument, the mood of the students seemed to be one of general ambivalence and disinterest.

Photo credit: Ben Goulter 

“If Strauss-Kahn had visited St Andrews, I’m sure there would have been student protest like the ones we saw in Cambridge,” Elena Georgalla , President of the universities Feminist Society tells me. She refers to the event earlier this year when hundreds of students clashed with police over Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s invitation to debate at the Cambridge Union. The former head of the IMF had been accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.

‘St Andrews is a small isolated town and it’s difficult to get speakers to agree to travel this far. Also we are far from the eyes of the national media.’

Elena makes a good point: this is unlike Oxbridge or London universities, which have diverse local populations and students from other universities sharing their town. There exists here in St Andrews, no obvious local audience to whom to make political statements. But when Gordon brown visited St Andrews last year in February, student protests revealed there are ad-hoc activists who rely on the impetus of there being a major speaker in town. I have a feeling that general activism which can be found at other UK universities might not be of interest to many of our tweed-clad students, and especially not to some locals who treat student frivolities such as Raisin Weekend as an annual mini-apocalypse.

Elena assures me that the society is well established with almost five-hundred on their mailing list, male and female, and members who often travel to Edinburgh for events and protests.

We held a very popular feminist question time in Lower Parliament Hall last year. The reasons why we would oppose to events the likes of ‘Men in suits Women in leather’ are obvious.’ She points out. ‘There is a need for a Feminist Society in St Andrews even if it simply reminds women that they should be allowed to reach their full potential.’

There certainly seems to be a place for woman related issues in St Andrews, even if they’re not being dealt with in an obviously or stereotypically feminist way. In our picturesque and isolated town of quiet academics, perhaps that image just wouldn’t suit us either?

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