Student Politics: More Harm Than Good?

Recently, there have been lots of debates regarding “sexism”, “feminism” and “offensive” topics. I put these in inverted commas not because I disregard sexism or feminism, but because the definition and reaction of each seems to be somewhat exaggerated and distorted in certain circles at the moment. Feminists are clinging on to anything that they are slightly unsure of or offended by, when being offended is not a human right and it is essentially one person’s opinion. Opinions are by definition subjective, so this cannot be the basis for anything unless democratically everyone agrees. Equally, sexism is obviously awful but there are a minority of things written on such websites as TrueLad that are sexually offensive, but there is no real reason for campaigning against the entire website for the occasional misjudgement.

Similarly, the Spotted Facebook pages for universities around the country allow users to anonymously post messages aimed towards people seen in their libraries or around campus. These are often compliments or humorous jibes, but sometimes cross into more sexual comments that some women take offense with. In York, this caused a huge fuss, with its owners ultimately shutting down the site because they didn’t have time for the moderation that was called for. As far as I’m aware, no other university has had this problem, which begs the question as to whether there are groups at York that do take things more seriously. The Overheard York Twitter account is a similar case, except that moderation was agreed to and the situation was dealt with in a calmer manner in order to keep an amusing profile running without the sporadically offensive quotes featured as well.

There is now a new campaign to stop selling The Sun and ‘lads’ mags’ in The University of York’s student union shop on the basis that a new vocal minority of students don’t want the union’s money (our money) to be spent on offensive material. However, two years ago there was a university referendum in which all students had the chance to vote for whether the skin-showing front covers of lads’ mags should be covered on the shelves, and it failed. So now, logically, new students would like a referendum that takes an even stronger stance, making it less likely to appeal across the student body. Ultimately, censorship is the issue, as students obviously buy The Sun or Your:Shop would not continue to purchase them for distribution. For everyone who is offended by something, that are others who may not like the stance of a publication, but appreciate that different opinions need to be displayed in the world in order for the public to not become mindless robots with no debate or intelligent thinking.

I would suggest that, instead of spending efforts on dubious campaigns such as this, the women’s committees and political groups of our student world could perhaps focus instead on improving lighting and portering around campus in an attempt to avoid repeats of the two recent sexual assaults on our campus. It is concerning that some are so adamant about removing subjectively offensive material from a shop, when actual cases of abuse are happening on our doorstep and have received about 1% of the attention of this campaign.

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