Positive discrimination was firmly on the agenda this week at SUSU as several meetings saw discussions themed around increasing women’s representation within the union.

Shane Murphy, VP Student Engagement, led a policy debate at Monday’s union council, with sabbaticals extolling the virtues of gender balancing. This system would bias elections in favour of female candidates, based on a proposal narrowly rejected at last week’s NUS National Conference, at which four of the sabb team were invited observers.

Shane introduced the council discussion with the fact that in the history of SUSU more people called Dave have been elected Union President than women. While perhaps an interesting point, I don’t imagine his name is the source of, for example, David Gilani’s electoral success, although perhaps a change of name wouldn’t hurt if being president is something you aspire to.

Several union councilors expressed their concerns to me after the meeting, worried that gender balancing would reduce confidence in SUSU’s democracy and critically undermine the credibility of a union with an uneven electoral playing-field. Would a female sabbatical or student leader elected with a lower number of votes than a rival but boosted by gender balancing have the same mandate to carry out their manifesto?

What particularly bothered me about the union council debate was that it seemed to be based on the premise that the SUSU membership were wrong to elect the candidates they did. There seems to be no room for the idea that perhaps the five men and two women elected to the current and the next sabbatical team were elected as individual people on the strength of their own arguments and campaigns.

When I decided to mount my own sabbatical campaign last year, at no point did I think “I may be representing the males of the university here” in the same way I wasn’t specifically representing people with dyed hair or ale drinkers (well, perhaps the latter.) In elections week, it’s every man or woman for his or herself, but then the winners are required to bear in mind the interests of all students. When voting at SUSU, has the thought “I must make sure my preferred candidates are gender-balanced” ever crossed anyone’s mind? I sincerely hope not.

Chloe Green, VP Welfare, put a different proposal on the agenda at Thursday’s welfare committee, arguing strongly in favour of the reintroduction of a women’s officer. Men’s and women’s officers were removed from the SUSU structure in 2011. It wasn’t made clear whether Chloe intends the role to be focused on gender related issues or purely to address the perceived democratic imbalance, but it was certainly clear that Chloe would not want the return of a men’s officer, openly mocking the suggestion when committee members raised it.

Personally, I am very concerned at the tone of these debates, the assumptions that seem to have been made and the will there seems to be to introduce measures that fight the perception of inequality with actual quantifiable inequality. I believe an unfair voting system would increase the disconnect SUSU members feel from the union’s democratic processes and also undermine the efforts of candidates and elected officers of both genders.

Recreating the women’s officer position would be a regressive step, making the issues of women seem niche when actually women make up a slight majority of SUSU membership and dismissing men’s issues altogether when actually men also face problems specific to their gender that are already too often swept under the carpet. If a dedicated officer for women is needed, are the people we have elected not adequately representing the student body? I’d prefer to think that they have sufficient empathy or at least do enough research to be able to support a diverse range of students, many of whom obviously they will have little in common with.

These measures seem to me to be heavy-handed and unnecessary. I have confidence that the officers we elect represent students equally and to the best of their ability regardless of which particular type of genitals they have under their clothes.

55 Comments »

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  • susu_cat

    Good article and good points to mull over.
    I hope Shane did not use the more people called Dave fact as the hinge of his debate, it’s a fact, but has no relevance. He might as well have said more people with name’s containing more than 1 vowel.
    Also, although I don’t think a woman’s officer is necessary, I see why people might naively think it is. If it is necessary, then a men’s officer surely MUST be a position as well.

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    David Gilani

    The potential of a women’s officer, or balancing elections are just some of the possible ways to balance gender inequality, however from this article and comments, I think we need to step back and ask if we need to do anything…?

    We have less female candidates than male candidates in most of our elections… we have less female voters than male voters in most of our elections. We had roughly 600 less female voters than male voters in the referendum last December… yet females are 54% of our students.

    As someone who’s responsible for up-keeping democracy at SUSU… that worries me. Does that mean that somehow our elections and voting appeals more to men than it does to women? That we’re encouraging men to vote and run more than we are for women…? If that’s the case then we’re already discriminating on gender. Just because it’s not our intention doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening – and those figures make it hard for me to have total confidence in the way we run our democratic procedures.

    The first step isn’t debating whether two wrongs make a right… the first step is working out whether something is wrong.

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    Luke O'Brien

    I think something we have to consider is that there are certain cohorts who are not interested in engaging with SUSU, for example our large community of nurses and medics. Both those cohorts are predominantly female so that may go a long way in explaining the apparent disparity

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    David Gilani

    Hmm… that’s a very interesting point, Luke… and quickly makes you remember the number of other ways that we are underachieving in engaging with our students: i.e. sites.

    During the referendum, we took some campaigners up to Winchester to hold a debate there. At the time, nobody called that type of ‘positive discrimination’ unfair… because it was obviously balancing out a lack of information and engagement that Winchester students receive elsewhere.

    I am of the belief that SUSU should be relevant to all students, and if it’s not, then we should change what we do… your point is quite an interesting one though – maybe we need to look at how we engage nurses and medics first, and that will sort the gender imbalance?

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    Boring Me, SUSU

    David, the debate at Winchester was a flop- Its the geographical location (and the fact that Winchester are their own self sustaining community) more than anything that creates an imbal;ance voting wise here. gender discrimination is discrimination even if it is positive. certain groups take part (or don’t) in SUSU due to freedom of choice; many Women don’t want to be part of SUSU because they JUST DON’T WANT TO; especially in terms of the politics side, they arent intersted; no campaigns will change their views, just like the men who don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to go into the SUSU image problem….

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    susu_cat

    I agree David and Luke.
    I think in a grand scheme of things it’s all well and good striving for equality for women in the world and wider community as is one of the intentions of the women’s officer position. However, I (perhaps ignorantly) believe if we can tackle our problems of apparent inequality at home, then perhaps others will take our example and follow.
    It is a simple idea, but one which is hard to achieve, debating on on whether we need a women’s officer, or if there positive discrimination is irrelevant, there is an apparent ( if you believe Gilani’s statistic; which i have no reason not to, and at this moment cannot be bothered to verify) problem with not enough female engagement, and debating and working towards solving this is the key to winning. If however, it turns out the way votes are cast and people run for election is not predominantly male because SUSU is missing some blindingly obvious sexist propaganda with its democratic system, then there is no problem. The students run for elections if they want, they vote if they want, trying to encourage women to take part in the process without seeming patronizing is in itself patronizing to the students.

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  • Rob

    I think ‘positive discrimination’ is an insult to women. They don’t need skewed votes to win an election. The whole thing is undemocratic and suggests women need our help to gain power… positively sexist more like.

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  • Joe

    Positive discrimination is never ever the right thing to do.

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  • Jen D. Erbender

    Women are in the majority at university and there are NO barriers to entry into SUSU (cliquism notwithstanding…!) It is similar in the job market afterwards, with young women on average more qualified and out-earning men, and still women get affirmative action (have seen it for finance internships, engineering…) What more can be done? Women must at some point actually step up to the plate and apply for that job or that Sabb position rather than keep accepting free hands up.

    And that is before we get into the fact that SUSU is meant to be a democratically elected body. What a regressive bubble student politics is. I have little hope for a new leftist movement in this country if this is the best our aspiring politicos can come up with.

    I still do not know if Chloe is a genuine ideologue or merely trying to score points on her CV. It astounds me that anyone could have such an outdated ideology. Too much critical theory, methinks…

    The irony, of course, is that most normal women want to be selected on merit, while those like Chloe give their gender a bad name, foment resentment between the genders, and somehow manage in one stroke both to denigrate men and patronise women.

    How we will laugh when we graduate into the real world.

    Reply

    Boring Me, SUSU

    Top dollar

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  • Scott

    There is no such thing as “Positive Discrimination”. If men were excluded from an election just because they were male, that would be discrimination against men, in exactly the same way withholding the vote from women until 1918 was discrimination against females. That is not positive. All-women shortlists are a terrible idea and have no place in the 21st century where women want equality.

    If SUSU are concerned about the lack of female representation they should get some better females. I seriously doubt anyone thinks “she’s a woman, she won’t be as good as a guy called Dave”, they look at strengths and weaknesses and if they think, for example, a strong character, leadership skills and an ability to stand up for themselves are the character required of the president, they’ll vote for the people who have those qualities. If women aren’t being elected it’s because they don’t have the qualities the electorate are looking for – if that’s the case, don’t bypass democracy and install a woman, find a better woman and put her up against the others on policy and see who wins.

    I also doubt any woman would feel comfortable in or be able to command authority from any position she was propelled into because of her sex.

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    Boring Me, SUSU

    We do have Chloe Green, a prime example of an extremist for whom many Feminists (and just girls who want to get on without this bs) just despair at. Shes called my friends racist with no proof and sniggers at anyone who has divergent views. What an example. Also if you check the numbers women overwhelmingly vote for men; when there are two candidates of equal worth woman and man, the Women voters choose the man by landslide…. What does this say?

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  • Dave

    I think positive discrimination is ridiculous. Surely the best person for the job should get the job, it shouldn’t be based on ethnicity, gender or even age. And if this is decided through votes, everyone should remain equal aka. democracy.

    It would be like saying a female engineering student gets 10% added onto her marks for an exam because they are in the gender minority which just isn’t plausible.

    I always dislike when people talk about equality, bringing in a women’s officer but not a men’s officer. How is that equal? Feminism almost wants women to become better than men, that’s not equality.

    The poll (in it’s current state – 95.24% saying positive discrimination isn’t needed) shows how much of a shitty arrangement this is.

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  • Anon

    So Chloe wants a Women’s Officer but not a Men’s Officer? Sounds vaguely like the time she organised International Women’s Day as International Women’s Week but absolutely nothing to mark International Men’s Day…
    So much for equality.
    From, a woman.

    Reply

    Dave

    What do you expect from a feminist

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    Anon

    Feminism is about equality. My problem with this form of feminism is it is becoming more and more popular, and is no longer about equality, but about women being above men, having control, being dominant.

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    Anon

    You’re incredibly ignorant, aren’t you?

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    Anon

    I wouldn’t say so, but then if I were, I’d be unlikely to admit to it.

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  • Dave

    There have been more Dave Prime MInister’s then women, the most pointless ‘fact’ used to back up a ridiculous idea

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  • Anon.

    As a woman, I personally don’t feel the need for ‘Female Empowerment Workshops’, as I think that if women want to get involved, be this in SUSU or other things, they can do it themselves without being singled out by their gender. There aren’t ‘Male Empowerment Workshops’ and you have to wonder why that is.

    I admit, though, that I don’t think enough women want to or do get involved in SUSU, but this year saw a rise in the number of women applying for Student Leaders/Sabbs and getting those roles too.

    Even if this is not the intention, I think that women-based activities and workshops single out women and make them feel like they need help in order to get those roles. Instead, SUSU should run workshops for EVERYONE about how to gain roles inside the organisation.

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  • Laura

    I am not sure I completely agree with your interpretations of the discussions. I don’t agree that we were being encouraged to positively discriminate, it isn’t about changing the elections but about getting people to nominate themselves. The discussions were about encouraging women to run for positions so that the Sabbatical and Student leader teams reflect the student population and also to encourage men to run for positions that usually attract female candidates.

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  • Sam Ling

    The concept of a Womans officer and what the need is is something I’ve changed my opinions on over time. At the begining of the time as President I struggled to understand why there would be full time Womens officers on Sabbatical teams (although could understand a volunteer part time one) and its taken until even just a few weeks ago to fully understand the need and value, although its worth noting that’s not what was being discussed.

    The discussions of council hinged around a) do we believe the clear lack of balance when it comes to men and women holding in particular higher profile positions within the Union, and b) do we think we should do something about it. It was a good starting point, and there was no presupposition of what the solution would be, but opens up the exploration of the issue. I was reassured to see an overwhelming recognition of the issue, and belief that it needs to be sorted.

    On the topic of Womens officers, I think the position has been often misunderstood in the past (by myself included) which has led to a skewed view of what it is there to do.

    What the position is no there to do is to promote and champion womens health issues (or at least in the widely accepted role of womens officers in most unions). if that were the point of the position then I would definitely say that a mens health officer would also be sensible.

    What the role is there to do is to address the painfully apparent issue for Gender inequality in both union engagement/leadership, to wider society. The point made about more Davids than Women presidents is about highlighting the absurdity of the situation. Looking at gender across our leadership, across engagement in the Union, the Gender Pay Gap, the dearth of women on boards (including our own trustee board) demonstrates clearly that there is a problem, and one that absolutely affects our students.

    Womens officers are one tool in tackling this (as we have officers to tackle environmental issues, representation of international students, underpresentation of post grads etc.). Based on the definition of a Womens officers role to be in tackling the problems of clear gender inequality in both the University and wider society, it possibly makes it clearer why there is a need for a womens officer and not a mens officer.

    Reply

    Grace

    Just to clear up for those who weren’t at Union Council, Shane started his discussion with the fact that there have been more Presidents called David than there have been female in SUSU’s history.

    Reply

    Name

    More to come, not posting properly

    Reply

    susu_cat

    The issue is no matter how much we strive for equality. It’s the choice of the people we represent on what they do, if women want to run for SABB positions, there’s nothing stopping them, making a women’s officer position to highlight gender inequality is not going to help this fact.
    In the small scale the union can never be pleased, how will they ever represent everyone.
    Look at the simple fact that there are an odd number of positions in the union. So how can we have a 50:50 split to female and male?
    https://www.susu.org/about/structure

    Reply

    Robyn

    There are more women Cheif Executive Officers at this Union that there are male ones….should we employ a male one too?

    On a serious note, until Women start taking jobs in the blue collar sector rather than demanding equality in the boardroom, people might take their inequality argument seriously. If they want to the top jobs, then work from the bottom up like men do.

    Until I see a campaign for more women to work as plasterers or electricians or plumbers, I won’t take their claims that they should be given help seriously.

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    Anon

    Have you even researched what you’re talking about? You say ‘demanding equality in the boardroom’ as if that’s somehow out of order – as if equality in the workplace is something absolutely ridiculous to even consider for women? You don’t think women work from the bottom?

    You know what, I’m not even going to continue to reply to someone so uneducated about what they’re deciding to talk about.

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    Boring Me, SUSU

    Anon, youre clearly judging and discriminating yourself- although Robyn is portraying their argument incorrectly you’ve undermined yourself there completely

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    A repeat of UCL?

    You raise an interesting point Sam, and I think you are right about how easy it is to misunderstand the role of a women’s officer.

    I think that before SUSU looks at opening the position of a women’s officer then there needs to be an open and frank debate. Many questions need to be answered:

    - What would the role of the officer be, this needs to be clearly thought about.

    - Who would be able to vote for the women’s officer

    - Who could run for these positions

    In summary is it necessary to have a referendum about this? We need to be careful about this I think UCL is an example not to follow SUSU would not benefit from a “because bitches deserve better campaign.

    Personally I think that the a women’s officer might succeed in increasing the number of women engaged in SUSU relative to men but only by making sure SUSU engaged with less men.

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  • Name

    The comments on this article show how laughably little people know about feminism. There is a consistently transpiring conflation of feminism and misandry that really needs to stop, ESPECIALLY when it’s propounded by women themselves (ie. that anon below). You’ve clearly fallen victim to hegemony and the patriarchal view that white middle class male ‘suffering’ exists. You’re not exactly a great loss to our cause if you’re that politically short-sighted. Many people don’t see the point in celebrating an International Men’s Day because men have never had to struggle in comparison to other social groups like women, POC and trans people. Men are at the top of the social hierarchy by default and have a huge amount of privilege from birth, whether you choose to accept this or not.

    Anyway… I agree that positive discrimination is offensive to women. However, I think a Women’s Officer is a good idea. As Sam Ling said, ‘they would be tackling the problems of clear gender inequality in both the University and wider society’, not lauding women as some kind of higher power. If you really think that men and women within the University and wider society are equal, or that ‘men are becoming less equal’ and therefore we don’t need that sort of extra help, then I really worry about you.

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    Simon Boyce

    “how laughably little people know” “you’ve clearly fallen victim” “whether you choose to accept this or not” “If you really think that [...] then I really worry about you”

    Perhaps try and transcend your “if you disagree with me you are wrong” attitude and engage in the debate a little? It will require accepting that maybe your opinion doesn’t trump those of everyone else.

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    PhD

    Wouldn’t discourse be lovely without the “because I say so” card being played? Excellent article btw.

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    Anon

    Name- How you can seriously think white male middle class suffering doesn’t exist at all is appalling. After four generations of lawyers, my father was forced into becoming a lawyer. He couldn’t cope with the stress, became an alcoholic, struggled to keep a business afloat, got into serious debt, had a nervous breakdown and left the country. All because he had no choice of career, and huge expectations from his family. The pressures that a lot of men are put under to continue a family business, or behave in a certain way are very current, and it is politically short sighted of you to believe that no white middle class man has ever suffered.
    Whilst I am not saying they are equivalent to the continuing struggles for gender equality for females, it would be wrong to deny they exist.

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    TheRah

    I suffer from white middle class abuse daily, when i have drive through the blockade of women blocking my workplace and have to listen to there complaints. Do you know what i do.
    Close the window of my Jaguar

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    #24601

    Oh noes! He HAD to have a well payed white collar career. Boo fucking hoo.
    She wasn’t saying no middle class white men have suffered. She’s saying that we have less suffering put on us due to factors beyond our control (race, gender, etc.) than people in other groups, which is objectively true (you can look at income, crime and social mobility figures for proof).

    This comments section shows just how little Tab commenters know about feminism.

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    Shro

    Well yes, that actually IS bad. Having a highly stressful and demanding job that you despise foisted on you due to the unreasonable expectations of your family and society is, quite frankly, bloody awful. How on earth can you not see that? I mean seriously, if you think that wealth and social status automatically equate to happiness then you have something fundamentally wrong with you at a molecular level.

    And read her comment again – she did indeed say that she believes that such suffering does not exist. For the love of god, please at least read the comment you’re attempting to defend.

    And the comments are, by and large, highlighting a handful of the problems with modern feminism. Your comment is essentially doing the same, just unintentionally.

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    Anon

    Shro- Thanks for your support in this. Pretty insulting that someone tries to deny the hardship my family went through for years, as not suffering. What you wrote is true, it’s incredibly unfair and not uncommon that men are forced to meet expectations on their careers, sexuality, lifestyles etc, and quite frankly I’m shocked #24601 can’t see that.
    If #24601 had read my comment properly, just as they failed to read the original comment I took objection to, they would have noticed that it was not just the fact my Dad was forced to become a lawyer that caused his suffering- it was the aftermath of being forced to meet continuing and increasing expectations. It’s incredibly insensitive of you #24601 to mock the hardships my family faced because he “had to have a well paid (just correcting your spelling) white collar career.” How would you like it if I told you you had to have a career you despised, that put you under constant stress for the rest of your life, and subsequently pulled your family apart? Think next time before you mock someone’s suffering. I was merely trying to point out that there are many ways men suffer.

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    Not So Fresh

    OI. DON’T YOU EVEN TRY IT ‘NAME’.

    BACK TO TUMBLR WITH YE.

    GO ON, SHOO.

    Reply

  • Heavy flow and a wide set vagina

    I think here, we shoudl consult ‘The Bible’

    Reply

  • Chris K

    Positive discrimination IS discrimination. It’s a paradoxical term and needs to be wiped out of the English language. There is no positive or negative discrimination , only discrimination.

    With the majority of the student body being female , if the students specifically want only females in the union then only females will be in the union. So on what basis is this measure being proposed ? Oh… right , equal outcomes , not equal opportunities.

    It should be obvious by now that those screaming the loudest about fairness , equality , and tolerance are those least likely to possess any measure of these ideals within their character make-up.

    If this goes through then some day in the perhaps-not-so-distant future , it will come back to bite these ideologues in the rear end. In fact , give the current statistics , if there was any merit in the idea of positive discrimination , those currently proposing the idea for the SUSU would find themselves on the short end of that stick.

    Hmmmm…maybe it’s NOT such a good idea ?

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    Sam Ling

    Although mentioned a number of times across this article, on FB, and in the Wessex Scene, there has been no proposal to introduce any form of “positive discrimination” into the Union, which quite rightly is illegal.

    There was however a discussion where council agreed that the lack of women putting themselves forward for leadership roles is a big problem, and that we should do about it. The next step is absolutely up for discussion. Its a shame that this article has very much misrepresented what was actually discussed, and I hope that it wont derail good work that could happen to create a Union which far better reflects its membership, and draws from a far broader pool of talented students for its leadership.

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  • bobsutan

    There’s no such thing as “positive discrimination”. Discrimination is discrimination, period.

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  • Jordan

    Don’t forget that if you push the women enforced policy through you can no longer claim that your system is democratic. What is more important to you?

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  • ZimbaZumba

    Surely the solution is to limit the number of people called Dave standing for election. Problem solved.

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  • Claire Gilbert

    Hello!
    In response to Simon’s article there is this: http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/opinion/2013/04/25/a-response-to-tab-article-shifting-the-balance-of-power/
    giving a different perspective on the discussion that occurred in Union Council.

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  • Anon

    So having fewer female students in SUSU is a sign of discrimination and it is very important to be fixed with any thinkable method. But having fewer male student in the university is not discrimination and should not even be talked about or god forbid fixed!

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  • Nigel Thornberry

    I’m all for empowerment of women but what about ethnic minorities in this issue. Are SUSU’s Asian population really represented?

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    Sam Ling

    I’d love to see students take on the issue of engagement with all our under represented groups, so very open to suggestions.

    I would however suggest that the severity of the under-representation of female students is that we’re finding that a group who make up a not insignificant majority are less well represented than many other groups who make far smaller numbers in the community

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    Boring Me, SUSU

    Can a man not represent a woman? Can an woman not represent a man. Fuck i cant be bothered any more. None of the sabbs have a true mandate, mostly because nobody could give two hoots cept for the sad lonely trolls on here like me

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  • Anon

    Would love to get the exact quote of Chloe’s ‘mocking’ the idea of a men’s officer.

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    Boyce

    I believe a complaint has been made so I don’t think it’d be fair to try her in the court of public opinion while that’s ongoing.

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  • Maculinist

    “but it was certainly clear that Chloe would not want the return of a men’s officer, openly mocking the suggestion when committee members raised it.”

    Yes, because she isn’t a feminist, she just hates men. Never met such a distasteful women in my life.

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    Anon

    You obviously don’t get out much

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  • Despair! :(

    As a female student I say ‘No to positive to discrimination’. I feel like it would just give sexist people the opportunity to slate a female victory for a particular role. As someone who did vote in the elections, I stand by my choices. I’m not going to decide whether someone should be elected based on their gender or anything else for that matter. If someone wants to to win an election they need to bring the goods. And I will not vote if I believe that someone has a better chance of getting in than someone else. It’s preposterous.

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  • Moe

    “Positive discrimination?” What does that even mean??

    Reply