Wow. On Saturday, I wrote an article, published on The Broad, highlighting the discriminatory nature of the University of Edinburgh Philosophy Society’s event, ‘Philosophy discussion on Feminism (for Women and non-binary folk)’. I thought that would be the end of it. I was wrong.
In an attempt to create a ‘safe-space’ for “women, girls, trans women, non-binary and genderqueer persons”, the Society effectively banned men from attending. As I pointed out, not only does this undermine their own constitution (as well as EUSA’s – the Edinburgh University Student Association – requirements), but also restricts the range of opinion at the event and unhelpfully stifles debate.
There is a possibility that if the event goes ahead and the Society’s efforts to exclude men are realised, the discussion might actually be in contravention of the Equality Act 2010. More information concerning discrimination and the regulations governing societies, student unions and universities can be found here.
Given this, I was particularly surprised when a source within the Philosophy Society told me that, “Philsoc has moved the event off Facebook, but is still endorsing it”. Indeed, the individual identified that the event page can still be found on this website.
In addition, it appears that the Philosophy Society committee has displayed considerable arrogance in their handling of this event. According to my source, there are still factions within the Society committee who refuse to accept that the event is discriminatory, ‘technically’ or otherwise. In comments shared with me, the principal organiser offered a solution that involved rephrasing the event description to ensure that the Society (in the organiser’s words),
“technically make[s] it open to men but like, not really”.
Another committee member proposed instead to host a discussion about “free speech and open spaces in which we emphasise that allowing a space for non-male participants to talk, is not harassment and therefore not an important thing in the grand scheme of things”. In response to concerns about violating EUSA’s rules the comment continued,
“i.e. we comply, but in the most asshole way possible”.
From a legal standpoint, the changes would remove any explicitly discriminatory element. However, there is also something to be said about the ‘spirit’ that any student event should be held in. University is about debate, fairness and equality. No person should be made to feel uncomfortable at any event, for any reason. Furthermore, societies operate at the behest of a university student union and no efforts should be made to undermine the letter or spirit of the rules that govern them.
It is really unfortunate to see the Edinburgh University Philosophy Society entangle itself in a discriminatory affair of this nature. Regardless, it ought to apologise for the initially discriminatory nature of their event and actually encourage male students to attend the discussion on Thursday. I think that proactively encouraging the inclusion of all genders in discussions on feminism or gender is a much more constructive strategy for discussions that can actively improve gender inequality. Moreover, as a representative body for students of all genders, I hope EUSA has it in them to issue a public statement and a note to all societies making it clear that no event should segregate or discriminate. It is 2018 after all.
*Individual names have been deliberately omitted from this article. It was written to highlight an issue that I felt strongly about, not to ‘out’ particular people because of (hopefully) an isolated error of judgement.
This contributor is writing under a pseudonym. Find out why The Broad offers this here.