Now Athens is a long way from Edinburgh, and I am a long way from being a student, but I inadventantly stumbled across a scandal going down at Edinburgh University Students Association. What got me interested initially was a valiant attempt by the Equal Rights and Liberation Officer trying to point out to
misogynistic twats, rather old fashioned and unenlightened fellow students why the term “Chairman” was not terribly inclusive, and why it should be replaced with “Chair” as is convention in any organisation which seeks to take the rights of women seriously. Rather than an immediate embarrassed apology and correction she was subjected to a whole heap of patronising comments from men, who knew all about the etymology of the term “Chairman” and were fucked if they were going to give up that privilege.
The discussion in question related to a “Motion of No Confidence” (equivalent to a dismissal) in one of the Vice Presidents of Edinburgh University. At first I couldn’t make head nor tail of whole issue, but thanks to diligent bloggers, its all becoming horribly, horribly clear.
Max Crema, the Vice President at the centre of the allegations is – it would seem – a rather controversial figure in Edinburgh student politics, having already been suspended from his position almost immediately after it started. Why? I hear you ask. Good question, very good question. The first reason is apparently over “ a disparaging remark he made about the professional staff who run EUSA’s entertainments operation” in his election campaign and the second is a tweet that he made from his official account saying “fuck old people“.
Now, that isn’t a particularly nice thing to say, but given that some young people at Edinburgh University are paying tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year on the basis of a decision of the old people who run the country these days who benefited from free higher education and generous grants, I can sympathise with the sentiment. In fact, despite being closer to the “old people” demographic, I tend to agree with him. But yes, it was a bit rude and he should have apologised. But a ten week suspension? Really?
Then he published a guest blogpost (now removed but available via The Solo Ninja) on a communications channel identified with EUSA position and all hell broke loose. It refers to no specific venue, but the management of EUSA interpreted it as being about them. If the cap fits methinks …for as one EUSA staff member told the Edinburgh student newspaper “The Journal”
I can completely relate to the blog post. At work, I was sexually harassed on an almost daily basis but it was just an accepted part of the job, so I never reported it
…while others spoke of a “witch-hunt” to find the person who had written the post - suggesting that whatever venue the blogpost was actually written about, at EUSA sexual harassment was indeed considered part of the job, and that dissent and speaking out were not tolerated. Three meetings had already been held with the management of EUSA over issues of sexual harassment, yet when this blogpost was published, despite an interpretation that it referred to them, there was no substantive investigation into the concerns that were raised about it. Instead the main concern of a senior member of staff with significant managerial responsibilities was what action would be taken over the document and questioning the right of student unions to self-manage.
The notes of the hearing, the evidence given by those representing 102 staff members who had signed a formal statement of complaint about the blogpost are most enlightening – noting that the issue was first raised by senior management and an external commercial company, that the “zero tolerence” policy to sexual harassment that they claim to have in place was never made explicit, they were concerned that it may affect the future employment prospects of those who had managerial responsibilities within EUSA, that the person who had written the blogpost had been identified but given assurances that confirmation that such an admission was “off the record”, as had the woman referenced in the post, but no action had been taken to investigate their individual concerns.
Sexual harassment is a massive problem for both young women and barstaff. When young women are employed as barstaff, the chances of harassment grow ever greater. The appropriate approach of a venue in suspecting that a member of its staff was raising issues anonymously is to review procedures to ensure that they are appropriate to ensure that such instances do not occur, that junior managers are taking appropriate action when such things are raised, and to create an open transparent and accountable method of raising issues of harassment.
Instead, they launched a grievence procedure against Max Crema. Alleging that it brought the organisation and its staff into disrepute, by identifying it with the elected position it brought the organisation in to serious ill-repute; that the views expressed are offensive and ill-founded; that his judgement and ability for the role are questioned by posting the above; that it has affected staff morale; that it has potential repercussions for the future employment of current staff and for staff recruitment; that it contravenes social media policy. All but one were upheld with a recommendation should be made to the Board of Trustees to dismiss Max Crema for Gross Misconduct.
See, in the offending blogpost, it is mentioned that raising issues of sexual harassment are “at best ignored, at worst condemned“. It would seem that EUSA did indeed try its best to ignore the issues despite three meetings being held over it, but once it started leaking out into the public domain and people started talking, more decisive action was required. Sexual harassment – like rape – is well policed. It doesn’t happen. Of course if it were to happen then would be a terrible, awful, hideous thing that would be instantly and immediately dealt with in the strongest possible terms, but IT. DOESN’T. HAPPEN. – got it? Especially not at EUSA, heavens forbid, definately not at EUSA.
The woman speaking to the Journal above reports it as a daily occurrence. I believe her. Female barstaff put up with a shit tonne of crap. If they complained about every instance of sexual harassment in their workplace they would never pull a pint. Instead they learn strategies to manage it – standard put-downs, witty responses and neat little bodyswerves. It becomes second nature, just part of the job and just part of being a woman.
Individual complaints simply aren’t the most effective ways to manage it. Are you seriously going to go running to your manager every time some sleezeball comments on the size of your chest? Or runs his hand over yours as you pass him the drink? Or brushes his hand “accidentally” across your arse, then turns back snorting to his mates? Or are you just going to sigh, knowing that you can’t properly explain the minutae of the interaction to make a “proper complaint” and silently imagine blugeoning him to death as you smile sweetly.
The problem with sexual harassment – particularly for women working in bars – is that it is continual and low level. And its there because men generally think that women are there for their amusement, especially women who are paid to be there. This isn’t something that can be dealt with through individual complaints about individual incidents, or even individual people because its cultural, and some venues are known to be more culturally tolerent of it than others, by their advertising, their policies and by their clientele.
Which takes me right back to where I started – the misogynistic twats.
See the thing is, when men completely dismiss issues of sexism when women raise them, it gives me absolutely no confidence that they would have any understanding whatsoever of the level of sexual harassment that women face, of the damage it does and the silencing techniques that go on. But then, maybe I misunderestimate them. Maybe they do …for some of the students involved in adjudicating on this suspension will be the self-same people that harass the female barstaff. Who think its funny. Who think its their right. And some of them might well be the student team-leaders who take offence at any suggestion that women subordinates may have anything less than a fantastically wonderful experience working for them. And if they aren’t going to give up their privilege of demanding that all non-executive leaders are designated “Chairmen”, that doesn’t bode well for any attempt at challenging the kind of ingrained misogyny that leads to sexual harassment in every bar in the land.