“Why would a Male SU President be a bad thing?”

feministobama5_0

As you may or may not already know, I work within a Students’ Union. These organisations are charities and are external organisations to the University they are affiliated with. As a result Students’ Unions are not governed by any of the university rules, policies or regulations even though most of a unions funding will tend to come from the university! Students’ Unions are ran by the students themselves and are democratic organisations. Every year around this time, elections happen, students put themselves forward as candidates and call on the rest of the student population to elect them as student body representatives for the next year.

Its an amazing experience and one of the best jobs I have ever had the pleasure of doing. I won’t go into the ins and outs of what the roles involve, because that’s not what this blog is about. I want to talk about the issues surrounding support offered to female students to help them and encourage them to stand.

This comes off the back of my own work in the democratic services department at my current employer and from a facebook status update made by the President of the Students’ Union I use to be the Vice President for.

The Status Update in question!

The Status Update in question!

The first comment got under my skin, the poster had taken something that was clearly just an attempt to encourage more women to stand, thus helping increase the representation of the student body, and then twisted it to put a negative light on it. They were reading this from an anti feminist stance and seeing this status as an anti male comment. After some backing and forwarding between myself and a couple of other posters, the below comment was made by the same poster as the first comment.

Comment 2

At this stage I wasn’t sure if the comment was serious or if they were just “trolling” the thread to try and get a reaction. It was clear they hadn’t read any of the previous posts that had outlined the intent behind the status and the positive support it had received from other comments. The debate then spiraled off with many valid points being made, but unfortunately a handful that were based purely on the anti feminist perspective.

Most of those who commented from this angle were missing the point of this status, especially the one regarding it being sexist. If I was still the VP of the union and had posted that status, they would have a hard time making the label of “Sexist” stick! The status wasn’t about the SU only wanting women to be presidents, it was about equality and encouraging more women to put themselves forward for positions of leadership.

A woman wont necessarily win, its a democracy at the end of the day and people will vote for the best candidate, be that male or female! But for there to be equal chances for the under represented group, we, as employees of students’ unions need to encourage those to stand. If year on year people only see white able middle class men standing for the position it become entrenched that its a white able middle class male post and other groups wont put themselves forward.

The second people stop looking at comments like this from an “Anti Male” perspective, it should become clear they are not an attempt to fix an election so only women win president. Instead they are trying to get more women use to seeing females standing for and getting into the post.

I could go into more detail about other under represented groups, such as LGBTUA+ and Disabled groups and what could be done to help support those and the mine field that comes with encouraging them to stand for election but that would be another blog all together.

After being accused of “patronising women” during this comment thread because I was a male speaking out for female representation issues, a good link to a blog was posted by a member of the University staff. Up until this point I had always shied away from using the word “privilege” when getting into these debates, as I fall into the category of being privileged myself, but this blog post explained the angle my comments and the original status update were coming from perfectly:

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

The reason why more needs to be done in the area of encouraging women to stand and more support needs to be offered is that while 56% of the UK student population in both FE and HE are female, only 38% of students’ Union presidents are women. This isn’t a case of positive discrimination, this is about leveling an uneven playing field that goes in favor of one gender over another. All i can say, is if you are a woman and you are considering running for a student election, go for it!

Feel free to comment below, and share on any form of social media you have!

Jack

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9 Responses to “Why would a Male SU President be a bad thing?”

  1. Becky Lees says:

    Reblogged this on Becky Lees.

  2. Mark says:

    As a person who identifies themselves as a feminist I was disappointed when first hearing about this event. I fundamentally support any individual who wants to run, regardless of any social classifications (including gender). It is from this perspective that I would say the President’s original status was from an anti-feminist angle, even if it was not intended to be.

    Firstly, I would argue that any individual from the University of Chester would not feel excluded from being nominated, especially considering the hailed success of the past two years, under an all female representation. Most students therefore will have had an all female body representing them during their time at university. I fail to see how this would make females feel excluded from wanting to be nominated.

    Secondly, a feminist would desire a situation where females were empowered with choice without gender being relevant. It may be the nature then that every female has made the choice to not run for president this year. To therefore recruit females to run is not only creating gender divisions within the election process, but views females as incapable of making the “right” choices. Feminism supports individuals to make their own choices, these choices may not support those of your own ideology. You should therefore respect that all individuals have the right to choose not to run.

    • I can totally respect this point of view and do respect people right to choose, I would never go out of my way to actively recruit women, that would lead to people standing for all the wrong reasons, I simply wish to promote the opportunity to those who may not see it as an option to them.

      My blog doesn’t aim to focus on Chester Students’ Union, as you have pointed out, the team this year is made up of 3;1 females , and the previous year it 3;0 female, the two years before that it was 2;1 male and 3;0 male. Chester has a good record of gender mix with in its sabbatical teams recently and I hope this continues to yo-yo back and forth to keep it mixed.

      My blog is talking about the national trend, where in some institutions, much like the one I currently work for, female candidates don’t feel confident standing for positions like president. This isn’t me putting words in anyone’s mouth either, this is what we are told when talking to students about the topic. We always have more female candidates for Welfare and Campaigns than any other post, and rarely do we have more than one female for president.

      Of course people have the choice to stand or not, but you would be naive to think that with a female majority student body, that not one woman wanted to! The view on the position of president is its a high pressure job suited to a man, this is how the media paints our politics, our banks and our big businesses and if this blog post opens up the door to this debate and we manage to somehow level the playing field, even just a little bit as a result. Then i cant see it being a bad thing.

      • Mark says:

        We agree on the same outcome; equal opportunities for all. I would dispute that it may also be naive to state that highly educated females in university institutions would accept the dominant discourse of the patriarchal society we unfortunately live in. Despite this, the figures clearly show a disproportion in representation. I think it is important to look internally into the system of the elections (how candidates put themselves forward, how much awareness there is prior to the main election period, how much engagement students have with the election process and student union).

        You say that this isn’t a case of positive discrimination, but instead is about levelling an uneven playing field that goes in favour of one gender over another. I question how you can achieve an equal playing field in terms of gender when you positively stress the role of gender in candidates. I believe it is important to promote a situation where individual merits are awarded where gender is not relevant. Positive discrimination in any form upholds the barriers between social categories. My current understanding is that student unions elections are freely open to all social categories so how can you make this equality more equal?

        I want females to be represented across student unions, however I don’t believe you can achieve this by positively promoting gender. I believe it can only be achieved through a genderless-situation whereby individual merits are considered.

      • Again, we both agree! In a perfect world, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately though, it does matter, and we can do something about this under representation by having this debate! Hopefully it will open the door to talk about LGBTUA+ and Disability representation as well.

  3. Pingback: Oppressed by omission – or ‘automatic sexism’. Some thoughts. | shakespearescholarinprogress

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