Glasgow Sexism Scandal – The Tip of the Iceberg?

The Tab talks to the Union President, Debating Officer and a judge at the competition in Glasgow to assess the incident's wider implications.

The Cambridge Union’s reaction to the Glasgow sexism scandal has been met with approval, but many believe that the incident is symptomatic of a greater, underlying problem.

Every weekend, university level debate competitions are held across universities throughout the UK, and often internationally. The Cambridge Inter-Varsity is one of the most important events in the debating calendar.

Competitions to decide who the best debaters in the world are also held, hosted in countries such as Turkey, Botswana, the Philippines and Germany. Sexism is endemic, in both overt and subtler forms.

The problem, it seems, starts in schools, where there is a noticeable lack of female participants, and a predominance of white, upper-middle class competitors. Schools like Dulwich, Westminster and St Paul’s dominate the competition. There are some obvious reasons for this: debating is traditionally a public school hobby, and the schools provide paid debating coaches, as well as funding to compete in competitions.

At university level, more women start taking part; some compete at the highest level and are respected judges. Equally, however, there is a high drop-off rate amongst female debaters, many of whom try debating for the first time in their first year at university.

Many feel that this is because sexism in debating is still rife. Women’s speaking styles are often criticised as sounding ‘hysterical’ or ‘less convincing’. At the other end of the spectrum, they’re regarded as ‘dull’ or ‘weak’. Moreover, the debating world considers males as the experts in subjects such as economics; female debaters have suggested that they feel pressured to hand over the handling of such topics to their male counterparts.

The weekend’s events in Glasgow are an extreme example of the misogyny that female debaters face. Clara Spera, Debate Officer at the Cambridge Union, explains that this is not an unusual occurrence:

Kitty Parker-Brooks, a top ranking judge at the Ancients Competition in Glasgow, told The Tab that she is no stranger to everyday misogyny prevalent in the debating world:

“It’s sometimes frustrating the assumptions that get made. As a female speaker, if you get very, very good speaker points in one round, quite often people will say ‘it’s because the judge fancied her.’

She was near the hecklers at the Glasgow University Union, and sat next to the highest ranked debater in the world – also a woman.

“We were sitting behind them and they kept saying stuff like ‘shame’ or ‘boo’ and then they would sit back and mutter ‘shame, woman’ under their breath, and other derogatory things. Other members of the Glasgow Union were sitting around them; they could hear but they didn’t do much.” Instead, those around Kitty tried to diffuse the situation, excusing the hecklers’ actions.

Then it came to the open floor debate, in which audience participation is encouraged. “They took the first point from the guy who everyone there knew to be one of the hecklers, and started sarcastically making comments about treating women as equals.”

This was the final straw. “Not only did they not kick him out, not only did they ask us not to say anything, but then you ask the guy who you know is going to be rude to speak first.

“I stood up afterwards but the president was not going to take my point from the floor.”

Only after pressure from the members in the chamber was she allowed to speak. This apparent lack of pro-activism by those present irritated Parker-Brooks. “We have debates on sexism all the time; it’s frustrating that they’re so good at debating sexism on an intellectual level – but when it actually happens, they don’t do anything,” she said.

In front of the chamber, she openly directed her anger at the GUU hecklers: “I told them: there is a massive difference between being technically equal and actually being treated as an equal. The fact that you were yelling shame and booing is horrible.

“What you don’t realise is that I heard the other comments you made. I heard you every single time, saying, ‘shame, woman’ to each other. I know you didn’t yell it out in the debate because you know it’s incredibly offensive. If you thought it was acceptable you would have said it. Importantly, at a competition like this – when it was a woman who organised it and when an all-female team topped the scores – I suggest that your comments are not only incredibly harmful and derogatory, but they’re also incredibly misguided.

Regarding the way that journalists have approached the event, she told The Tab: “When you’re reporting on women standing up for themselves, why have you gone from ‘on verge of tears’ to ‘crying’? That never happened. You couldn’t see it on their faces. It was remarkable how they delivered brilliant speeches despite all the heckling.

The Cambridge Union has taken the serious action of demanding an apology and revoking reciprocal membership with the Glasgow University Union. Ben Kentish, the Union President, told the The Tab that the action was appropriate:

Parker-Brooks wants more meaningful action to be taken: “The best thing that was done was that we’ve created a survey for people in debating about sexism in debating. I’m glad that this is being taken seriously and people, particularly guys in debating, are taking it as an opportunity to do something. Liking a Facebook status is fine, that’s great, I’m really glad you’ve liked it, but that’s not what’s going to be what changes things. You have do to more.”

  • Ben Kentish

    has a terribly annoying voice.

  • An oldie but a goodie
  • Oftentimes

    is an unnecessary variant.

  • umm

    can someone explain how shouting “boo” and “shame” is sexist

    • if it is

      directed at a woman because of her gender

    • Because

      it was heckling reserved exclusively for the only two female debaters in the final. Just because something isn’t specifically a misogynist epithet, doesn’t mean it can’t be used in a sexist way.

    • Ruth Graham

      Because the targets were women and women are always victims and it’s always because of their gender. That’s just a fact, you rape apologist.

      • right…

        someone asking a genuine question makes them a rape apologist? Nothing in the comment excused what they did, it was just asking what made it sexist. Persecution complex much?

        • a joke

          please notice me

        • Retard Alert

          Buzz buzz buzz

    • They shouted

      “shame woman”…

  • Rather odd

    a free speech society is making a stance on abusive speech. Maybe we no-free-speech people have finally won…then again they did invite Le Pen to tell us the people of colour are inferior.

    • There is…

      quite clearly a massive difference between expressing an opinion and actively abusing another person, hence why expressing racist/sexist/homophobic views isn’t illegal, but racist/sexist/homophobic abuse is. It’s really not hard.

      • Rather odd

        I don’t know, it seems rather a vague difference to me.

      • Hmm..

        I don’t think its illegal to abuse someone unless the abusee believes there to be a credible physical threat.

        • Credible threat

          “Get that woman out of my chamber!” – I’d call that a credible demand for someone to be physically removed from the room.

  • Unrelated

    Do debating competitions here devolve into the speed talking competitions you can watch on youtube? So stupid…

  • Good to see

    the tab comments are up to their usual standards of lazy bigotry

  • Who


  • The Truth

    This reporting is awful. Read the actual event here, straight from Rebecca, the King’s student involved.

  • John

    I think there might be a grain of truth to the idea that, on average, men make better rhetoricians than women.

    After all, men do make better leaders on average than women, as evidenced by the fact that women generally prefer to be subordinate to men in relationships. Women tend to want men to be strong and make them feel safe, women tend to want men to take the initiative romantically and sexually, etc.
    That division of labour is just the outcome of biology. Men have testosterone and women have oestrogen. Of course this will create mean differences between the sexes.

    I don’t know why some people get so upset about this stuff.

    • Please,

      tell me more about how you managed to account for society telling men and women to fulfil those specific roles in your no-doubt expansive and detailed scientific study of what everyone wants from a relationship.

      • John

        Conventional gender dynamics arose in society because they suited most of the people in that society.
        If most women were biologically predisposed to a mindset where they didn’t mind if men were meek, timid and didn’t take the initiative and men similarly generally were predisposed to wanting a strong woman to make them feel safe and take the initiative, then society would have instead developed such that the conventional image or notion was that men were swept off their feet by women rather than the opposite.
        But you don’t have to hear it from me if you don’t want to. Here’s a documentary series that examines the biological basis behind a number of observed social phenomena.

        • Science

          Listen John, it’s just not working out between us. I thought you knew me, but now it seems you don’t understand me at all.

    • Matthew Sawyer

      Yes. one has to ask why if single sex male private schools dominate, why their female equivalents do not have strong debating clubs. Why (if the article is correct) most females engage in their first debate in their first year at uni? I would suggest, along similar lines to yourself, that debating is a very competitive activity where, unlike much of the modern education system, the natural desire of males to show off and compete is allowed freer rein. With this, where very strict rules do not apply, then you’ll get some of the boorishness that is seen at other events where males preponderate such as sports.

      Further, is it perhaps ironic, that feminism itself has some responsibility for this discourtesy to women? Feminism and the sexual freedom and procreative freedom that came with it, has removed most of the social mores that previously regulated conduct between men and women. This makes much of male/female interaction a game directed at short-term intercourse under a theatrical display of interest for the duration of the game. Respect for women as an abstraction, in and of themselves, is not likely to be at the forefront of a late teen’s mind. This is one of the gift’s of the feminist project as are a range of other social areas such as marriage.

      Apols for typos, can’t be bothered reading through a three centimeter box.

  • Tab TV

    Clearly only had one camera for the Ben Kentish invterview

  • JD
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