Old White Men

TOMMY SHANE thinks the recent controversy over Assange at The Union is masking some bigger problems.

assange austin mahler CUSU Women dominique strauss kahn dsk free speech julian assange no platform sexism The Union tommy shane

Julian Assange has not been convicted of a crime. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was acquitted, in court, of all allegations made against him. That said, Assange is cowering in the Ecuadorian embassy, and DSK is a very powerful man, with well-paid lawyers. As Women Against Rape have already argued in one of the most salient comments on this case, the whole issue surrounding Assange is incredibly murky.

The fact is that we do not and may never know whether these men are rapists. But the more we blindly speculate, the more we make the subject of this debate one that centers on old white men. If this is an issue about women, then these are not the terms on which the debate should take place.

What CUSU’s Women’s Campaign should be doing, as should anyone who cares about women’s rights, is campaigning for a platform for women.

This was evident last year at the DSK protests. This demonstration was most potent not when arguing against the platform for DSK, but when providing one for women to speak. For all those accusing women of violence that night, I would question whether you were there. The vast majority of women stood and protested peacefully, providing a platform for women to speak about their experiences of sexual assault. It was harrowing, and it was powerful. This is something that the Union has failed to do.

Austin Mahler can carry on arguing about free speech, but ultimately the Union provides a platform for those accused of rape, and not for the victims of it. DSK was inside the Union, the rape victims were outside. The idea that endorsement and disapproval don’t even come into this is preposterous.

But worse than this, the Union has failed to provide a fair representation of woman at all, let alone for rape victims. At the time of writing the past three debates have only had one woman to every five male speakers, despite motions that have varied from class to comedy. More men speak too, with the Union hosting seven male speakers and only two female. Whoever’s fault it might be, it remains a society dominated by men.

Of course, many will argue that this is due to sexism in society rather than in the Union. But with women, most recently Cambridge grad Zadie Smith, citing the specific reason they do not attend the Union as due to the sexism they experienced on their previous visit, we must question whether this is actually true. It’s lazy to assume all world leaders are men. They aren’t. This is the kind of complacency that results in such shameful ratios of male and female speakers.

And what is the Union doing to combat this? Only in the past year have there been women’s and diversity officers. But with neither offered a vote on the standing committee, their presence is rendered ineffectual. Surely if the Union took these issues seriously, they would take their officers more seriously than this.

Where is the debate about rape? Where is the debate about abortion? These are two of the most significant social issues of the past year and they have not been represented. Katie Price at the sexism debate? Really?

If anyone interested in women’s rights in Cambridge wants to do something about the decisions of the Union, they need to pick their battles. Women should be fighting for their own voice in the Union, not protesting to silence others. If we worked harder to make the Union a less sexist environment, more women like Zadie Smith would attend. And until we do, the Union will continue to fail their members.