Friday, 12 June 2009

We're not laughing, Andrew Lowe

Feminists don't have a sense of humour. We know this because the media tells us so. At the risk of perpetuating this idea, I don't see what's so funny about an Oxford College's decision to elect the position of White Heterosexual Male Officer.

Many universities in the UK, have a Women's Officer. This role is designed to represent women and to provide female students with women-specific support and services. We also have the positions of Black and Ethnic Students Officer, LGBT Officer and Disabled Students Officer, amongst others. These officers are elected to represent groups within a university that could potentially face discrimination based on their sex, ethnicity, sexuality or disability. Automatically, surely, you can see why the idea of having a White Heterosexual Male Officer is problematic. You don't need a specific representative for a group who are the most privileged in a patriarchal society really do you? There are certainly problems facing young, white men; their high suicide rate is indicative of that. They aren't, however, facing discrimination and this is what these specific positions are created to deal with.

But whatever. The students at St. Anne's college don't seem to be arguing that they need an officer to represent their interests. They see it as a hilarious joke. Let's look at Andrew Lowe's manifesto pledges shall we:

To replace St Anne's college crèche with a finishing school.
To ban women from the library.
To save money by getting female students to serve food in halls instead of kitchen staff.
Extra funding for "middle-class activities".
To prevent college authorities from banning "any act succeeded by the word 'lad' or 'banter'".
(Thank you Rowenna Davis for this information which you can't access on the St. Anne's website anymore.)


No, sorry, I just can't do it. In a place like Oxford University which is shockingly white, male and middle class, this is not funny. Having a Women's Officer is not 'political correctness gone mad', it's necessary. The same goes for a Black and Ethinic Student's Officer, or LGBT officer. These are underrepresented groups who need a representative. This new, arbitrarily created, position undermines the work of officers who have a real job to do; supporting minority groups within the student body and encouraging a more diverse range of students to choose to study at their prestigious university.

Call me cynical, but I believe there is more to this than meets the eye. A backlash against women's rights, racism that Andrew Lowe and his supporters would no doubt deny, and homophobia. And a dose of good old fashioned snobbery.

Really not funny.


  1. I don't think we get officers like that in the U.S. It sounds really interesting.

  2. I think they're pretty much the norm at every UK university now. Although I could be wrong, They're taken very seriously at the uni I'm just about to graduate from. One of my biggest regrets is not running for Women's Officer. Ah well.

  3. At my college (Balliol), one particularly odious human being, campaigning under the banner of "Male Sexual Health awareness" tried to change the various roles in our JCR to "Gender Equality Officer", "Sexual Equality Officer" and "Racial Equality Officer" as part of a thinly-veiled attempt to straightwhitemale-wash a JCR already mostly made up of straight white males, excepting the few on equal opportunities positions. It was a sad time.