Should single sex dinners be allowed for tradition’s sake at GUU?
Last month saw the first meeting of the Dayak dinner, an all-male, invite-only event at the Glasgow University Union (GUU). This was held alongside the Harwood dinner for women, which also took place at the Union. These sorts of single-sex dinners have drawn criticism for years, and the GUU seems to continue to facilitate them, almost stubbornly.
It’s not as if the GUU hasn’t had a history of single-sex dinners. This month last year was the LAMB dinner (Last All Male Board) an event that celebrated the exclusion of women from the Union’s board of management. This followed the banning of the ‘139 Club’ dinners in 2011, which were held to elegise the slim margins by which the GUU voted to allow women into the Union back in 1980. Funnily enough, 139 voted against the changes.
While there are no intrinsic problems with single-sex dinners, it is problematic when it happens under the roof of the GUU. These two events, excluding people based on something as arbitrary as gender, continue to perpetrate the perception of the GUU as a backwards-looking institution. Regardless of whether the event was private or not, when Owen Martin and his other male board members attend the Dayak dinner, the associations with the previous all-male dinners are more than unfortunate.
The Harwood Ladies’ dinner is equally problematic in that it gives an implicit approval to separating genders in events. By very nature of its existence, the Harwood dinner says that ‘separate but equal’ dinners are permissible. The problem is that these very dinners are never equal. Attending a dinner like Dayak and other single-sex events gives one particular gender opportunities to form networks and connections, the sort of career opportunities that are closed off to people of other genders. There is no justification as to why women at the GUU are not allowed the access to the kind of networks of the Dayak dinner members, especially considering that two thirds of the GUU board are male and so it is easier for them to access these kinds of networks already. By keeping the genders separate, it only closes opportunities, and that is not in the interests of any student.
Moreover, these dinners, by calling themselves ‘single-sex’, are enforcing a gender binary that comes into conflict with the good work that the Union has been doing. Transgender people who were relieved at the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in the GUU are now being told that their identity has to conform to the binary that the Union was trying to break down. It seems very much like a case of hypocrisy by the GUU in allowing these dinners to continue. It is no wonder that the LGBT society stopped their affiliation when the Union cannot fully commit to the kind of progress it has been hesitantly trying to achieve.
Perhaps in response to these arguments, and indeed, I have heard this myself, many would use the justification of these dinners being ‘traditional’, and that the Union must answer its members’ calls for single-sex dinners. Yet, to play the ‘tradition’ card as some sort of inherent justification for anything remotely dubious is a little lazy to say the least, let alone forgiving of general rottenness within an institution. One would assume it was in the interest of tradition that the 139 members voted to keep women out of their Union, a tradition that consisted of misogyny and selfishness. If the GUU wants to throw off these shackles of prejudice then it needs to stop giving such credence to traditionalists. However, it should be remembered that the Dayak dinner isn’t exactly traditional when it was only just started this year.
There is nothing wrong with a few friends getting together to have a good time, but it seems so antediluvian to limit that only to a single gender. It is understandable that there are different dynamics between men and women, and indeed, some men may want to have that old-fashioned sense of male camaraderie, but when this happens under the roof of the GUU, it is going to become a problem. If the GUU really wants to commit to the reform it’s seen over the last few years, it is going to need to understand that certain ‘traditions’ have no place within its walls.