In fair Hillhead where we lay our scene, Glasgow University’s two oft warring feminist societies can finally make their peace and unite in jubilation. Because this year, there is one lone female headliner on the Freshers’ Week line-up. Glasgow’s feminists can now rejoice at the stunning progress made by the University’s unions, well, one of them anyway. Nina Nesbitt, who will be supported by two male acts, is the only woman booked to play a headline evening slot at either union this Freshers’ Week. The GUU at least beat their purportedly feminist rivals and booked one female headliner; for all I know the QMU were too busy organising Meat Free Mondays to notice their line-up was devoid of women.
Perhaps I owe thanks to those at 22 University Gardens. Their tacit misogyny has allowed me to shamelessly recycle in part an article I wrote for last year’s Freshers’ edition of The Glasgow Guardian, and all in the name of feminism. Then, in 2015, I bemoaned the Union’s inability to include one female led act on their Freshers’ Week line-up. It was beyond their capabilities, or their interests, to consider booking anyone but a mediocre white man with a sound deck, or in a band. It was a poor show from the union which is so proud of its musical heritage, and an even poorer show from a union so proud of its feminist credentials. In 2016, the Queen Margaret Union are offering an almost identical line-up to last year’s Freshers’ Week, once again, absent of a woman in a headline slot.
This year’s QMU Live Freshers’ Fest does have two female led acts on its line-up; Chrissy Barnacle and The Claramassa will play the Saturday evening event (something of a pre-Freshers’ warm up) and their presence should be celebrated. But from a union so proud to be a progressive alternative to the somewhat more traditional GUU, a haven for lefties, creatives and “founded in 1890 by women, for women”, we should demand better. The QMU should be booking women to headline its Freshers’ Week line-up instead of a Game of Thrones character for the third year in a row.
The GUU is not exactly known as a bastion of equality on campus. It was of course a male only union until the 1980s, and even then 139 of its members voted against allowing women through the doors. Over thirty years later, the GUU is still marred by its sexist past. The debating scandal of 2013 cast an unflattering shadow over the Union: If you’re not well acquainted with Debategate, a quick Google search for ‘Get that woman out of my chamber’ will bring you up to speed.
That the GUU are ahead of the QMU in booking women to headline their Freshers’ Week line-ups is an embarrassing state of affairs for the struggling QM. Not only have the GUU managed to produce a line up with more variety than the QMU’s stale offering, but they’ve beaten the QM at their own game in booking a female singer songwriter to headline Freshers’ Week’s Thursday night.
Nobody would suggest that booking Nina Nesbitt is enough to pronounce the GUU Glasgow’s “feminist union.” One female act in a sea of male performers does not equality make: But this isn’t the first year that they’ve outperformed the QMU in terms of female representation in Freshers’ Week. In 2014, Edith Bowman played a headline DJ slot in the GUU, whilst no women headlined any evening of the week up the hill at the QMU. If the GUU are capable of finding women to headline their Freshers’ Week line-ups, I doubt it is beyond the realm of possibility for the QMU.
The QMU has established a track record of being unable to gel its musical heritage with its self-proclaimed feminist credentials. It’s no secret that the Union faces dire financial straits and can no longer survive by selling cheap alcohol to students. If the QMU is to survive past its projected three-year life span, it needs to remember why it was established in the first place. It’s not enough to make sure women feel welcome and safe in the building while they watch men perform. It’s not enough to book a few women for a minor Saturday evening slot. The QMU needs to give its dwindling membership reasons to stay, and I’m unconvinced that a tired line-up of DJs peppered by women tucked away in tumbleweed slots will suffice.
Student unions can no longer function as cheap bars with committee rooms attached. They have a duty to represent and serve the interests of their members in everything that they do, not just vegan catering, free condoms, and gender neutral toilets – important as they are. If the student body is consistently offered entertainment which doesn’t reflect their demographics, or, frankly, their interests, it raises the question of what the QMU is for. Until the QMU serves and represents its female members in their programs, the members it was founded to serve, there’s very little to differentiate the QMU from any half full nightclub with a list of Freshers’ Week drink promotions and a Radio One DJ on a Monday night.