Editors' note: At the time of going to print Alyssa Edwards was scheduled to play the Queen Margaret Union, due to a scheduling conflict they have now been replaced with Peppermint. Peppermint is a trans woman, and while this does increase the number of women on the QMU's lineup, we think that the point of this article still stands; that more can and should be done by both unions to greater celebrate female musical talent.
Last year, Claire Thomson paused in her assessment of the Freshers’ Week lineup to celebrate that a lone female act would grace the Glasgow University Union stage. Nina Nesbitt would be the only female headliner at Freshers 2016, prompting criticism of the Queen Margaret Union, but one year later the GUU appears primed to pull ahead once more. Based on the current released line-up, the QMU has no female performers listed as part of their Freshers' Week line-up, and have been unable to clarify this, while the GUU have tripled last year's number, to three whole women, as part of a headline act and smaller music slots.
This year the QMU, declaring itself the “proud home of live music”, boasts “indie boys and local legends” PRIDES and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Alyssa Edwards. The GUU in contrast, showcases mixed-gender outfits Clean Cut Kid, Neiked, and a DJ set from Faithless. Despite this improvement, the females are still vastly outnumbered in the GUU and at the completely absent from the QMU, at the time of going to print.
It might seem trivial to some to scrutinise setlists, greedy for a female face. Each union wants to deliver the best show it possibly can - but why should this mean a tacit omission of female acts?
Freshers 2017 arrives amidst rolling controversy regarding gender pay disparity within the BBC’s ranks. The figures, first published in July, revealed that the highest paid female star earned only a fifth of the highest male earner, with female earners comprising just one third of the top-paid personalities. In the ensuing fallout, the BBC has been accused by entertainer Lenny Henry of “fake diversity”, and Nicola Sturgeon has publicly addressed the issue, criticising the role of women in the BBC as a whole. Female BBC stars, however, expressed their lack of surprise, revealing an ongoing battle behind the scenes.
It is for precisely this reason that we must not allow ourselves to become complacent. Continual evaluation of the way organisations present themselves is necessary to ensure progress. It is all too easy for public institutions to boast their commitment to diversity, but this means little if they don’t put their stated ideals into practice. Glasgow University has often been accused of being too sheltered from “the real world”, but in this instance it has revealed itself as a microcosm of problems at play in wider society. The University does not exist in isolation, and our unions’ underwhelming legacy is symptomatic of problems that extend beyond University Avenue. Knowingly or not, they’re following a pattern long-established, and highly profitable. But if the unions are truly invested in diversity, it should be prioritised above securing the biggest acts - the Chris Evanses and Gary Linekers of Freshers setlists. Back in 2015, Thomson explored this trend of female absence shared by Glasgow Freshers’ Week and the music festivals they appear to mimic. This is particularly apt this year, as the GUU playfully claimed to be replacing T in the Park.
It’s important to state my ignorance with regards to what transpires behind the scenes. Perhaps, in a scene where white indie boy bands thrive, female acts are hard to find, which should surely make supporting them a priority. Glasgow University is a cultural institution full of musicians, comedians and would-be entertainers - not to mention the city itself, as five minutes on Buchanan Street will surely testify. Additionally, Glasgow is a university dominated by female students - 15,744 female students and 10,874 male as of the last academic year. With recent concerns being voiced over dwindling numbers of male students, this ratio does not seem likely to change soon. Can Freshers’ Week really succeed in inducting new students into university life when so many of them will go unrepresented? Perhaps this is no longer a priority.
Acts such as Alyssa Edwards may seem a nod to diversity, but it would be laughable to suggest that this is enough. The QMU should be championing female talent, but last year was criticised for failing to honour its musical and feminist roots. Once again, the potential for female acts has lost out to white t-shirt and paint parties. This year, despite their proud stance as the most progressive of the two unions, the Cocktails & Karaoke open mic might just be your only chance to see a woman take the stage at QMU.
If the BBC pay gap teaches us anything, it’s that we need to reorient ourselves - to make ourselves uncomfortable with what we have come to accept. It not only falls upon the QMU and GUU, but on ourselves as students to ask why this same scenario is playing out every year, and if the unions will commit to change.
Diversity should be a celebration, not a trial, but as long as the unions pay lip service to female performers, we will continue to hold them to account.