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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 February 2005

De Montfort University:

Not just "harmless fun"

THE STATEMENT below, from the Socialist Students Society at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, shows their angry response to their local Students' Union Executive, who had decided to hold a 'Miss DMU contest' at the university.

DMU SOCIALIST Students strongly condemn the DMU Students' Union Executive for holding a 'Miss DMU' contest. We consider this to be a reactionary and sexist event that promotes the objectification of women.

The President of DMU Students' Union, Richard Treffler, insisted during a meeting with Socialist Students' representatives on 31 January, that the 'Miss DMU' event was just "harmless fun". Speaking for the whole Students' Union Executive, he said that the holding of the contest was not contrary to the Students' Union's own paper commitment to promoting equality.

No doubt many students do see the event as "harmless fun". But Socialist Students does not. We would counter that the attitudes it breeds, primarily that women are objects, is at best reactionary and at worst very dangerous.

True, this event on its own is not responsible for the existence of women's oppression. No one, least of all us, would make such an overtly stupid suggestion.

Wrong signals

However, in its own small way, by sending out the wrong signals to the student population, by promoting the objectification of women, the SU Executive have contributed towards the overall oppression of women. The SU Executive is guilty of reinforcing sexist ideas through this event, especially amongst the male student population.

When a student makes a sexist comment in the future or is found guilty of sexual harassment or even worse, how will the SU Executive react? How can the SU Executive oppose sexism or sexual harassment without now being hypocritical? The objectification of women in society fuels these acts, from mindless comments, to acts of serious sexual violence.

The 'ideal' body image propagated in the capitalist media in order to sell more beauty products and undermine the confidence of women, contributes to the upsurge in eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and dangerous dieting amongst young women. The Students' Union, as the representative body of students, should be fighting against sexist advertising, not producing its own!

Nationally, the NUS is running a campaign entitled 'a woman's place is in the union/ in education'. We fully support this campaign to challenge sexist stereotyping. Unfortunately, the message of this campaign is lost on the DMU Students' Union Executive. Maybe they will run a counter-campaign under the slogan 'a woman's place is in swimwear on a stage in our nightclub to help us sell more alcohol'.

Open letter

THE DMU SU Executive could slightly redeem themselves if they now put significant energy and finance into promoting progressive NUS campaigns against sexism and all forms of discrimination. We look forward to seeing if this happens.

Socialist Students produced an open letter addressed to the SU Executive and also met with the President to patiently explain our case, all to no avail. Whilst admitting that some of the advertising had gone "a bit too far", the President resolutely defended the event - but without offering a serious reply to our objections.

Commercial considerations would appear to come first for the SU. The SU-run nightclub, Level 1, also holds an event called 'Porn Night'. This is a night where students go dressed up in stereotypical outfits associated with porno movies!

The prime consideration appears to be getting as many people into the club as possible to maximise takings at the bar. The SU Executive should not allow the nightclub, supposedly under its control, to produce sexist advertising or to hold clearly sexist events.

DMU Socialist Students calls on the NUS leadership nationally to condemn this event. The NUS President, Kat Fletcher, took part in a protest against 'Miss World', so we trust she is in agreement with us on this issue. We also call on all Students' Unions and SU Officers who agree with us to send letters of protest to DMU SU Executive.

We also plan to organise a meeting very shortly on fighting sexism. We would welcome the chance to debate the SU Executive at this meeting should they wish to defend themselves.

We make no apology for the seriousness with which we take the fight against sexism. We stand squarely behind the struggle of all those oppressed under capitalism. The oppression of women is not something we see as 'natural' - but rather as a direct consequence of the nature of class-based society.

Therefore, whilst fighting for every step forward for women under capitalism, we also put forward the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a democratic socialist society as the only way to end the oppression of women once and for all.

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In The Socialist 19 February 2005:

Strike To Defend Pensions

NATFHE votes to ballot on pensions strike

Iraq: end this bloody occupation

Iraq's post-election problems grow

G8 summit Gleneagles: protest against world poverty

Pakistan: Deepening crisis in Baluchistan province

Political questioning at SSP conference

Malcolm X: "They called me the angriest Negro in America"

Arthur Miller: Death of a dissenter

Stop the deportation of Mansoor Hassan

Not just "harmless fun"

Coventry council: Single status - poisoned chalice


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