Spotted at a University Near You: Sexism, Classism and Racism

January 16, 2013 in Activism, Afterhours, Personal, Politics, Sexism, Slideshow, Social Media, University of Bath

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An example of the posts causing such controversy at The University of Bath

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An example of the posts causing such controversy at The University of Bath

UPDATE: Please click here to see the University of Bath’s statement on the matter.

Since first hearing about ‘Spotted at…‘ Facebook pages — the latest craze to hit UK Universities — I must admit to not having paid them much attention. Frankly, I wasn’t too bothered about what sounded like a rather more risqué version of those cute Metro ‘Missed Connections‘ snippets.

Apparently prolific in the university social media scene, UoB’s very own ‘Spotted: University Bath Library’ page has gained over 4000 likes since its inception in early December 2012. The premise of such groups, for those who may not have had the pleasure of first hand experience, is that students make observations about fellow students in the library which are then re-posted on the ‘Spotted’ page.

AboutSpottedatBath

Innocent enough, you’d think — but the page has been coming under fire over claims of promoting sexual harassment, sexism, racism and classism, and is facing a vocal backlash from many in the University of Bath community. 

Though an incredible 6% of the university’s student populations has clicked the ‘like’ button for this page, many others are calling for its complete removal. In fact, even the Student Union’s very own Community Officer, Hanna Wade, has been in contact with Facebook to request the taking down of the page, unfortunately with little luck:

HannahWadeFacebook

Perhaps your first reaction to all this is ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just a bit of fun, and it’s not hurting anybody. Lighten up!‘, but dig a little deeper and place yourself in the position of those unwitting students being gossiped about; most people would find the idea of having their appearance, dress sense or sexual availability commented upon and shared amongst thousands of other people deeply unsettling and even upsetting.

The issue here is not one of prudes spoiling everyone else’s fun by wanting these kind of pages shut down — the objectifying of both women and men, the body-shaming and the outright bullying being promoted by such pages is.

The sinister undertones present on these pages are difficult to miss for those of us that are looking. Among the harmless ‘Hey good lookin’’-esqe posts, are the mean-spirited and downright vicious posts and comments which veer sharply away from the premise of playful procrastination and have instead metamorphosed into unnecessary cruelty.

A former UoB student who messaged IOAI.com on the issue stated that:

I think the main point is not that we should live in a world without being singled out and harassed, but it’s getting to a facebook page where you see 4000 likes (I imagine men and women at this point) and you see that so many people out there, that are supposedly educated, intelligent, going to do great things in their life, have the capacity to waste their time and even THINK to post notes on how girls look. It’s not the singling them out problem, it’s the insults, the racism, the jokes about women and their pussy, and the “market of hot chicks” that the university should represent for the guys, the jokes about a black woman’s child being a “monkey”. I personally don’t care if people are so stupid enough to notice that my hair is messy today, but it’s the fact that I know, at Uni, that there are people having a joke, laughing at, and entertaining themselves, seeing all these girls at uni through a lense of ‘she is a body, she is to be fucked, she has to be perfectly good looking for me, and I have all the power to say this as she doesn’t know who I am, so here am I, you are my prey.’

I wish this aspect, the aspect of discrimination of women (and the fact that it is an insult to the intelligence and education of anyone who posts on that page, and a disgrace to the university as a whole that people with such mentalities and culture towards their female peers have been admitted and are currently studying at a supposedly respectable university.

Surely we can agree that everybody has the right to a study environment without fear of judgement or intimidation? What may seem like lighthearted fun to some could truly have a deep reaching and damaging effect on an individual and, as Hanna Wade noted in her recent blog post, there is enough funny crap on the internet without having to resort to upsetting or winding up other stressed/revising students.

Of course, when taken to the extreme such pages can have much more serious consequences than a few bruised egos; for the past couple of years, newspaper headlines have been regaling heartbreaking tales of young teens taking their own lives as a result of the distress caused by online bullying. It seems the anonymity of the internet, though wonderful in many ways, also has a much darker side — enabling users to remain masked whilst spewing flippant malevolence and insipid vitriol which they would never think of doing in their public lives.

IOAI.com would like to extend a plea to those both orchestrating and commenting on the ‘Spotted: University Bath Library’ and other pages of the same vein; a beautiful thing about university life is supposedly that it’s one free from the threat of bullying, judgement and condemnation present in primary and secondary school — let’s try and keep it that way?

Pages like this run the risk of changing that for many of your fellow students — is that really worth it for the sake of a cheap laugh?