Potential strike by female Hist committee members

Elaine McCahill


Several female committee members of the Hist have threatened to strike if their demands to end sexism within the society are not met by this evening. Naoise Dolan, Censor of the Hist, compiled the list which includes points the demand for an Equity Officer, priority to be given to Freshman female speakers and a call for women to not be criticised for wearing the ‘wrong’ thing.  A debate entitled ‘This House supports gender quotas’ will be held in the Hist at 7pm tonight and the list of demands will be discussed during Private Business before the debate. If the issue is not resolved and the demands are not implemented, the female members who have signed the list of demands will go on strike from committee work.  The list of demands can be viewed below.

UPDATE: At the Hist Private Business last night, the demands of the signatories of the below demands were met. A temporary Equity Officer has been put in place and the position is currently open to applications. It has also been agreed that all debates will have a minimum quota of 40% female speakers but they are hopes that this will rise to 50%.

The Hist have since released the following statement on their Facebook page:

“On Monday, several female Committee members read a report at a meeting detailing their experiences of sexism and misogyny in this session and demanding various means of recourse on threat of strike. Committee agreed to support and implement these measures. The signatories later presented a written form of these demands to Committee, and also published it on Facebook. That day, the two most pressing steps were fulfilled: the CorrSec implemented a system of 40% female gender quotas, effective from next week’s debate and onwards, and the Auditor passed a ruling at Private Business to open up the position of Equity Officer.

As things stand, the signatories are delighted to have Committee’s support and hope to keep it as the other steps progress.”

Demands for Addressing Sexism in the Hist

Background: Several women on the Hist’s Committee have been experiencing sexism of varying degrees of severity. We got together, compiled our experiences and decided we needed to act. Below are the demands we’ve presented to Committee; if they are not met, we’ll strike.

I’ve tagged you to make it more embarrassing for the Hist if it doesn’t effect these changes. It stopped me after about fifty tags, so please share if you think this is important!

We have already compiled personal experiences of gender-based discrimination in the Hist and brought the combined report before Committee. Below are the changes we demand. We believe that these steps are necessary to correct the endemic misogyny we have experienced on this Committee; failure to act on these conditions will therefore prompt us to strike.
The structure of our demands is as follows:

• Openness and Respect

• Conduct towards Freshers

• Conduct in Committee Meetings

• Conduct in Other Committee Affairs

• Gender-Equal Representation in Debates

• Gender-Equal Representation on Sub-Committees

• Equity Officer

• Consequences

• Openness and Respect

Many of us have hesitated to confront people we feel have mistreated us because of our gender. Criticising us for instead ‘bitching’ about these incidents mis-assigns the blame; it is the responsibility of everyone on this Committee to create an environment where people are comfortable coming forward and know that their allegations will be taken seriously. As such:

1. When someone comes forward, remarks such as ‘That was a once-off’, ‘I’ve done a lot of other things to help women’, ‘That’s not a gender issue’, or ‘I didn’t intend for it to seem sexist’ will be neither offered nor accepted as excuses. Telling someone that they’re failing to see the big picture or have got the wrong message marginalises their perspective and trivialises systemic misogyny.

2. A victim’s honesty, timing, manner and motivation for coming forward will not be questioned, to their face or behind their back. We accept that this gives women the power to unfairly disadvantage people they don’t like. We view this concern as far less pressing than reducing the stigma attached to coming forward; furthermore, this ability has long rested with male officers on this Committee without much complaint, and has applied to all non-gendered forms of internal and external Committee review since their inception. We therefore trust that it won’t be problematic here.

3. We will be logging incidents. Where reported, they will be received with the respect and consideration outlined above. The equity officer (see ‘Equity Officer’) will recommend appropriate disciplinary procedures.
• Conduct towards Freshers

Our fresher intake influences the composition of our MC intake, which in turn influences gender representation among Officers, Auditors, ‘hacks’, Honorary Members and competitive debating contingents. Gender-based discrimination toward our new members therefore has knock-on ramifications for all branches of the society and requires our urgent attention.

1. Freshers will not be ‘nudged’ towards Committee positions historically filled by people of their gender, and will be actively encouraged to consider non-traditional options. This will be achieved by formal measures such as holding a meeting where current members of Committee explain their job, and by other steps such as checking ourselves if we are about to dissuade a woman from considering Pro-Treasurer, omit Pro-Censor when telling a man about his options, etc.

2. If a Member of Committee is ‘checked’ by another for something they’ve said, they will accept this criticism, regardless of whether they are reluctant to lose face in front of a fresher.

3. Female freshers will be given priority (and, where possible, personally invited) to speak in the chamber and to attend debating competitions and Clerks. Special development opportunities such as the Oxford IV, Cambridge IV and National Maidens will be subject to female gender quotas.
4. We will make a conscious effort to include female freshers in conversations and excursions, at both Hist events and external debating competitions.

5. When publishing things like the Maidens biographies, we will collectively review the document as a whole and assess whether it gives the overall impression that we take one gender more seriously than another.
• Conduct in Committee Meetings

At Committee meetings, many valuable insights are lost because female Committee members are laughed at, talked over or ignored altogether. Aside from being profoundly disrespectful, this conduct harms our decision-making process by drowning out important voices.

1. The chair position for meetings will rotate between members of Committee; where feasible, a woman will chair at least every other week.

2. Officers will give their business in a different order each week in order to share out the burden of speaking when attention is beginning to dwindle.

3. Officers giving their business first will include all important details, but otherwise endeavour to be concise; this leaves more goodwill and patience for those further down in the speaking order.

4. When someone is speaking, they will be guaranteed a silent and respectful audience. No-one will mutter comments, interrupt them, tell them to hurry up, laugh at them, make disdainful faces, or otherwise attempt to intimidate them. When a female member of Committee is treated in this manner, she will be entitled to regard it as a gendered issue and seek appropriate redress.

5. No-one will be disparaged for getting ‘too emotional’, having a high-pitched voice or speaking too loudly. Similarly, no-one will be made to feel they have to ‘speak up’ to be heard. A person’s speaking voice is heavily influenced by their socialisation and should not affect how they are treated.

6. The view that something was ‘just a joke’ is entirely subjective. If female Committee members make the majority (or all) of the complaints surrounding conduct in Committee meetings, this does not mean that we don’t like jokes; it means we don’t like being the punchline of jokes. Any claim that a woman is being a ‘buzzkill’ should be understood as an attempt to silence her, and should be dealt with accordingly.
• Conduct in Other Committee Affairs

Double standards are pervasive and difficult to identify; this does not mean that they don’t matter or that we can’t correct them. Given the opaque, informal way that Committee distributes tasks and forms impressions of people’s abilities, it is particularly important to scrutinise our biases in this context.

1. Everyone will be held to the same standard of responsibility. In practical terms, this will involve enforcing a fair MC rota and ensuring everyone pitches in for the less interesting work. In perceptual terms, we will critically examine our attitudes to men’s and women’s contributions; there is a harmful tendency to regard men who don’t spend a lot of time in the GMB as ‘busy’, and women who behave in that manner as ‘flaky’, particularly with respect to MC work. As with other forms of potentially misogynistic speech, we will ‘check’ ourselves and each other when commenting that a woman is often absent or asking them why they will be.

2. We will refrain from publicly commenting that female members of Committee are doing their jobs incompetently or aren’t as good as their male predecessors. These sort of remarks inform how people treat those women, how they treat other women, how they view women in positions of power, and how they vote in elections.

3. Important decisions will be made in formal Committee contexts, not at the pub. While we recognise that discussing decisions with friends is natural, and that some people’s friends might be predominately male, the endemic misogyny associated with Committee should be reason enough to check whether these decisions are truly representative before enacting them.

4. Opportunities to have dinner or schmooze with guests will be shared more evenly among both genders.

5. Women will enjoy the same freedom and discretion in matters of dress as their male counterparts do; they will not be criticised for wearing the ‘wrong’ thing.

6. Upon request, all officers will receive a budget. Aside from being a fairly basic safeguard against overspending, a budget is also important because, for example, any power imbalance rooted in the CorrSec’s work being seen as more important than the Librarian’s is compounded when the CorrSec has the flexibility and independence to make long-term spending plans and the Librarian does not.
• Gender-Equal Representation in Debates

1. The number of women invited to the Clerks Committee to decide the debates for next term should be roughly equal to the number of men. If a disproportionate number of women decline the invitation beforehand, others should be personally contacted and asked to come. The meeting should be widely advertised and its purpose made clearer. At Clerks itself, the chair should ensure that no-one is interrupted or mocked and that everyone gets a turn to speak; a second, female chair might help ensure that women aren’t talked over, particularly if the first chair is male.

2. A female student speaker gender quota will be established for all chamber debates. Where insufficient numbers of women have applied, the CorrSec will contact women involved in the Hist and/or debating until enough of them have agreed to speak. This gender quota will be publicised in all announcements pertaining to signing up for debates.

3. We will critically examine the way in which we comment on different speakers’ style and subject matter. Gendered descriptions, loose comparisons to other female speakers or encouragements to be less ‘timid’ are often well-intended but do a great deal of harm.

• Gender-Equal Representation on Sub-Committees

1. Every Sub-Committee will have at least one female member. Where there seems to be no qualified female candidate, Committee will methodically go through women from previous sessions and check if they’ve overlooked anyone.

2. While the number of Sub-Committees formed fluctuates from year to year, there should generally be at least one female Sub-Committee chair in any given session.

• Equity Officer
1. The Hist will appoint an Equity Officer. Applications for this position will be open to all members of the society, and will be considered based on a Committee discussion and a vote.

2. The Auditor will make a ruling by tonight (5 February) to give notice that the position has opened; the availability of this position, and the circumstances necessitating its creation, will be publicised through the Hist’s mailing list, website and social media platforms. Applications will be accepted during the following week (until 12 February).

3. The Equity Officer will have the power to record and compile allegations of discrimination, to present reports on them to the Committee or to the society at large, and to determine and enforce sanctions where appropriate.
• Consequences

We hope to reform the Hist so that women are welcome, valued, and included in all aspects of the society. Some of us have silently resented the Hist for being misogynistic; in fact, the society is ours as much as anyone else’s, we’ve worked as hard for it as anyone else has, and we have decided to claim it back as our own. As such, if these conditions are not met, we will:

– Strike. Schools’ debating, publicity and many vital MC tasks will cease to function.

– Publish these demands, personal anecdotes of misogyny and the story as a whole on all the Hist media outlets and to anyone else who wants to pick it up.

We don’t want to have to do these things. Our demands are reasonable – they’re things we should never have had to ask for, and are, for the most part, easy to achieve. We anticipate that they will be met. Steps are already underway to put some of them into place. But we are not willing to work for an institution that doesn’t respect us; if these terms are breached, we will walk out.

If anyone would like to discuss these demands, you must respond to all signatories. We will confer, decide on a response and designate a representative to reply to you. Attempts to negotiate with us individually will not be accepted.

 Alex Trant (Pro-Censor), Alexa Donnelly (Librarian), Dee Courtney (Pro-Librarian), Molly Kenny (Pro-RecSec), Naoise Dolan (Censor)

 More on this story as we get it.