THE UNIVERSITY OF York Conservative Association has, this week, been accused of a culture of sexism within the society. A former committee member has spoken out to Nouse about her experiences, saying that the society, under its new committee, has become a “boys club” in which girls feel patronised, and even unsafe.
Following their elections last Wednesday, reports have emerged of sexist behaviour and “targeted questioning”. Speaking to Nouse, Finn Judge, who attended the election in support of his girlfriend, told of how the elections were a “hostile environment” in which female candidates were made to feel “on edge”.
Former committee member and candidate at the elections, Sophie Whittingham, spoke of how, during a debate before the election, a now-committee member told her, “you don’t get an opinion. Nobody knows who you are, you’re just that guy’s girlfriend.”
Miss Whittingham stated that her questions at the election, which were submitted anonymously via text message, were targeted at her lack of social activity and questioned her ability to perform the job as a result. She continued that she could not attend Wednesday events as a result of working, adding: “I have to work so I can’t make it to a fox hunting social. As if that determines my politics”.
She went on to comment on the society’s wider culture of sexism, saying that girls regularly feel unsafe: “there’s a tacit agreement amongst girls not to go out [on York Tories socials] unless other girls are going”.
“One girl rejected a male member of the society, who then screamed at her”. Miss Whittingham said that the same girl then later stood for election, but was “really anxious” throughout the process.
“There is very much a sense that women are just for decoration” she continues: “women are talked over a lot,” even though the women in the last committee, including the outgoing chair, “are very effective”.
Miss Whittingham’s comments follow previous allegations of sexism in the York tories. In 2013, this newspaper reported on the cancellation of the fox hunting social over claims of sexism. The event format has since been changed but used to involve the “girls being encouraged to dress up as foxes and the men dress up as hunters”.
One former York Tories member, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that they “understood why women members felt unsafe on occasion, given the number of inappropriate sexual jokes and comments which are directed at women at events.” They went on to state that they had personally “witnessed occasions on which female members were made to feel uncomfortable, talked down to and experienced unwanted sexual advances”. They did wish to stress that “this was a small minority of individuals, and not every man within the association.”
When approached for comment, York Tories Chairman-Elect Arthur Reynolds issued the following statement: “having been elected less than a week ago I am yet to formally take up the role as Chairman of the York Tories, making it grossly unfair to suggest that institutional sexism has emerged under my leadership.
“Our current Chairman and Secretary are both female; women have always been an integral part of our society.”
He continued: “During the election of our External Vice-Chairman at our recent AGM, questions were asked to all candidates, and one of these concerned attendance at events. One candidate felt this question was directed specifically at her. This was later discussed on Facebook, with an individual suggesting that she had been targeted and interrupted because of her gender – this was not the case. The role of the External Vice-Chairman involves organising events, making previous attendance of events an important proviso for all candidates.
“However, we have been made aware of an allegation of sexist behaviour at one of the society’s events. If the allegation proves true, as a society, we will utterly condemn it. This sort of behaviour cannot be acceptable within what has always been a fair and inclusive society.”
He concluded: “to this end we urge members to come forward and express any concerns they might have. Our committee is currently investigating the aforementioned incident and appropriate action will be taken if we find that any wrongdoing has occurred.”