06 October 1998
This Wasn't Hardcore ...
This wasn't hardcore ... but they pulped it anyway. Brendon Craigie,
president of the Free Speech Society at Leeds University, reports
Just before the start of Leeds University freshers' fair two thousand free
copies of GQ, the men's lifestyle magazine, were delivered to the offices
of Leeds University students' union. Two days later they had all been
destroyed. Why? Because the pictures of sexy girls contained in these
magazines were deemed to be 'harassing' one union member.
If this sounds a bit extreme, bear in mind that in 1994 the students' union
at Leeds University set a precedent on the subject of free speech when it
resolved to ban the Sun - the top-selling national tabloid newspaper -
because it 'portrayed women as sex objects'. The Sun's contents, it was
argued, were inconsistent with the union's stated opposition to 'all forms
of discrimination'. In 1997 the ban was lifted, in effect giving the
students the freedom to decide for themselves. But one year later GQ, which
has far more in common with other mainstream lifestyle magazines such as
Cosmopolitan or FHM than it has with the Sun, has managed to provoke the
same hostile response.
According to the communications officer (a post voted on by students) Anna
Richards, GQ approached the Union to ask if they could promote the magazine
during freshers' week. To gain the union's approval, GQ proposed to send a
couple of sample copies. The sample copies arrived together with another
1,998: a total of 2,000, rather than the requested two. Initially the pile
of magazines was covered by a green tarpaulin, sporting the logo 'LUU
Women's Society: Changing the World'. On top of the banner, the union
placed a disclaimer stating that while it does not support the
'objectification of men and women', due to the decision on the Sun it
accepted people's right to decide for themselves. All seemed fine until a
female life member of the union (last year's women's officer) complained
that she felt 'harassed' by the 'concealed' magazines. Because of the
union's broad definition of harassment the complaint was upheld. The
following day the magazines were hauled away and destroyed.
When approached, Anna Richards stated that 'the fact the magazines were
free meant that it appeared the union was actively promoting the magazine'.
You might argue that this says more about the union's obsession with
'protecting' students from what it perceives to be threatening, rather than
any real concerns of students. After all, have you ever known students to
question the political significance of freebies and handouts? And when
questioned about the reason for destroying the magazines, she replied: 'We
have a very clear anti-harassment policy. If one of our members feels
harassed it won't be tolerated.' The union, she added, 'is like a private
members' club, students set the rules'.
But students who saw the magazine were astounded. 'It's pathetic, people
should be able to read and view what they like' said English student
Melissa Bedwell. Fresher Louisa Parks, who will be studying French and
politics, had a simple message for students viewing 'offensive' material:
'If you don't want to read it - then don't!'.
Given the speed at which the magazines were disappearing in the union, it
seems strange that the decision to have them destroyed can be justified in
the name of protecting its members' interests. A lot of students come to
university to escape the strictures of their parents. In light of the
union's reaction to GQ magazine those parents appear to be very liberal in
comparison to the union executive. How ironic that our universities, which
are meant to be home to free thinking and critical debate, are in fact the
prime stalking grounds for Big Sister.
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