A student who was heckled and booed for being a woman as she spoke at a prestigious debate has told of how she received rape threats after her ordeal.
In a blog for the Huffington Post UK, Rebecca Meredith was subjected to discussions of "how best to violently rape or sexually assault me" following her participation in the Glasgow Ancients debate earlier this month.
"'Lad' websites and male chat forums had posted pictures of me from news sites and discussed how best to violently rape or sexually assault me," she writes. "I scrolled through comment after comment discussing whether it would be preferable to rape me using a knife, or to keep me as a sex slave."
Rebecca Meredith has been faced with rape threats after her debate ordeal
The Cambridge University student, who has been ranked one of the best 20 speakers in the world, was debating with her partner Marlena Valles at Glasgow University Union's (GUU) event. The pair were booed before they even started speaking.
"The men analysed our sexual attractiveness throughout the debate," Rebecca says. "We were booed, heckled with 'shame woman' and exposed to sexual comments and queries of 'what qualifications does a woman possibly have to be here'. The difference between us? We were female.
"After the debate, a member of this group shouted "get that woman out of my chamber" as my partner Marlena passed."
In her most recent blog for HuffPost UK, Meredith says claims women don't need International Women's Day "infuriates" her.
"The perception that sexism has been solved - that modern Britain banished the historical evil of misogyny through equality legislation and the removal of formal barriers to employment - is pervasive. The rationale is: 'if I don't see it, it can't be that bad.'
"Others emphasised that I studied at Cambridge, with several commentators from the public noting that this probably meant I was sheltered and couldn't deal with heckles," Meredith continues. "I attend Cambridge on a bursary and I grew up in the West of Scotland, 30 minutes from Glasgow. The idea that I was an English rose wrapped in cotton wool, who just couldn't handle the big bad world, encouraged blatant apologism for the sexism I had encountered."
The Spectator published a piece by Gerald Warner, which specifically targeted Meredith, titled: "If Cambridge's debating girls can't stand the heat, they should stay out of Glasgow kitchens."
The columnist wrote: "Criticising the dresses usurped the prerogative of the women members of the audience who could have been relied upon to execute a far more informed and incisive hatchet job...
"A GUU debater is judged above all on his capacity to riposte instantly and wittily against a heckler. Clearly that skill eluded the two women who have complained about being heckled."
Meredith adds: "The idea that a woman should accept being sexualised and abused for her gender is inexcusable, regardless of her background. But more importantly, it attempts to victim-blame; to paint the picture that women who speak up against sexism do so because they aren't able to handle the heat, rather than because they have genuine grievances.
"In the past week, female students from Glasgow reported that some male GUU members in the past have allegedly played a game where they grab a female student, tell her they were going to rape her, and then time themselves to see how long they could hold on as the woman struggled. This game was played on campus, by university members, and always against women."
The GUU, which was founded in 1885 and describes itself as "the finest training grounds for young politicians", only voted to allow women to become members in 1980. In November 2012, the GUU hosted its controversial "Last All Male Board" (LAMB) dinner. The dinner, a long-running tradition, was set up to "commemorate" the last all-male board of management, after females were admitted. The president of the GUU, Lockhart, attends the LAMB events.
In a previous blog for HuffPost UK, Meredith described the incident as "one of the most unpleasant incidents of my life".
"I have argued with enough male professors at my university to know when to stand up for myself," she last week. "What I refuse to accept is that being by virtue of being a woman, I should be abused and targeted in a way men are not. I refuse to believe that women should accept being overtly sexualised or targeted as "par for the course" in a university which is supposed to represent learning and equality."
There have been concerns the GUU has swept the issue under the carpet. Several societies at the university have publicly disaffiliated themselves from the students' union saying its response "does not go far enough to reassure us - given the seriousness of the situation".
As a result of the women's experiences, Cambridge Union has boycotted the GUU's event, deeming the male debaters' behaviour as "disgusting".
A petition started on change.org by Glasgow University student Caroline Moore to "expel the members responsible and show commitment to gender equality" has already garnered more than 4,700 signatures.
The honours year philosophy student said: "The incident at the Ancients embodies an entire culture of misogyny that has gone on far too long. This is our opportunity to change these damaging attitudes and send the message to students of the past, present, and future: that sexism does not belong in our union - this is not what happens here anymore."
Have you been subjected to sexism at university? Get in touch and tell us your story: email@example.com
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