There was a week or so, a year and a half back, when Spotted pages popped up all over my Facebook feed. Not just from Glasgow Uni, but Strathclyde, Stirling, they were everywhere. Spotted: Glasgow Uni Library may be the one everyone thinks of when they think of these pages now, but there were others on campus too – Spotted: Glasgow Uni Gym exists, though it’s been inactive since November of last year and, with 8,000 fewer likes than its Library brother, hasn’t attracted controversy.
I’m a fan of Gossip Girl. When I first saw “Spotted” in a title, I read it in Kristen Bell’s voice. The idea that our campus could maybe have our own Lonely Boy and S romance, well, it could bring a tear to a glass eye.
So that didn’t happen, but fun could still be had.
That’s me in the pretentious cardigan, being all feminist and ruining everyone’s fun. As you can see, according to one comment, I ought to be disappointed that no one is masturbating over me in a public environment. As you can also see, from another comment, women ought to actively worry that at some point a man may nip to the restroom to sexually fantasise about them while touching himself.
If two people in a relationship agreed that at some point in the day they were going to pop to a public bathroom and masturbate to the thought of one another, I may complain about how uncouth that is, but I certainly can’t argue it wasn’t consensual. This random message, sent from an unnamed, anonymous source to be broadcast publically, is non-consensually announcing, jokingly or not, that they masturbated to a girl we presume, given the nature of the description, they have had no prior contact with.
I dare say, even if this was set up as a joke between two people, the nature of the broadcast is such that it is not at all okay. What we as readers take from it is that, should you enter the library, you run the risk of becoming the sexualised thoughts for someone’s wank session. It is non-consensual, it is sexist, it is objectifying, and it does not make a place that thousands of people use daily, especially at this time of year, in any way safe.
The page had been quiet recently, but it’s not like this is a new thing.
November 12 2013 is in the weeks running up to the exam diet of first semester. Congrats, ladies, according to this anonymous sexist person, you all look fab. This messages objectifies women as mere things to look at for whoever sent this in, as well as shames them for any sexual behaviour they may have partaken in (I’m guessing not with this guy).
While the first instance I talked about zoned in one person who probably managed to figure out who she was from the description, this post aims to make all women feel they are being watched at all times in the library. Judged for their appearance, critiqued with a verdict anonymously announced on the Spotted page, there’s no reason why any woman in the library wouldn’t feel on edge after reading this.
The SRC have been made aware of the page, and not for the first time. Their recent announcement says that the University itself has been in contact with the administrators of the page due to complaints, also not for the first time. We are recommended to report continuing sexist behaviour not only to the University, but also to Facebook. More “serious action” by the University will be taken if the actions continue.
“While the SRC appreciates that some students use this page for light relief during the revision period, there is also a lot of content posted on this page which is inappropriate, racist or sexist. We all know that the library at this time of year can be a very stressful place, and not many students want to be there. However, the problems of being in the library are only being exacerbated by these posts which make some students uncomfortable.”
Okay, you could probably argue either way here, but given the nature of the post, I feel I would’ve still gotten the message without “Chinese” being a descriptive factor. The blonde girl with red jeans wasn’t referred to as the white blonde girl with red jeans, afterall. Maybe not as maliciously meant, but something to keep in mind.
The Spotted page itself has apparently downsized its team from 7 to 2. They admit to a drop in standards, and promise that in the future their posts will – “(i) Not reveal any slight possibility of the person being identified; (ii) Not contain anything that could be interpreted as racist or threatening [even though we believe this has not happened thus far, we recognise the concern]; (iii) Not display any distasteful or potentially distressing language; (iv) Be thoroughly filtered and only pleasant posts will be posted, we hope to return to said ‘friendly banter'”
I take issue with (ii). Unfortunately I do not have a screenshot, but myself and others remember vividly a post on Spotted saying that the person would be following someone home that night. This was a while ago, and unsurprisingly the post was deleted after a massive outcry, but I would find it hard to define that as anything other than threatening behaviour.
The page continues to provoke debate daily, and recently set up a poll asking its viewership of 10,000 a rather loaded question.
Misandry does not exist. You can discriminate against a man/male, but the institution of sexism is oppressive towards women/females. Misogyny exists, is active, and is ever-present. Comedian/rapper Donald Glover said in one of his standup shows “Why don’t women have crazy men stories? I don’t really hear them. And then I realised, it’s because if you got a crazy boyfriend, you’re going to die.” Another often-quoted slogan is that “misandry hurts feelings, misogyny kills.” For example, a 16 year old girl was recently stabbed to death for turning a guy down to their high school prom.
I’m not downplaying any sort of hate men receive, or injustices, due to gender. There are problems, and many of those problems we highlight that affect women also affect men, but society is such that it is so one sided, so sexist, so ingrained and institutional, that women experience sexism daily and actively. When a woman says she hates men, she doesn’t mean you if you aren’t part of the problem. And can you blame them for saying so when men ask questions like this?
Anyway, the poll. It was about as democratic as a Russian election.
The location finder of voters seemed to imply the majority of votes came from the same location. It was enough for the admins.
I’m led to believe that later on the results shifted in the entire opposite direction, but that was only after the admins had seen themselves winning, so that definitely does not count!
As Hannah Gower, the SRC Gender Equality officer-elect says, “Glasgow University, including the library, is a campus that should be accessible and inclusive for all, yet Spotted: Glagsow Uni Library actively undermines this by creating a sexually harassing and distressing atmosphere on campus, by encouraging the objectification and degradation of students.”
Which is why I don’t buy any freedom of speech arguments. Hate speech, threatening speech, discriminatory speech, sexism, racism, homophobia, all of it, makes for a distressing atmosphere. We ought not to tolerate these views. We ought to promote a safe campus.
And we also ought not to victim blame. I can’t quite get my head around how, if someone is feeling uncomfortable, the fault is theirs and that they should seek counselling. If your freedom of speech is pushing people to require medical help, then what you are saying is the problem.
There’s a petition calling for action to be taken against the page. You can find it here. Personally I don’t think the page itself, the medium of Spotted, is the problem. I believe the problem is that when you give Glasgow University students anonymity, what comes out is sexist and offensive bile.
Another Spotted page called Spotted: Glasgow Uni Sexism exists, allowing students to send in anonymous messages detailing sexist instances on campus. The owner of this page says “I am of the opinion that before you post something on the internet, especially if it is aimed at a particular person, that you should think about how it would sound if you said this directly to this person. Something which you may have thought was a bit of fun can suddenly become extremely aggressive or offensive.”
They continue – “There is a big difference between messages such as ‘to the girl who was in the med library for most of this afternoon – shortish, brunette with an orangey shirt, you are so fit, 10/10 would bang’ and ‘to the girl sitting next to me in level 4… you are cute.’ These are posts from the page and the first would be a lot more disturbing to hear face to face than the second. I understand that the page started as a bit of fun and am sure the moderators just haven’t thought about the effect some of the more extreme messages may have.”
I tend to agree. The page itself, the Spotted idea, could produce funny anecdotes, pleasingly complimentative and flirty comments, like in the Metro newspaper, and anything else people could think of. Instead, the population of Glasgow University has shown that when given anonymity, they become selfish, sexist, and senseless. The push back against those who are feeling uncomfortable, threatened, and distressed is downright worrying.
Gayle Haig, president of the Isabella Elder Feminist Society, had this to say: “We appreciate that some students find Spotted funny and entertaining, especially during exam time when everyone’s stressed and bored. However, too often the posts on the page have made students feel uncomfortable and harassed. In the past there have been posts policing female appearances, really sexually explicit posts directed at people and even a post regarding stalking someone walking home.”
She goes on: “These targeted posts victimise people and are completely unacceptable. No one wants to be in the library at the best of times, and students shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or threatened when they’re trying to learn. We welcome the SRC’s response and hope the admins at Spotted are much more considerate with regard to what they post in future.”
I understand arguments for many reactions to the page – unlike it on Facebook so you don’t have to see it, for example. My problem with this is that some people may want to keep an eye on it just to see if it’s active; perhaps they feel they ought to keep an eye on what is causing them distress, and ultimately, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. But I do encourage people to do this if they are feeling distressed over it. I also encourage everyone to look out for one another.
In the end, before the post got deleted, my comment on the post which I talked about earlier in this article ended up receiving 230 “likes.” That’s encouraging. People don’t tolerate sexist behaviour, which is what this is. We cannot, however, be complacent. A “like” is reassuring, but being vocal shows support for those feeling targeted, and it shows those who exhibit sexist behaviour that you are not welcome, not celebrated, and not tolerated on our campus.
Alex Osborne’s qmunicate article defending Spotted: Glasgow Uni Library’s freedom of expression can be found here.