What would the foxes say?

Healthy disagreement and debate amongst student societies is crucial to a vibrant university atmosphere. However, there appears to be a nasty culture in certain societies to opt for confrontational politics, and what is increasingly an agenda of censorship and intimidation.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the York Tory Soc's fox-hunting themed social.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the York Tory Soc’s fox-hunting themed social.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, we are not dealing with the internal politics of Soviet Russia here, in power terms, student societies sit somewhere between a primary school council and a church fete committee.
Yet some of the recent behaviour exhibited by members of societies would be far more familiar to Russians of the 1950’s, than to students at an educational institution.

Take the recent incident regarding York Conservative Society’s fox hunting themed social, in which the male members of the society were encouraged to dress as fox-hunters and females as the hunted. Whilst many, including the executive of TorySoc, thought this was a tongue-in-cheek idea for a fancy dress theme, others took offence. Any reasonable person who has thought for more than 30 seconds about the idea of encouraging females to dress as animals that are to be hunted around York city centre, and still thinks it’s a good idea should probably not have made it as far as higher education. However, if we simply put this idea down to a lapse in judgement (and a fairly minor one in the grand scheme of things; let me direct you to Durham University’s St Cuthbert’s Rugby Club’s Jimmy Saville themed social), then it makes the reaction of members of certain vegetable friendly societies even more bizarre.

As a result of this planned event, and as seems to be the trend, there was a sudden lurch toward hysterical, aggressive and confrontational politics by opposing societies. TorySoc was subjected to threatening and abusive torrents over social media. were apparently pressured by Conservative headquarters into cancelling the event.There appear to have been two main grievances being angrily expressed. The first coming from a feminist angle, and the second from a militant anti-fox hunting position.

However, let me first make one thing clear; this was in no part a political statement, on behalf of the Conservative society, in support of fox hunting (although if it had been I would whole-heartedly defend their right to have made it, without suffering threats). Furthermore, I am confidently assured that many of TorySoc’s members who were taking part, are actually anti-fox hunting. Clearly then, anybody attacking the social on the grounds of anti-hunting made a serious miscalculation.

Yet there is scope here for actual offence. The fox hunting themed social can be seen as degrading towards women. Few people would argue against this (UKIP voters being the obvious exception-probably). But does an error of judgement by TorySoc give individuals the right to engage in aggressive and intimidating behaviour in the name of women? Certainly not.
So what is the charge? An overzealous and ham-fisted attempt at standing up for feminism, or a misidentified effort to censor the right of a political society to make a political statement about hunting? Either way, it doesn’t look good. All too frequently University political societies define themselves by what they don’t like, rather than what they want, in this atmosphere ideological rivals are not just mistaken, they’re evil, enemies that must be purged. This kind of inflammatory rhetoric only serves to legitimise the barmy actions of the students who chose to abuse members of TorySoc.

Why could the objections to this social not have been raised politely to the Conservative society, giving them the opportunity to amend their event? Instead, a strange parallel universe appears to exist in the York student community, in which some societies feel it is acceptable to jump headily into confrontation and intimidation, before making any attempt at reconciliation.

The resort to threat making in order to further political agendas only angers and entrenches the opposition, and worse still, it disengages others altogether. FemSoc, VegSoc promote worthwhile student causes. But I cannot help feeling that so much misdirected passion, as in the case of “foxgate”, does their causes far more harm than good. Ultimately, this is the problem with student politics; individuals getting very angry about very little.

As amusing as inter-societal spats can be, I hope I’ve highlighted their darker side. I for one, would far rather be part of a student community which is inclusive, and works towards breaking down the barriers of the outside world, rather than reinforcing them.

5 thoughts on “What would the foxes say?

  1. This is massively ill-informed.

    No societies opted to respond to the fox hunting social event with “confrontational politics, and what is increasingly an agenda of censorship and intimidation”. This is completely unsubstantiated and without evidence, not because the evidence is hidden, but because there is none. (If we want to talk about hiding evidence, note that the Tories changed their group to ‘secret’ for a while on the day they cancelled the event. Presumably to get their story straight?) The article names “FemSoc, VegSoc” as the societies it is attempting to smear, and despite the civil tone these unfounded accusation are just libel. Neither group had an opportunity to adopt a policy on the event or contact the TorySoc.

    The hyperbole in this article is at a new level of ridiculous. Somewhat contradictorily, you assert that “in power terms, student societies sit somewhere between a primary school council and a church fete committee”, yet then allege that opposition to the social was akin to 1950s Soviet Union internal politics. (What does this mean? Is this a reference to de-Stalinization or just historical illiteracy?)

    You speak of “hysterical, aggressive and confrontational” opposition to the social, of “threatening and abusive torrents”, of “aggressive and intimidating behavior”. You mention “overzealous and ham-fisted” efforts, of militancy, “confrontation and intimidation”, of “the barmy actions of the students who chose to abuse members of TorySoc”, of “the resort to threat”, and, ironically, of “inflammatory rhetoric”.

    Where is the evidence for this? To some extent I doubt that you, Watkins, have any evidence of the behavior you allege at all. I presume you just picked these falsehoods up from other media publications. A world to the wise: you would do well to check your sources before blindly accepting them – the Independent article has already been withdrawn over this issue, and that’s not exactly good news for its author.

    The allegation that threats were made to members of the TorySoc is a false accusation, nobody made any. In reality “the objections to this social” were “raised politely to the Conservative society”. This was met by refusal, insult and ridicule from the people invited to the event. This, in turn, led to some brief argument on the matter and much mockery. All of this is now vanished into the void as the TorySoc deleted the event. No threats were made. Shortly afterwards various individuals opposed to the event discussed their objections and whether or not to raise the matter with YUSU. This was done, and both YUSU affiliated individuals and, as you say, the conservative party HQ contacted the TorySoc.

    The TorySoc cancelled the event and launched this smear campaign, misdirecting attention by claiming that ‘female members’ were ‘scared’ having been ‘threatened’ by some ravening horde of feminists and vegans. This obvious rubbish was happily lapped up by the media, presumably as potential clickbait. And so here we are again, with me wasting my life refuting this ridiculous defaming story.

    Stop it. It’s really embarrassing on your part and pathetically reactionary.

    Oh, and while we’re at it, I personally wish there had been a bit of radical opposition! That would have been good! Anything to disturb the appalling ideological climate here in York.

  2. Sam Lindsey.

    You haven’t engaged with the authors arguments at all, in fact you’ve done an exceptionally good job of highlighting the very point of his article.

    Your reaction to the piece ranges from overtly aggressive to ludicrously inflamed. I’ve seen indictments for war crimes with fewer accusations than your response. Its like you’ve just jumped out of the tyre you were swinging and felt that howling alone wasn’t enough. It such a reactionary piece, so over the top and dramatically obtuse to the issues anyone would think you were running as republican presidential candidate. Did you intend to to be such a fine example of a ham-fisted response or was it just what happened when you began bashing the buttons on the key board.

    Your ludicrous accusations of liable, of ill-information and embarrassment go to highlight the exaggerated nature of your response, the very kind of actions and response the author was looking to highlight so for that I’m sure hes very thankful.

  3. Dear Mr Lindsay,

    I thought I would take a moment to respond to your concerns. Much of my evidence for this piece came directly from TorySoc members who were able to show me the messages they had received. Your description of events loosely correlates with the actual proceedings, except you have (by honest mistake I am sure)neglected the abusive and threatening behavior.

    I also think that there is a tiny possibility you may have taken the light hearted remark about Soviet Russia a tad too literally- not to worry though Sam, perhaps it was expecting a bit much of you.


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