How the University of Edinburgh was turned into a Victorian melodrama.

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Are you a crusading student who is aflame with idealism and ready to give society a good shake up? Oh, but supposing that you don’t have any ideas for improving a system which is for you (in sotto voce) actually rather agreeable? Well, simply ban something! Preferably something unpopular or that few people will miss. Yes, if you are unable to add anything to the world, you can at least subtract.

When you start to look around the University of Edinburgh’s campus there are all sorts of things which are waiting to have your invisible red line scored through them. Before you can begin, however, you really need to have certain preconceived ideas about women. Firstly, forget all the women you know – we do not require a human idea of women. You will have to travel back through the mists of history, past a point where the ranks of women who have achieved anything professionally become rather thin, past the Pankhursts, past the Brontës, until you have finally arrived in the realm of Victorian melodrama. Let’s retreat from Jane Austen – her heroines have usually got a bit of spunk to them. Instead, the woman you want is gentle and delicate; she trembles like a leaf whenever somebody raises their voice above a murmur; and she has to be periodically revived with smelling salts. You’ll find likely candidates in Wilkie Collins’ novels and the direst of Dickens. Bundle one into your time machine – you’re now good to go!

Back at the University of Edinburgh in 2014, there is immediately a vast number of institutions and clubs which will have to be banned. Otherwise your damsel’s sensibilities will be mortally offended! Look, she is already starting to droop!

Let’s begin with the Socialist Workers’ Party. How can your poor sensitive petal, this quaking damsel, ever hope to overthrow international capitalism within such an organisation? The SWP allegedly tolerates sexual abuse amongst its members and squashes women who complain about being harassed and molested. Your tender, blushing young lovely, who is eager to obliterate the IMF, will find no kindly or encouraging face within the SWP. Her dreams are destined to be cruelly crushed.

And so the SWP will have to be banned. The inevitable Eleanor Brayne-Whyatt from the Feminist Society last week tabled the inevitable motion at a council of the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA), demanding that the SWP and their advertising are kicked off campus. With a name like that, Eleanor Brayne-Whyatt is undoubtedly a flower of Victorian womanhood. Alas, an anonymous SWP member contacted EUSA and claimed that the motion was “libellous.” You can’t libel someone under Scottish law (the correct term is “defamation”) and it’s unclear whether there were any genuine grounds to sue. EUSA nonetheless abandoned its motion and the Student Newspaper seems to have panicked about its coverage of the story.

The quick-witted editor decided that there could be no repeat of last year’s interim interdict disaster, in which an entire edition was junked on legal advice because of a story on the front page. Blameless pages of quality student journalism about dietary fads and apathy in student elections were shredded along with the spiked story. This time, the terminal story was on page two and so the cover of each of the four-thousand copies was removed by hand, leaving the remains of the newspaper to be published in this ridiculous state. In what might be a first in the history of British newspapers, an entire edition begins on page 3.

Dying by their own sword, those calling for the banning of a political party were themselves censored. Perhaps the party members of the SWP are in fact delicate flowers, who are unable to cope with the cruel accusations in the wicked newspaper. But, for me, making such an insinuation without any hard evidence would be far more defamatory than today’s routine suggestion that they are a bunch of misogynistic dinosaurs.

Although this week’s Student is now stripped to its vest, it still manages to cite lots of other things which need to be banned. In an article entitled “Lad culture is not just “harmless banter”,” Chris Belous manfully defends those poor feeble-minded souls who are haunted by racist or misogynistic jokes. How will your little lady, this pinnacle of Victorian virtue, triumph on the rugby pitch when her fellow team members can be so hurtful? Happily, those standing up for Victorian femininity can all troop off once again to EUSA to enforce the policy, “End Rape Culture and Lad Banter on Campus.” The title of this might appear to unwittingly accord rape the same status as “banter.” For your distraught damsel, however, a carelessly worded joke is far from harmless!

Next there is Sarah Henderson’s exposé of “Sexism on campus,” which would give even the doughtiest suffragette a fit of the vapours. Some of the things that these lads get up to are disgraceful and, inevitably, we need more bannings, interventions, EUSA rulings, censorship, and possibly transportation to the colonies for the most degraded offenders. How can your modest Victorian maiden take part in a Freshers’ sports club initiation which involves such outrages as drinking vodka through a tamp… ? Well, let’s just say a lady’s sensitive personal device.

If your shrinking damsel makes it as far as the editorial, she risks even greater distress. The laddish horrors of the Speculative Society are unspeakable in the unmelodramatic sense that nobody knows what they are: it’s a 250-year-old secret society. But this time your pathetic drip does not even have the chance to be dismayed or offended by the Spec because it has a male-only membership. You might think that a male-only club chimes perfectly with EUSA’s assumption that womanhood has to be protected from everything strong or loud. But no, the prescription is more bannings, censorship, interventions, and no doubt a spell in a prison hulk.

Add to this the banning of the song “Blurred Lines” from campus buildings for appealing to the baser sentiments of the lower orders and the banning of the Sun newspaper for printing pictures of scandalous Tahitian beauties, and your Victorian visitor can step contentedly back into the time machine. The twenty-first century has been cleaned spick and span. As she flies away, her triumph is this: the University of Edinburgh has been itself transported back to Victorian times, without leaving its place in history. Organisations such as the SWP are banished from “respectable” society even though they have done nothing illegal. There is enforced good manners, moral hysteria at every transgression, and the most pronounced disapproval of fun. We are not amused!

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