[This is an email I sent yesterday to Andrew Chapman, Gerard Tully, Jack Gamble, and Juan Zober de Francisco, respectively the President, Vice-President, Speakers Officer and Ents Officer for The Cambridge Union society, a long-established debating institution. A couple of people suggested I post it on Gender Agenda after having published it as a note on Facebook - hopefully the following will speak for itself and inspire other Union Society members to contact the Union Society exec with the same points in mind!]

Dear Sirs,

I was recently invited by The Union Society to attend an event at which
Ulrika Jonsson will be reportedly speaking about ‘Men, Life, and the Future
of Feminism’. Her credentials, as you obviously know, were listed thus: “An
iconic figure in public life, a winner of Celebrity Big Brother and model
for Playtex lingerie [...] In 2002 she famously admitted to having an
affair with the then-England football manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.”

Prior to this invitation, I was also alerted via the CUSU Women’s Officer
to the fact that The Union Society is now offering ‘pole fitness’ classes
to women throughout Easter term, so that they might ‘keep fit on a pole’.
This neutral terminology, as used on your website, did not in any way
obscure the rather stark connection that ‘pole fitness’ has to its more
popular sibling, ‘pole dancing’, though the effort expended in this regard
has been noted.

Interested to know how else women were going to be represented in the
coming weeks, I decided to check out how many female speakers you have
booked for the term. As you know, the number was a resoundingly pathetic
four out of twenty-six.

There is absolutely no way I am paying another hundred quid or so to be a
member of a society that has so little commitment to gender equality or
female representation. I was recently informed by a colleague of mine that
one of your justifications (personally given to her via email) for booking
Ulrika Jonsson to speak on ‘men and feminism’ was her experience of
domestic violence. If this really is the case, why on earth is this not
listed as one of credentials in the event information/advertisement. Do you
think that underwear modelling and having an affair with a football manager
are seriously related to women’s rights? Ulrika Jonsson is no doubt an
intelligent and interesting woman, but the fact that you have chosen to
juxtapose her pursuits in lingerie and extra-marital activity next to her
feminist credentials not only undermines her as a speaker but practically
ridicules your female members, many of whom you know have a real interest
in gender equality. Last term we wrote to you asking you to address the
unacceptable dearth of female speakers in your termcard. After a positive
emergency debate that addressed a real issue regarding gender equality we
were genuinely hopeful that there might be some sort of tangible change in
The Union Society’s attitude to women.

I am beyond disappointed at the outcome. Calling a women-only activity that
directly emulates, and is inspired by, pole-dancing ‘Pole Fitness’ does not
make it a gender neutral and inoffensive thing. Calling a talk by Ulrika
Jonsson, advertised as famous for underwear and sex with Sven, “feminist”
does not make it so. Saying that more women should come forward as
emergency debate speakers does not excuse or diminish the absolutely stark
injustice of having 4 females out of 26 debaters this term. We should not
have to continue being fobbed off by stuff like this. I am almost in
disbelief that I spent so much money on being part of a society that has no
interest in listening to such a significant part of its membership.

I am relatively faithful that the next Union Society president will be more
sensitive to the issues I’ve outlined. I cannot however, be part of a
Society with such a flippant and seemingly indifferent attitude to gender
inequality and women’s issues any longer.

Best wishes

Faith Taylor