Surface Level Suffragettes?

Photography Credit: @NIC_HG

Michele Theil asks whether we capitalise off of our suffrage history without really making any significant headway on gender issues.

The history of the suffrage movement is obviously very important here at Royal Holloway. So, itt makes sense for the college to find ways of celebrating this history during the centenary anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, right? Wrong. With so many lingering issues surrounding women on this campus, I’m not sure Royal Holloway should be capitalising on the suffrage movement without addressing these important issues.

Since the recent unveiling of the Davison Building, named after suffragette Emily Wilding Davison as she is an alumna of this ‘feminist institution’, Royal Holloway has also placed a open exhibition with archived memorabilia in the Davison exhibition space as well as enlisting students to dress in Suffragette outfits and walk around campus on February 6, which was the day that the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918.

On the surface, this is all wonderful and successfully pays homage to the strides women have made in the last 100 years. It is clear that RHUL prides itself on its suffrage history. But is this pride warranted amid the high gender pay gap we have here as well as outcry over recent controversial comments made by Principal Paul Layzell surrounding the issue of said gap?

I’d say no, simply because RHUL is not doing enough for its female staff or its female students. The gender pay gap between full time professors here at RHUL currently stands at 10.01%, as reported by the Times Higher Education (THE), which is astounding and almost double the national average of 5.70% between full time professors.

The gender pay gap rose from 8.1% in 2015/16 to the 10.01% figure in 2016/17. Despite this, Layzell said that “we are going in the right direction”. With such a high gender pay gap and no clear-cut solutions to the problem, how are we supposed to celebrate the Suffragette movement and this ‘feminist institution’ without laughing at the irony of it all?

There is also an issue of women not being promoted in the top-tier bands of the Professoriate here at RHUL. Clare Bradley, a former equalities officer and member of the University and College Union (UCU) local association committee at Royal Holloway, said that many women were having “to go elsewhere to get promoted”, suggesting that women are purposefully stifled from progressing within the college. The Principal, however, puts this down to women not putting themselves forward for promotion due to a lack of confidence. He claimed that “there are certain protected groups where there is a natural tendency to not have a go and put themselves in for promotion – sometimes that’s gender, sometimes it’s the BAME group”.

This comment is not only ridiculous but infantilising to the women who want to progress in the career and do not believe they have found the opportunity here at this university. Layzell’s office overlooks the newly built Founder’s Square and the Davison Building. The Davison Building, of course, is named after the infamous alumna and Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. Layzell is clearly proud of the building and was proud to display a Suffragette’s name on the door.

However, his lack of action in reducing the gender pay gap, which is a stated goal of the university in the 2020 strategy, as well as his recent comments, do not highlight his position as the Principal of a university that was originally founded as colleges for women’s higher education.

Female students are also continually being failed, with an increase in sexual harassment around campus that is not being dealt with properly. There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the Students’ Union has not provided enough support for victims of sexual harassment. That’s not to say they’re not trying but it’s clearly not enough.

Royal Holloway are capitalising on a movement that led to strong women fighting for their rights and yet are continually failing the very people that movement sought to protect and fight for. It is absolutely ridiculous and they need to address the systemic issues on campus before parading Suffragettes around like everything is fine and dandy.