The Mona Lisa Re-born?

It’s a miracle like no other. The Student’s Union of Royal Holloway has seen a truly remarkable rebirth. It’s the return of the Mona Lisa, widely criticised to have a smile so true to life it’s almost as if you only had to step into a room and grin at yourself in the mirror to merely replicate it. A smile, which has kept many an art historian busy for centuries, that is so completely between innocence and invitation that the distinction is beyond reckoning.

Such a miracle can be found, miraculously, on the latest Student Entertainment posters advertising function nights at the SU throughout October including one, hastily replaced on the 13th October, publicising Come in Your Kit. They are NOT a true representation of our student body, as they are, and particularly not of women in sport.

One might say, who even cares? It’s only women’s football. It’s barely on the TV anyway, the players aren’t as well paid as their male counterparts, all evidence that they don’t put in as much effort. I mean, it’s a frankly well-known fact that all women’s football players play in a crop top and knickers with an inflatable, isn’t it? As a discipline, it really hasn’t moved on since we were in pre-school. #FootballWalksOnWater? I think not.

This is what these posters say about women. Ladies and Gentlemen: this is an example of sexism on campus, except this time the crime, yes CRIME, is perpetrated not by the student body, but by the unelected officials that run our Union and their subcontracted. The decisions they make have an effect on our right to feel safe and able to speak out unafraid of judgement.  The advertising material contravenes the very foundations SURHUL is based on. Schedule Six, Section 1.1 of the SU’s constitution says, “The Union strives to create a culture in which diversity and equality are promoted actively and in which unlawful discrimination is not tolerated.” These posters are simply not evidence of an organisation striving to resolve inequality between genders.

Speaking as a woman who plays a sport traditionally associated with masculinity, perhaps I’m being too harsh. The intention behind the offending advertising material may have been completely different to how I have taken it. Maybe that’s not the point. However, I would  argue that the Students’ Union have a responsibility to take more care with the content of advertising material that is being displayed on our campus. It is not consistent with the fantastic values the organisation, as a whole, have displayed in the past, values that are concerned with the welfare of all students, regardless of colour, sexuality or gender, and nor is it consistent with the usually engaging and high-quality advertising we have become used to.

When I first saw the Come in Your Kit poster, which was displayed not only online for a whole week but in the toilets in the Union itself, I was terrified for my female friends who valiantly play all kinds of sport week in, week out: will their efforts be overlooked in favour of their appearances? Surely, they will not be told by a slogan “to get down and dirty”. Our sole purpose on a night out with friends is to not be an innocent pair of lips, or an inviting smile, for someone with a throbbing hard-on to mash themselves against. I have not paid my dues to the SU for the past two years to have people like myself strung up and sexualised, for whatever cause.

Fortunately, there is hope. Many clubs and societies on campus are starting liberation campaigns with the aim to promote the welfare of the students. Women’s Rugby has recently started working closely with the Student’s Union to start a campaign promoting gender equality in sport. Little by little, the perception of women in sport is being changed and the playing field is being levelled. Adverts coming from an organisation that should be looking to help us, however, sets us back a few paces. It’s exhausting. It must stop.