The University of Leeds Students’ Union (LUU) recently banned the sale of a supposedly sexist greetings card following an outcry on Twitter from a few morally outraged students. The indicted card stated: ‘Beware of the dog. (She might look sexy in those hot pants but she’s probably got Chlamydia.)’ As justification for the removal of the card from store shelves, the coordinator of the university’s feminist society said: ‘The card is offensive and degrading towards women and it goes against what LUU stands for.’ This is the latest in a series of sanctions imposed by LUU: it also banned the sale of the Sun newspaper and outlawed Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, in both cases for sexualising women.
One Telegraph columnist, although disagreeing with the card’s censorship, wrote: ‘I am concerned about cards dressing up such messages as “harmless banter” and some people taking them seriously.’ As with LUU, this reflects a negative view of male students by implying that these impressionable young men, recently prised from their mothers’ safe and non-sexualised bosoms, will read this card and transform into Bernard Manning or, worse still, abusers of women. The card is clearly meant as a harmless, albeit not particularly amusing, joke. If you think it’s funny, buy it; if you don’t, then don’t. Attempting to police humour is merely a waste of time.
Student unions are becoming increasingly intent on mollycoddling students instead of treating them as adults capable of forming their own opinions. LUU is trying to be progressive by appealing to feminist sentiment and banning offensive material; in fact, it is just patronising and pandering to a bunch of prudes. If censorship has taken the place of intellectual debate in universities, then we seem to have taken a huge step back. There was a time when advocates for freedom like Emily Davidson, John Locke and Voltaire inspired students; I wonder if Mary Whitehouse is the idol du jour of LUU?
Katherine Hughes is a writer and researcher based in London.