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Cambridge debating stars left in tears by barrage of sexist heckles about their looks as Glasgow's male students wreck finals of competitionStudents at Glasgow University made derogatory comments during debateCompetition judge abused as she tried to quieten the hecklersCambridge University's debating club will not send students there again
22:39 GMT, 4 March 2013
02:42 GMT, 5 March 2013
Target: Rebecca Meredith was reduced to tears as she tried to make herself heard over the sexist heckles and intimidation during the debate at Glasgow University
It was supposed to be a meeting of the brightest young intellects. Sadly, some of those involved in a prestigious student debating competition were only interested in small-minded behaviour.
They reduced two female speakers to tears with a barrage of sexist heckling. Students at Glasgow University made derogatory comments about the looks and chest sizes of Rebecca Meredith and Marlena Valles as they took part in the finals of the annual Glasgow Ancients debating championship.
When one judge attempted to stop the heckling she was called a ‘frigid b***h’. Offensive comments continued during a party and ceilidh afterwards, it was claimed.
Miss Meredith, a politics student at King’s College, Cambridge, and Miss Valles, a law undergraduate at Edinburgh University, had reached the finals of the annual tournament that sees teams from Britain’s oldest universities compete. But as they spoke to the motion ‘This house regrets the centralisation of religion’ on Saturday evening, they were repeatedly interrupted.
Miss Meredith, 20, ranked among the top 20 speakers in the world, said that she was reduced to tears as she tried to make herself heard over the sexist heckles and intimidation.
‘The amazing Marlena Valles and I were openly booed by a small number of misogynistic male Glasgow Union debaters and members,’ she said. ‘Sexist comments were made about our appearance.’
One man yelled ‘Get that woman out my union,’ she said. ‘Our speeches were interrupted by cries of “shame woman” and boos at mention of female equality.’
When she and her debating partner complained, they were told it was ‘to be expected’ that female speakers would be booed.
Kitty Parker-Brooks, a judge at the competition, was abused as she tried to quieten the hecklers. She said: ‘I was sitting behind the boys from Glasgow Union and could hear them making audible derogatory comments about the speakers’ appearances – their hair, dresses, chest size, how attractive they were – physically picking them apart, as well as yelling “shame woman” and booing.
‘I shushed them – and one then called me a “frigid b***h”. I stood up and made a speech in the floor debate calling them out on their behaviour, saying they had acted absolutely atrociously.’
Miss Valles said on Facebook she was shocked and horrified. She wrote: ‘It is difficult to speak confidently to an audience that is booing you for the sole reason that you are a woman in a dress talking about women’s rights, especially when you are the only girls in the final. I had six separate members of the Glasgow University Union approach me and give the exact same apologist speech – “I’m sorry they did that but they aren’t bad guys and it’s just how it is here and how they are. They are only joking”.’
Students: Marlena Valles (left) and Miss Meredith (right) had reached the finals of the annual tournament that sees teams from Britain’s oldest universities compete
Cambridge University’s debating club, the Cambridge Union Society, yesterday voted unanimously to end its reciprocal membership with the GUU and says it will not send students to debate there again.
GUU president David Lockhart said last night: ‘We would like to offer a full and unreserved apology. We will be contacting the individuals concerned to apologise personally. Displays of behaviour that are misogynistic or sexist are entirely incompatible with our values.’
The GUU did not admit women until 1980 and continues to host an annual men-only meal. Former debaters include the late Donald Dewar, the late Labour leader John Smith, Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy.