– Tabz O’Brien-Butcher promises to tackle ‘lewd sexual comments and spiteful attacks’
– Owner of Spotted pages claims that only an ‘insignificant fraction’ of posts are sexist
The Women’s Officer at Manchester Students’ Union has launched an attack on the popular ‘Spotted’ Facebook pages associated with the University of Manchester, promising to “work with the University to try and sort this out.”
Tabz O’Brien-Butcher took to her official Exec team Facebook page on Tuesday to criticise both ‘Spotted: University of Manchester Library’ and ‘Spotted: Alan Gilbert Learning Commons UOM’ for facilitating the “sexual objectification” of women students.
The post read: “Been getting a LOT of complaints from women students about the sexual objectification of Spotted in the library and Spotted in Ali G pages. It’s disgraceful that women students feel like they can’t study in their own library and learning spaces in case someone updates this page with comments about how they look and their bodies.”
It continued: “Some students have said they are not using those spaces at all now. I’m going to be working with the University to try and sort this out and asking people about their experiences of Spotted.”
“The only thing I want to SPOT in the library is a feminist theory section,” Tabz joked.
The pages have become the ultimate forum for student procrastination since they were set up earlier in the year. They began as a way of people anonymously identifying attractive men and women in the library, but topics for discussion also include unusual items of clothing and appeals for lost or stolen goods.
However, the Spotted pages have come under fire in some quarters for facilitating misogynistic comments and objectifying women. One comment, posted on the ‘Spotted: University of Manchester Library’ page on 13 January, read: “To the soggy girl on Purple 3 with the oversized headphones, you have good pen sucking tekkers!”
University of Manchester student Naomi Ryder reacted positively to Ms O’Brien-Butcher’s pledge to tackle Spotted, commenting on her Facebook post: “I’m glad you’re doing this – I haven’t been in the library much at all this year because of those stupid pages! It makes doing my dissertation difficult!”
Fellow student Sophie Tee echoed her sentiments. “People should be able to work in peace. It is stupid, but it is also completely unacceptable and we should not tolerate it. If I was affected by this I would certainly be upset and protest against it, and I would hope other students would support me rather than shrugging their shoulders in indifference and telling me to ignore it.”
But not everyone agrees that the Spotted pages are a problem for women. “I can get how maybe one post out of like every 50 might be offensive… but I think it’s just a tiny bit melodramatic,” suggested Dentistry student Sarah Mason.
Back in January, ‘Spotted: University of Manchester Library’ was shut down following pressure from library staff. A spokesperson for the library told The Mancunion that they had acted upon complaints from students who said “they felt uncomfortable using the Library because of this site.”
However, the page was reinstated just a few days later.
Ms O’Brien-Butcher spoke to The Mancunion to explain why she is now taking action against the pages: “What this is about is tackling lewd sexual comments and spiteful attacks on the way people look that lead to students being scared to visit the library and affect the quality of their educational experience here at Manchester. Students shouldn’t have to avoid the library in case they are shamed on a Facebook page,” she argued.
“When students feel uncomfortable in their own learning spaces, there is a problem. I have had numerous complaints from students who do not feel they can use these spaces whilst Spotted still exists in its current form. I am the Women’s Officer and that’s why women students are coming to me but it doesn’t just affect them,” she continued.
“If you’re ‘too scruffy’ or ‘too smart’, ‘too fat’ or ‘too thin’ – basically if you don’t adhere to an anonymous student’s idea of what is acceptable – you are torn apart and laughed at. It’s bullying and there is no place for it in our institution.”
Ms O’Brien-Butcher was the only member of the current executive to stand for re-election in last week’s Students’ Union elections. She secured 1,236 votes to win a second term as Women’s Officer. Despite her opposition to Spotted, Tabz maintains that the pages could continue to run, albeit in a different form.
“The Spotted pages could absolutely exist in a way that doesn’t rely on surveillance tactics that are often offensive, intimidating and discriminatory to many students, and it is perfectly possible to have joke without them being at the expense of others,” she argued.
“The admins could run pages that are more responsible, that take into consideration zero tolerance to sexual harassment, and filter offensive discriminatory material including homophobic, racist and sexist comments.”
Yet those in charge of the Spotted pages in question were quick to reject claims that they had failed to act on instances of offensive language. “I think Tabz is a little late on the issue,” the anonymous owner of the pages told The Mancunion.
“We have noted the impact of such posts, and whilst we stress that these were from both men and women of the student body, we are doing more to analyse what goes on the page.”
“We encourage anyone offended or upset by this page to contact us via message – it’s all anonymous and it can serve to turf out the issue rather than blanket all the posts on this page as sexually objectifying (men) or women. Indeed, from the messages we receive, an insignificant fraction could be construed as containing sexual objectification.”