The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Spotted: Women’s Officer at war with popular Facebook page

– 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

By

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.

‘Spotted: University of Manchester Library’ has over 11,000 likes on Facebook, whilst a spin-off page, ‘Spotted: Alan Gilbert Learning Commons UOM,’ has garnered 1,391 likes at the time of writing.

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.”

  • Joe

    How is this a gender-specific problem?
    The cover photo alone is pretty obviously a man being objectified. God dammit Tabz. At least you’re tackling it, but tackle both sides of the issue. It’s hardly sexism.

    • Emily

      There’s a difference between having a picture of a person and objectifying someone or harrassing them through the page. Not to mention that both those guys clearly consented to have their pictures taken – it’s posed. The fact that women are so often called out as ‘bangable’ or ‘slutty’ is sexist. The page is sometimes funny, but sometimes it’s just downright objectionable. I’m glad to see the exec doing something to tackle this.

      • Dan

        Then the fact that many men are described in similar ways is also sexist. This is not gender specific, it is a widespread problem for both men and women.

      • Joe

        If you seriously cannot see what is wrong with that picture, and why it’s objectifying, I literally despair for you. You are the problem.

    • Tabz

      If you had read the article above you would see that I specifically said it affects all students:

      “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.”

      I also mention homophobic and racists comments which have been spotted on these pages.

      However, you only need to go on these pages to see how often women’s bodies are reffered to in sexual ord demeaning ways to see why only women have spoke out to the exec.

      • Pete

        Can you quantify “a LOT” please.

      • Joe

        Tabz, you said yourself, the reason only women have spoken out to the exec is quite probably because we only have a women’s officer. That strikes me as a no-brainer to be honest.

        If you’re going to impart sexism onto something like this, where everyone is targetted, people are going to stop listening. Don’t you think it delegitimises situations where things actually are targetted only against women?

        I mean, you’re using gender-neutral language after starting by talking about women but you don’t once then mention the word “men”. That’s not gender-neutral.

        • Lucy

          Joe, I think you’re making a common mistake here: thinking that because something affects both men and women, it can’t be sexist. It’s perfectly possible for this page to be sexist against both genders, in exactly the same way as if I said “Women can’t be athletes. Men can’t be nurses.” Both statements are sexist, and both stem from the same kinds of misconceptions about each gender’s skill set. Reducing someone to nothing more than their body / looks simply because they are one gender or another is sexist, pure and simple.

          Many people believe that because of the culture that we live in, which tends to both sexualise women and then blame them for being sexualised, it’s important to tackle objectification of women first and foremost. In general, there aren’t as many negative ideas surrounding sexualising men in culture and history (I’m not saying this is what Tabz thinks, I have no idea what her views on the issue are. I’m just pointing out that this is a reason some people might think it’s legitimate to focus more on how this affects women rather than men). Whether or not you agree with this, or think that we should tackle the problem from multiple angles, which seems to be what Tabz is trying to do, is entirely up to you. But it is sexism none the less.

          • Joe

            What? The whole problem was that Tabz was only raising an issue about the objectification of women. She seems to be more concerned about all the victims rather than a specific subset now, which is great, and is probably going to get a lot more people on her side.
            What are you talking about?

  • Charley Veys

    Personally I’d be delighted to be deemed acceptable to feature on Spotted, don’t know what the fuss is about. Sounds like someone is makeing work for themselves. #typicalstudentexec

  • Parlo

    Spotted: futile lady with futile job seeks to make an issue out of so much nothing. #futile

    • Parlo

      although, thinking about it, considering she got rid of all street harassmen forevert with reclaim the night AND ended any problems with representation with a female majority exec there is pretty much no more problems for women in the world so it makes sense that now, having solved more or less all problems, she decides to go after the petty and insignificant details.

      • disqus_xeOlieKZNO

        @e83a2740c60f22278d23d4d9062d2342:disqus I think I’m in Love with you. :S

  • Alex Goldhill

    At the risk of coming across as an unfeeling sociopathic bastard, wouldn’t it just be easier for those who are offended by what is said on Spotted to just not use it and stop caring about what other people might be saying about them, instead of expending time and energy on this little moralistic crusade. I’m fairly sure that there are more important things to deal with than childish and immature people on the internet doing what childish and immature people on the internet inevitably do.

    • shay

      Actually, I don’t look at the Spotted pages but I still feel quite self conscious going in there, knowing that some people might be posting stuff about me on facbook. Men or women, it’s not right.

  • Stop Hating

    Please tell me she is joking.?!? Not everything in the world has to run around targetting women. This page certainly doesnt target women and is made for jokes and I doubt anyone even takes the posts that seriosuly!

    • Tabz

      Let’s just silence all the students that have complained about not feeling able to use their own learning spaces shall we.

      It’s not about not having fun. Library procrastination in the lead up todeadlines can be funny, and who didn’t go on a date with John Rylands? Whatthis 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.

      • James

        Ironic, over half of the people signed up to that Spotted page are women who obviously don’t care / aren’t as ridiculously dramatic and sexist as you..

      • Joe

        So, pretty much this. Let’s not pretend it’s directed at any one group in particular when it’s not. That causes more harm than good, and doesn’t solve the problem.

        • Tessa

          To sort all this out, perhaps we need a Gender Liberation Officer.

          I am a woman, and I recognise patriarchy, but I too agree that sometimes men suffer oppression which *some* women seem relatively unconcerned about. I have heard some feminists say outright that they hate men, and that when women are mean to men, or even (quite often) each other it is men’s fault.

          Perhaps sharing this makes me “un-feminist” or “not-feminist-enough” in some people’e eyes. Frankly, I don’t give a shit – I don’t need someone elses label to prove I care about freedom and equality for both genders, and indeed, for all people.

          Men also suffer from sexual harrassment, violence, prejudice and discrimination. Who do they turn to? Or should they just “man-up” because they are part of the patriarchy?

          • Tessa

            I think we should ditch the Diversity Officer and the Women’s Officer and have a:
            – Gender Liberation Officer (including women and LGBTQ)
            – BME Officer (including BME and International Students)
            – Mature Students Officer (including postgraudates and mature students)
            – Faith Relations Officer (self-explanatory)
            – Disability Officer (self-explanatory)

            • E

              How do you propose to pay for all those officers?

            • Tessa

              That’s for the union to figure out I guess. But it would mean better representation for everybody, which you can’t put a price on.

              You have to admit it’s a bit ineffectual expecting one person to do the “diversity” job, while women get a completely seperate officer, even though it also falls under the liberation category. It’s only fair.

              Perhaps we could also ditch Wellbeing as most people’s “well-being” is related to liberation issues anyway. Campaigns and Citizenship and Community can also be lumped together. And if need be, the General Sec could do the Education Officere role.

              Sorted! :D

  • Tabz
    • Tabz

      fantastic* (stupid autocorrect)

      • Colin

        A page fighting and recording sexism on campus, I never thought that as a feminist you would oppose that? Maybe because it wasn’t your idea?

        • sam

          Um, she’s promoting it, not opposing it! :)

    • rob

      Until they didn’t conform to your definition of sexism……

  • Meg

    I’m glad someone’s finally spoken up about this! The posts mad me feel like I couldn’t go in the library without being publicly judged for how I looked!

    • parlo

      grow up

  • Jimmypeglegs

    Seems a bit ironic considering you messaged the page twice asking them to promote your campaign. I guess feminism takes a backseat when you’re trying to get elected huh.

    • Tabz

      Just to clear this misinformation up, this statement is fundamentally untrue.

      I contacted the page around exam time to post the Safe Taxi Scheme details which ensures students can get home safely without any money, and would come in handy for all students working around the clock in the library and Reclaim the Night, a march against sexual harassment and sexual assault.

      The page posted neither.

      As I’ve said in the above article, I don’t have a problem with the page, I – and the students I am representing – have a problem with the content that is often discriminatory and sometimes just plain old mean.

      If anyone has any further questions, please feel free to email me at Tabz.obrien-butcher@manchester.ac.uk

  • yatu360

    Tabz away from facebook, its not in your jurisdiction! The internets a free world!

  • yatu360

    internet’s*

  • anon.

    should also do something about the security guard that work there at night patrolling the place, one really wasn’t very pleasant towards me.

  • Han

    Tabz is doing an important job attempting to tackle the issues that have been raised with her regarding the Spotted page. I completely agree with her and think it’s brilliant that she’s encouraging change on the page to make it less offensive TO ALL. Of course she is Women’s Officer so her job is to represent the women, especially those who are directly bringing up issues with the page to her, so isn’t it understandable that she’d be giving a voice to those women? She’s even gone beyond her role, being fair by mentioning that the issue with the page is much broader than just an issue of females being objectified. You may be the type of person who can just ignore the comments if they’re directed at you or you might not be self-conscious in the library/Ali G due to the page, however Tabz is giving a voice to those who do feel offended/uncomfortable with it.

  • James

    Tabz is the womens officer, if women have been complaining en masse then she has more than enough of a basis on which to pipe up (the existence of the role/the non-existence of a corresponding ‘mans officer’ or ‘gender liberation officer’ is another debate).
    Lets be honest, if a girl went onto spotted and said ‘oh that bloke across the room is fat and ugly, I bet he huffs like a troll in bed’ (and assuming I were fully aware that the said women is describing me) I would probably fall of my chair laughing and/or launch a counter prank of some sort. Thats why this is more of a womens problem! Generaly, women give more of a **** and are less able to deal with some of the near to the bone stuff that gets posted on that site.
    Conversly, I dont think that facebook is within the realms of the Union or the University to deal with. It is a group that people are free to join and leave, nobody makes you look at what is posted? If somebody offers to show you whats been posted, then one could politely refuse? Why are you on facebook in the library, arent you meant to be doing work? Also most of its for comic effect, male students will post this stuff for the shock value… I think were already losing the vaunted British sense of humour in this country as it is…
    Thus im largely neutral on the issue and I hope it goes away asap so we can deal with things that impact on the lives of all students, like accomodation fee rises etc.

  • disqus_xeOlieKZNO

    I think the important thing here is to QUANTIFY this this so called “Womens officer” who somehow feels as though she is speaking for “ALL” (key word) women when really its a couple of girls from some silly radical feminist group which no doubt this idiot is part of. Forget the fact that there are bigger issues in the world of work or academia which needs the attention of talented women to bring forward and discuss but no, not this bad ass. She somehow thinks people don’t realise the fame hungry nature and double standard “Please can you post about my election” which by the way is something I have no doubt she did and is now denying and jump on the bandwagon about what is being spoken about. Listen to me very carefully Tabitha O’ Brien Butcher. Your role is a very, very insignificant one. If I was to ask 10 000 girls on campus who you were the answer would be “I don’t know” don’t kid yourself into thinking you represent the MAJORITY of women when a few hundred friends of yours were literally begged to vote for you. I think it wise you move onto something a little more interesting. This page is here to stay. Freedom of speech all the way not when it suits your cause. Stop going for the scraps in a student newspaper and get over this sexism, objectification culture which feminists base their entire argument on. Its a bore. You are equal and you will get as much shit from the world as men do. First you want equal rights then you complain when you are judged. Any person in the world would be delighted to hear they are being recognised for their looks or mental capabilities. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. To be honest its only the girls or boys who don’t rather unfortunately attract any attention resort to such hard lines of “NOBODY SHOULD OBJECTIFY ME.” Are you serious. You are more out of touch with women and students than I thought. A girl or boy who is told looks good would be over the moon. By saying physical appearance is shallow and saying it shouldn’t matter what you are actually doing is ignoring Film, Media, Fashion, Art, the entire Design and Beauty Industry. You sound stupid and so far removed from what people have and will always care about. You arent some enlightened soul who is far to detached from the beauty industry, that red dyed har, inner kohl lined eyes fashion edgy haircut. YOU ARE PART OF IT. I sense deeper issues here and would strongly suggest any person who comes to you saying “MY LIFE IS OVER. SOMEONE SAID I HAD BAD HAIR ON SPOTTED! DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT TABZ DO SOMETHING!” should be dealt with the accordingly. Let me show you how to do your JOB. Firstly and most importantly you should ask them this “You want me to go and write an article about how bad you feel when someone comments on your hair. If it bothers you so much take care of it. Brush it. If such shallow thoughts don’t bother you what exactly is your argument aren’t you just highlighting to how much you care about others opinions based on your appearance? What do you think is going to happen to you when you start work or life in general its not bullying, just criticism?” 1. That person really doesn’t deserve to be in university if they cant handle the slightest bit of crtitcism which by the way will come in bucket loads the minute they leave this “unibubble” (I Coined that term), that I can assure you. 2. It probably wasn’t even you kid, stop thinking the world revolves around you. 3. The majority always matters more. Its about time you learnt that lesson, like the majority votes that elected YOU to become some sort of officer, the majority have also LIKED the spotted page and others like it. Its all about the figures. Stop boring people with your banal argument and put a for and against vote up and send it to every student. That will embarrass you enough when 15 people vote against and 10 000 vote for the page to stay. Cant wait to see the results. By the way, everything I have written above is not a rant. I carefully selected what you needed to hear and not what you wanted to hear. As goes for the lazy journalists (rather a glorified student who can string a couple of sentences together) who keeps giving you column inches. On this article I would write “Needs to work harder. 2/10” I have no intention of replying to your posts nor entering a conversation with somebody who focuses their energy so much on such a meaningless campaign. Really shows just how much you are doing for women eh! Lots of love, S. xxx (And who am I? That’s a secret I’ll never tell.) Now please go ahead and write another article on how I ended my essay with a Gossip Girl line. Maybe that will attract some more attention to your “cause” (Can you even call it that?). Ha!

  • Victoria Hockaday

    After voicing my opinion about these Facebook page’s amongst friends it was confirmed that many people feel anxious when using the library facilities due to these pages. So I went to meet Tabz to discuss the Facebook page’s with her as I was extremely uncomfortable about the principle of it all and wanted to know action was being taken. She was really understanding and has clearly given her greatest efforts to tackle the issue of harassment across the University’s social groups and is currently reviewing a Dignity at Study and Work policy which consists of zero tolerance to harassment. This girl should get more credit than she does and I want to thank her for her efforts. Those who think that online harassment is a minor issue, it really isn’t and affects people in different ways. You wouldn’t do it face to face in the library so why should it be acceptable to do it online? Anonymous sexual harassment doesn’t make it ok.