The more my Facebook newsfeed fills up with posts either about St Andrews, or shared by fellow St Andreans, the more I see articles or anonymous posts (or even straight up rants by friends) about various problems experienced here in Fife. These problems tend to be specific to either St Andrews or to university life, and they are sometimes even upsetting or worrying – questionable behaviour by rowdy groups on nights out, bad encounters with the locals (and vice versa), and some particularly prominent cases of cyber bullying/offensive online posting.
It can be quite disheartening to scroll through all of these articles and posts daily, particularly when they are about the place I live and really love. Simultaneously, the very well-publicised experiences of many young women in show business who have suffered at the hands of men in positions of power have also been extremely disheartening to hear about, because, whilst it is important that these things are discussed and the perpetrators brought to justice, it can be depressing to see so many horrific incidences revealed all at once.
There are, however, genuinely positive things that we should acknowledge in addition to this. On a personal level, I recently came to the realisation that my experiences of catcalling and being groped on nights out are far fewer in St Andrews than I am used to. I come from a large city with a reputation for rowdiness and even aggression, and I have experienced more cases of catcalling than I could possibly begin to count. I have been honked or wolf-whistled at whilst wearing my school uniform, whilst wearing a baggy jumper, jeans and no make up, and whilst all dressed up for a night out – I can clearly see that I do not get catcalled because of how I look (attractive, ugly, prudish or “slutty”) but rather because the offender has some desire to feel manly, to prove himself to his friends, or to compensate for something (or because he is drunk and disorderly). I have had cases where men have rolled down the windows of their car as they drive past so they can lean out and holler something meaningless or derogatory (“alright sweetheart” or “show us your tits” have both been used). The effect these incidents have on me (and I know I’m speaking for more than just myself here) is emotionally draining and often leaves me angry or terrified.
In St Andrews, however, I have not encountered this culture at all.
I’m sure it occurs, and I don’t wish to diminish others’ experiences of this, but I can confidently say that it does not happen nearly as often as back home. I have been honked at once, and there is a good chance that it was just someone I know attempting to say hi. Far too many of my friends (myself included) have suffered some form of physical invasion or assault on a night out here, which is deplorable and sad and should never happen, but again it is not at all on the same scale as in my home city. I feel safe walking home far later here than I ever have before, and I genuinely believe St Andrews should be proud. Our little town is filled with flaws, and bad things certainly happen here, but we also have so many reasons to love our uni town. Perhaps I am naïve, but I have never felt as respected or safe as a woman as I do here. We have a ways to go in terms of gender equality, but we have also come a long way too.