It’s odd even beginning to compare our dear, quaint St Andrews to the City of Sin. For each light-strung Eiffel Tower miniature or flamboyant casino lobby, we offer equal attractions in the form of a multitude of tartan shops, a crumbling cathedral and not to mention the 24-hour South Street Bakery Vending Machine.
But if you take a walk down Market Street late on a Saturday night during Golf Season, you’ll see a glimpse of what might connect us to the pulsing hub of Las Vegas: large groups of men roaming the streets in search of entertainment and distraction. Who needs sequined entertainers walking the strip when you have St. Andrews’s secret weapon – our Old Course. ‘The Home of Golf’ which boasts 45,000 rounds being played every year.
Let me preface this by clarifying a few things. I absolutely adore the golfers that I encounter here in my day to day life. Each time I see them, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be here, living everyday in a town that people travel far and work hard to experience. Many people in my hometown, family, friends – even my dentist – tell me either how special their golfing trips to St Andrews was, or how they wish they could go. However, in my time here I have noticed the unfortunate by-product of so many who come here to get away, the few who think this is their Las Vegas and what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…
Each of my friends who I’ve spoken to about this has come back with the same story: the harassment for the vast majority that they’ve experienced in St Andrews has been from out-of-town visitors; most of whom are groups of men out on the town after a day on the course. Whether this takes the form of catcalling, yelling, making rude comments to girls passing by, or in some cases reaching out and grabbing them, there is definitely a precedent. Friends of mine have been relentlessly heckled, both on the street and in the establishments open to the town. One of my friends, who was wearing baggy jeans and a turtleneck on a night out, heard that “red-heads are sluts, you know” along with other wording too graphic to repeat here. Out with my friends last year in a bar, we were approached by an older man from out of town who was here for golf with his mates. He asked us if we could all pair up with each of his friends and “just talk to them” – don’t worry, he told us, “they all had wives”. In addition to his obvious advances, we were made to feel like we were ‘part of the package’ of their boys’ holiday.
All they were doing that night was just staying in St Andrews.
To these people, the town is a place to escape whatever problems homelife is posing, to ‘relive their youth’, even when it comes at other’s expense. For them, above all, the town provides anonymity, for however they decide to use it, and students, primarily female, are the ones affected.
It’s ironic how for students, the town gives anything but anonymity. But for us this works to our advantage when our close-knit, sometimes even tribal, community jumps to our defense when someone tries to claim ownership over us, through objectification or harassment.
To us, St. Andrews represents a plethora of environments: it’s our place of study, our place to party; it’s where our best friends live, it’s the stage where all of our dramas, loves and tears are playing out during these brief four years. It’s where we’re all leaning, whether it’s political theory or how to share dish-duty. It is, hopefully, a safe place for us, where we’re stumbling around, trying to figure out how to begin our journey of independence and adulthood.
No matter who we share it with sometimes, it has been this way for over 400 years, and will continue to be so.