Freshers week is a fantastic way to ease new students into academic life. Lectures and seminars are a seemingly distant doom seen through the haze of a week long hangover and there are plenty of new activities to try your hand at. Quidditch, anyone? Despite all this, Freshers week does have an incredibly dark side. No matter where you go, if you attend a university there is no escape from the overwhelmingly present ‘lad’ culture. This culture, with a delightful range of derogatory attitudes to women has become so intrinsic to the university experience that even the institutions themselves seem to understand the need for such endorsed nights out as ‘Rappers and Slappers’.
For most eighteen year old women, coming to university is their first foray out of the comfortable bubble of their hometowns and instead of being met with a celebration of knowledge, it’s all geeks and sluts, pimps and hoes and latex nurse outfits. From the outset we find ourselves on a road paved with inequality. We can spend many years training to become a nurse but that’s nothing if you can’t do latex justice. By far the most upsetting and disheartening element of it all is that we are supposed to just accept it. It’s just a bit of fun. It’s banter. Why are you being a bitch? From the very moment I was handed my itinerary for my first week of events I was told that it was completely okay for any profession of mine to be sexualised, much like it is on Halloween.
Whether it has filtered across the Atlantic or is a remnant of the roots of our once male dominated institutions, this valorising of the masculine is exceedingly prevalent in universities today. It involves a lot of dick swinging contests, drinking and sex. It also, unfortunately, involves the kind of attitude that leads to demeaning women for sport. This was the second encounter I had with sexism within the first few days of my stay in halls. Each hall has freshers reps that are appointed by the previous year’s reps to show us round and make everyone feel not so much like a small fish in a very large pond. In order to win the title of rep they must undertake pledges to be deemed worthy. These tasks varied and were soon revealed to us. All of the tasks were horrific, eating ‘mystery’ meals, passing a fish head to each other only using your mouth; however it was only the two female reps that did anything remotely sexual. I heard tales of semen shots, blowjob races and wet t-shirt contests. Naturally, these women were then the target of the male freshers in my year as they all saw them as ‘easy’ or ‘fair game’.
Steadily over my first year I lost all faith in men. I spent more and more time among my female or gay male friends because it meant I wasn’t exposed to this kind of casually accepted sexism. That is what angers me the most: it’s just accepted. I was in numerous situations when sexist ‘jokes’ where flying around and I’m, what? Supposed to laugh? Supposed to gratify your attempt at making yourself feel more socially accepted amongst your peers while my gender is being ridiculed? Luckily, I have found one of those rare straight men for a boyfriend that does not feel the need to degrade women in everyday conversation. I asked his opinion on the matter and he confirmed what I thought: that within the clandestine conversations of men, derogatory jokes or (my LEAST favourite term) ‘banter’ is commonplace and more than that, encouraged. The Twitter project @EverydaySexism is an overwhelmingly large display of the myriad shit that women have to deal with on an everyday basis. From catcalling to being ejaculated on in crowded public transport, it really covers all aspects of the beautiful rainbow that is sexism towards women. They recently started a campaign to openly contact universities on Twitter asking them what they are doing to combat sexism during freshers week.
It is refreshing to see some of the really positive responses from them, but that’s just the thing. I shouldn’t have to be refreshed by someone showing some interest in equality. This isn’t something we should have to fight for. We are not a progressive society if we are displaying our sexism so openly at our top educational and forward thinking institutes. I honestly believe that if the universities took a firm stance it would send a clear message that it is not okay, it is not something we just have to passively accept and it does not make you a bitch for standing up and saying against this behaviour. While it may take a while to sink into a culture of men seemingly so determined to fuck over women in every way possible, it would give that eighteen year old woman the reassurance that her institution supports her, and not the cretin making her feel any less than she is because she happens to possess a vagina.