The London School of Economics, a leading UK university, launched an inquiry yesterday after its Men’s Rugby Club distributed a misogynist and homophobic freshers’ fair leaflet describing women as “slags”, “trollops” and “mingers”. The leaflet, distributed at the university’s freshers’ fair on Friday, encouraged prospective members to “pull a sloppy bird” on a night out, and referred to female “hockey, netball and rugby birds” as “beast-like women who play sport so they can come out with us on Wednesdays”. It was only when an image of the leaflet began spreading on Twitter that the university was prompted to launch its investigation.
Though it pains me to write this, I am by no means shocked, or even surprised by this behaviour. I, too, attended a top ten UK university, and spent four years growing increasingly irritated by the endemic sexism and rape culture that was widely accepted as an integral part of campus “banter”. On the few occasions I attended varsity rugby matches, the crowd would chant about the university’s bounty of “tits, fanny and rugby”. Yet, I was even more horrified by a term that was bandied around freely by scores of sportsmen to describe their nightclub ritual: “sharking”. This term referred principally to the practice of hunting “fresh meat” — preferably drunk female freshers – for sex. This behaviour is nothing short of predatory and reminiscent of Neanderthal hunter-gathers. This is not a case of casual gratuitous sex, but instead suggests women are prey; mere meat to satisfy the hungry jaws of primeval man. Furthermore, this predator versus prey dynamic hints at an attitude that sex is an act of violence against women akin to killing an animal for food, where ultimately men consume women.
A recent NUS survey showed that more than one third of female students (37 per cent) had experienced unwanted sexual advances at UK universities, and two thirds of students said they have seen fellow students endure unwelcome sexual comments. NUS President Toni Pearce, in response to these statistics, has urged UK universities to deal with ‘lad culture’, stating “these stats show that harassment is rife on campus, but we still keep hearing from universities that there is no fear, no intimidation, no problem — well this new research says otherwise.”
Sexism at UK universities is not just a cluster of isolated incidents, but a real and present issue that students face nationwide. We go to university to learn, to better ourselves, to progress, but we do not expect to be harassed, objectified and subjected to misogyny. It is disturbing that the future leaders of our country, future forces for change and future decision makers not only espouse misogyny and the objectification of women, but actively participate in it. If we view universities as microcosms of society, it is patently clear that sexism is a huge problem in UK society; a problem that requires urgent attention.
Some colleges at the University of Cambridge are hosting sexual consent workshops for freshers in their first term, and reports suggest that Oxford University has plans to do the same. I believe workshops and classes of this kind would make a considerable difference in the struggle against discrimination on campuses. On a larger scale, such workshops should be included in the curriculum for high school and sixth form sex education. Other than literacy and numeracy, I cannot think of a more fundamental and vital education than teaching the concept of consent and respect in schools. This is no longer a case of “banter”, but of human rights.