Tag Archives: objectification

We need to talk about sexism at UK universities

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.

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The Downing Street Catwalk: The Daily Mail’s heinously sexist coverage of Cameron’s ministerial reshuffle

This week got off to a great start, when the General Synod voted in favour female bishops; a landmark turning point that ends 20 years of division over the issue. Yesterday’s drastic ministerial reshuffle added momentum to this series of progressive steps towards gender equality, when the Prime Minister promoted 10 women to ministerial positions. Cameron described his new team as one which “reflects modern Britain”, and while there is still much work to be done to redress the lack of women at the top of the government, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Nonetheless, the Daily Mail’s coverage of the reshuffle took a turn for the retrogressive today, offering a fashion critique of the “new girls” on the Downing Street “catwalk”.

photo (8) o-DAILY-MAIL-570

 

The Mail was widely criticised today for its “heinously sexist” coverage, which made a mockery of the promotions, undermined the achievements of these women in favour of objectifying them, and judging them solely on sartorial merit.

Yet the sexism goes far deeper than objectification, its subtext reads “hey ladies, you may be in the Cabinet now, but we’ll never take you seriously. You’ll always be silly females to us. Go back to painting your nails, and looking pretty!”

Many slammed the newspaper’s coverage for its patent misogyny, choosing to report on image instead of policy.

More reassuring, however, was the mass ridicule and parody of the Mail’s spread. Highlighting the injustice at the lack of male MP fashion coverage, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg even went so far as to tweet his own catwalk outfit.

Faced with a barrage of criticism and ridicule, I sincerely hope that the Daily Mail will take heed of the backlash it has faced today. Yesterday’s reshuffle should have acted as an encouragement to young women considering a career in government. Instead, the Mail’s coverage conveyed a clear message contradicting this, and warning women that attitudes have not changed towards women. This is by no means the truth, but it is important to bear in mind the powerful influence held by the media. The public reaction to the Mail’s misogyny is comforting, and proves that men, and women, however high profile are calling out sexism and ridiculing those who engage in it. This is 2014, and we will not tolerate sexism.