Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sexism in Freshers' Weeks

I have been busying myself with a little project recently, namely sending the following text out as a standard letter to all of the Universities on this list.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Following an article by Laura Bates published on www.independent.co.uk on 9th October 2012 I feel moved to write to ___________. This article was called 'Slut dropping' and 'Pimps and Hoes' - the sexual politics of freshers' week. It described appalling treatment of female students (often exceptionally vulnerable as they are experiencing their first time away from home) and ‘horrific normalisation of sexist attitudes’.

Most College and University prospectuses seem to follow the same standard format when it comes to representing student life: highlighting the cultural opportunities available and depicting students of all ages, genders and racial backgrounds lolling about on grassy slopes happily discussing books and articles. The reality for me and many of my peers is altogether different, especially during Freshers’ Week. With implied support from Student Unions free condoms, flyers about chlamydia alongside flyers enticing students to themed fancy dress nights at clubs inviting you to ‘Pop ya cherry!’ rain down like laminated confetti. (I appreciate the promotion of safe sex; I am merely underlining the dichotomy).

While mature minds may have the ability to take this in their stride and treat it as the crass consumerism and exploitation it is, I believe this can only have a detrimental impact on the youthful personalities of first year students which are, of course, still in development. The response Laura Bates received after the article’s publication indicated female students feel coerced to participate in demeaning, sexualising activities in an attempt to ‘fit in’. When invited to comment on a ‘pimps and hoes’ fancy dress theme for students in Liverpool, councillor for Allerton and Hunts Cross Rachael O’Byrne said the theme “perpetuates the objectification and exploitation of women”. The purpose of Universities is to educate against, not condone this type of behaviour and gender-stereotyping.

I’m not saying that students shouldn’t have fun. I’m not saying males and females shouldn’t be allowed to be promiscuous at University if that’s what they want to do. I am kindly imploring you to reconsider the lasting consequences of these Freshers’ Week themes and how they may set an example of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the future working and social lives of the students. We want to reduce the amount of sexual harassment cases in future workplaces. We want women to be valued for their minds. We want respect and equality for both sexes. I say ‘we’ because, I’m sure, as an esteemed establishment you share these values and will hopefully make appropriate adjustments to the social programmes available to your students. I am looking forward to receiving your thoughts on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

KM

I had to add the qualifying aside "(I appreciate the promotion of safe sex; I am merely underlining the dichotomy)" as I received a few replies from Universities emphatically justifying their proud stance on sexual health. They probably assumed I was a bewildered septuagenarian aghast at today's young ladies baring their ankles and shoulders.

Thanks to Naomi Gilmore for her proof-reading of the letter and very helpful editing.

So why did I decide to do this? I've been thinking about feminism a lot lately and discussing the concept and definition with friends. I've explained that I can't abide the sort of feminist that does little but complain. I thought I would try a pro-active approach, y'know, actual try to make a difference, instead of indulging in my day-to-day moans that some guy in a white van honked me.

The replies range from the suspicious and condescending to the utterly inspiring and heartwarming, and I intend to post most of them on this blog. Then hopefully any young student-to-be researching which University she would like to attend might stumble across them and can be better-informed regarding the nature of the atmosphere they can expect upon arrival - and indeed throughout the duration of their studies.