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Laura Bates: why everyday sexism is a very real problem on UK campuses

Monday 01-12-2014 - 10:14

Laura Bates from the Everyday Sexism Project blogs for NUS as part of our #ReclaimYourCampus campaign. 

Trigger Warning: This post contains examples and discussion of sexual harassment and assault.

'Told that being groped/touched/having a crotch rubbed against you unwantedly is ‘a normal part of university nightlife’.'

'At a university rugby match and a girl was told by a guy 'shut up, your job is to get on your knees’.'

'Someone commenting on my university's FB Confessions page that girls who dress skimpily and get raped deserve no sympathy.'

'A first year at my university said ‘Nice arse love’ and his friend shouted ‘Weyy’.'

'Lad culture expressions like ‘knee deep in clunge’ are constantly used at university by several male peers.'

'I was recently followed by a man asking me to talk to him, where I lived, where I worked and why I was running away from him at my university. When I recounted the story to a group of my friends, they all said that it had happened to them before too, one woman even had a man remember her timetable and wait outside each of her classes for her to leave. This is, apparently, to be expected as a woman an educational institution.'

'In my second year at university, I was out in a bar with a couple friends and this guy kept squeezing my bum, at first I thought it was an accident and his hand was just in the wrong place as the bar was quite crowded, however after the third squeeze I turned round to tell him to keep his hands to himself, he of course proceeded to call me a bitch and ask why I was all dressed up if I didn’t want guys to touch me.'

Everyday Sexism Project entries

 

Sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault are very real problems on university campuses across the UK and around the world. They impact on students’ safety, their ability to reach their full academic potential, and their futures. They create ideas and attitudes about women that will be taken out into the wider world, in workplaces and relationships. They often intersect with other forms of prejudice on campus, such as homophobia, racism and more.

It shouldn’t have to be reiterated, because we’ve seen enough evidence and incidents to prove that we really need to tackle the problem head on. But there are still some who want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The above entries are just a tiny selection from several thousand sent to the Everyday Sexism Project by university students. They describe being harassed and made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe on campus. They talk about the impact this has on their experience of university, from making them change their schedule to avoid taking a particular route, to feeling unable to use the cafeteria or university library. Some have even dropped out as a result. At one university, young women described how some of their male peers set up an anonymously run Facebook page where they rated the appearance of female students in the canteen.

These are not isolated incidents. In the past couple of years alone, we’ve seen examples from a ‘Fresher’s Violation’ club night to students wearing ‘casual rape’ T-shirts, from games of ‘It’s not rape if…’ to chants about necrophilia and miscarriage. A poster at one university advertising Freshers’ week events showed a picture of a T-shirt reading: “I was raping a woman last night and she cried”. At another, an email encouraged students to “smash” the girls.

We have to take a united stand if we want to tackle this problem. NUS launched its Lad Culture Audit today, as part of #ReclaimYourCampus campaign, invite everybody to be part of the solution. NUS has worked tirelessly on this issue, bringing it to the fore where it had previously been swept under the carpet. We need to see higher education institutions stepping up to join them in taking real action on campus sexual harassment and assault. We need initiatives like zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment from Student Unions, many of which are already taking action. We need to see University administrations act clearly and decisively when incidents occur, but we also need them to take proactive steps to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

But most of all, we need a shift in university culture. (And indeed, a shift in societal norms more widely). We need every student to stand together in making sexual harassment and sexual violence absolutely unacceptable. We need to tackle the excuses made by calling it ‘banter’ and the normalisation of rape jokes. We need to stop telling victims to get over it, or stop making a fuss, or take it as a compliment. We need to stop blaming the victim, or asking what she was wearing or how much she had to drink. We need to focus on perpetrators and make it absolutely clear that their behaviour is unacceptable.

But none of these things can change unless everybody stands up. We have to do it now. And we can only do it together.

Want to learn more about Everyday Sexism Project's work? Follow them on twitter at @EverydaySexism and visit their website at www.everydaysexism.com.  

Sign our petition calling on institutions to tackle sexual violence against women now.

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