Lesson one: We're students, not slags

When Laura Bates wrote about sexism on campus, she expected a response, but not the tide of stories she got. She tells a few – and asks if things will change

"Rappers and Slappers", "Slag and Drag", and "CEOs and Corporate Hoes". They may sound like adult films, but these are the names of some of the university-affiliated freshers' week parties that undergraduates have been invited to attend on campuses and nightclubs across Britain.

When I chronicled the highly-sexualised freshers' week experiences that female students have reported to the Everyday Sexism Project in an article for Independent Voices last week, I expected a trickle of responses.

But I received a deluge of similar stories from hundreds of students – male and female – who are appalled by the macho culture that seems to set the tone of social life at UK universities.

Parties at which female students are pressured to dress in revealing or sexualised outfits appear increasingly common. To pick just one example, a woman described a freshers' week initiation for male rugby players: "All the rugby freshers had their trousers around their ankles and were standing in their boxers. They were encouraged to pick one of us to "grind" with them (gyrate against them). One guy grabbed me and pulled me on to the dance floor and then told me I had to grind on him or else he'd have to do a forfeit. When I refused he told me I was frigid and grabbed a different fresher."

Another reader, Sorrel Kinton said: "I attended one of these events and was turned away at the door for wearing normal clothing … I was told I could come in if I flashed."

The idea that students must choose to participate or risk being labelled "uptight" is a recurring theme. Nesrin Samli, who graduated from Liverpool University this summer, told The Independent, "it's very different for people who feel more shy or uncomfortable, because you don't have a choice – there were strict initiations and you had to do what everyone else did or you were just missed out."

Of course, students can choose to avoid such events altogether, and many universities offer a wider range of activities, from chill-out nights to afternoon teas. But there remains a strong sense of pressure to participate in the main events, as students experience the nerve-wracking process of finding their feet for the first time away from home. Samli says: "Even if you don't want to dress like that, it's a matter of whether you want to be part of the group and have friends."

Emma Carragher, vice president of the Cardiff University Women's Association, agrees: "There's a danger that new students feel pressured into taking part because 'everyone else is doing it' – if they want to take a stand against objectification they'll be seen as weird which is obviously not the first impression they want to make.

"More than that, these events … send the message to freshers that this is normal … The first year of university is where your political and ideological views are challenged and reformed, so universities should be striving to promote the idea that women are not objects rather than encouraging it."

A 2010 National Union of Students study revealed that 1 in 7 of the female students surveyed had been the victim of sexual assault or violence.

Yet several of the reports we have received reference "rape-victim themed" fancy dress parties and "banter" about sexual assault. One woman said that when she was at university two years ago, 15 members of a male-only drinking society were suspended when a "hit list" they had compiled of female students as sexual targets became public. Another wrote: "I the only girl in politics tutorial on feminism. No real discussion. Just jokes on women and kitchen. Including from the tutor." Another student showed us a copy of a poster she said was used to advertise unisex football trials at her university. The top half consisted entirely of a picture of a woman's breasts in a bra. Beneath, the text began: "Now I have your attention lads…"

Many would dismiss some of these incidents as harmless, or claim that themed events like "Pimps and Hoes" have little real impact on student welfare. But these reports suggest a disturbing culture of female students facing sexual objectification and demeaning labels, and the use of such names for official university and student union events sends a powerful message by implying the institutions' acceptance or approval of this culture.

The idea of complicity is of great importance here. From the number of reports we have recently seen emerging in the national press on the theme of sexual harassment in the workplace over the past 30 years – most notably the Jimmy Savile scandal – it has become clear how easily victims can feel oppressed by a culture of normalised acceptance within a large institution. Likewise, young students at a vulnerable life stage might be affected by the suggestion that certain attitudes towards women are condoned by their educational institutions. It should be the responsibility of all universities to behave proactively to eradicate any implication that they might support the sort of damaging, victim-blaming ideas associated with labels such as "slag", "hoe" and "slapper".

Case study: Geni, student

"One of the Freshers' events organised by our halls of residence was a "girls and guys" pub crawl. All the girls were encouraged to wear pink and dress "slutty".

"We also had to come up with a "slut name" which the older students encouraged us to write across our breasts. Upon arriving at each bar, one of the older students would shout out a word which was code for us to flash either our "tits" or our "arse" or dance in a seductive way in front of men in the pub.

"I didn't take part in this (or adopt a "slut name") and was told I was being too "uptight" and not "getting in to the spirit of freshers' week". The whole thing culminated in a competition with prizes. One prize was for the "slut" who collected the most ties from the guys and one for the "lad" who collected the most bras from the "sluts".

"I walked out on a scene of groups of drunk male students forcefully taking off the female students' bras."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor