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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
voicesBryony Beynon: This is something every woman can relate to
Arts and Entertainment
film

News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is reported to be in final negotiations to play Doctor Strange for Marvel although the casting has not yet been confirmed
film
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Life and Style
fashion

World Beard and Moustache Championships held last week

News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Copycat culture: the Chateau Zhang Laffitte in China, top, and the building which inspired it, in Paris, bottom
architectureReplicas of Western landmarks are springing up in unlikely places
Sport
Rolando Aarons watches as his effort finds the corner of the Manchester City goal to give Newcastle the lead
footballManchester City 0 Newcastle 2: Holders crash out on home turf
News
i100
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

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Maths Teacher - Saffro...

Chemistry Teacher - Top School in Malaysia - January Start

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain