'Slut dropping' and 'Pimps and Hoes' - the sexual politics of freshers' week

Freshers' week is about getting to know new people, but must it include demeaning female students in the process?

Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project received a message from a student about to start her first year studying physics at Imperial College, London.

The message included a forwarded email, which she said had been sent by the Physics Society to all first year physics students. It read "Freshers' Lunch...This will be mainly a chance for you to scope out who's in your department and stake your claim early on the 1 in 5 girls."

For female students to be sent an email from a university society marking them out as sexual prey before they’d even started their course seemed extreme and inappropriate. But a few days later, we received another email, this time from a freshers' week volunteer. He wrote of his distress at the "horrific normalisation" of sexist attitudes and sexual pressure during the week’s festivities.

He described a group of excited male first-years who told him about “slut dropping”. The process, they explained, involves driving around town with friends in the early hours of the morning and offering a lift home to a young woman they deem a “slut” (usually a woman in a “post-club state”). After asking her address, they drive as fast and as far as possible in the opposite direction before forcing the woman out of the car and using a camera to film her “standing by the side of the road as they drive away”.  It’s difficult to know how widely this has occurred but the concept is reminiscent of a disturbing new trend of ‘slut-shaming’. On one occasion, the first-year added, it had taken the girl eight hours to get home. When asked how he knew, he explained that they were ‘friends’ on Facebook.

Another message came from a student distressed about the inclusion of a “Slag ‘n’ Drag” themed club night as part of the freshers’ week festivities at the University of York. The university’s student newspaper, Nouse, describes the event as “the one night of Freshers ‘…where a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it’”. It goes on to say that “the girls rock out in their best bra and French knicker combo [sic]”.

A quick Google search demonstrates that such events, where male students are given the opportunity to dress in a humorous way whilst girls are expected to dress sexually or arrive scantily clad, are far from rare fixtures on freshers’ week schedules. Themes range from ‘Tarts and Vicars’, ‘Rappers and Slappers’ and ‘Geeks and Sluts’ to ‘Golf pros and Tennis hoes’.

The Lancaster University Students’ Union website boasts an event entitled “Slut-droppers vs Moshers” and the Women’s Officer at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union wrote an open letter to complain to local club Carnage about a “Pimps and Hoes” themed night, which she said seemed to be “exclusively aimed at students”. This hasn’t stopped a “Pimps and Hoes” event being advertised on the University of Derby Student Union website, or the similarly inappropriately named “Cherry Popper presents…” event appearing on the University of Wolverhampton Students Union site, while Dundee University Students’ Union proudly announced its own “CEOs and Corporate Hoes” themed night.

Perhaps the intention is light-hearted. But it is sobering to consider that these fresh cohorts of new students, perhaps amongst them the CEOs of the future, both male and female, are being sent the message by their own universities that men are CEOs, Pros and Geeks – powerful, talented, intelligent, whilst women are condemned to derisive sexual valuation alone.

Meanwhile, female first-years at the University of Kent were “horrified” when their freshers’ week culminated in a show by a hypnotist who allegedly made them perform lap dances and told them “When you wake up, you will think he touched you up just now.”

When we asked about freshers’ week experiences on Twitter, responses came thick and fast:

“At our [Student Union]…girls had to suck the choc off a kit kat chunky placed between a blokes [sic] legs”.

“Contest where girls had to dance on stage. Most cheers win. Girls encouraged to take off items of clothing. No guy version.”

“I think sex acts are a big 'funny' thing at uni. My friend was asked to deep throat a hotdog for free drinks.”

One woman wrote to tell us that the sexual pursuit of female freshers was nicknamed “seal-clubbing” at her university, effectively highlighting the worrying dynamic of vulnerability added by the fact that many students are experiencing their first week away from home. Pressure to take part in sexual situations and ‘make a joke’ of serious issues impacts male students too, with one particularly disturbing report we received reading:

“Flatmate quit lacrosse team when given team 'rules' stating that members don't date - that was what rape was for.”

Another wrote: “men's hockey team had fancy dress party at Student Union bar. Theme was rape victims. So awful its [sic] unbelievable but its [sic] true”

A 2010 study conducted by the National Union of Students revealed that of a nationwide sample of 2000 female students, 14% had been seriously physically or sexually assaulted, 68% were subject to sexual harassment and nearly a quarter had experienced unwanted sexual contact whilst at university. Given the severity of these statistics, it might be time to try a new theme for freshers’ week.

Author’s note:  The third paragraph has been amended to clarify that there has only been one reported incident of 'slut-dropping'.

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