I was shocked when I recently read this article by Laura Bates in the Independent. I had read the original article by the same journalist in the previous week’s paper, which looked at the sexist and misogynist antics reported by numbers of students as taking place in Freshers’ Weeks at universities across the country, and that was shocking enough. This follow-up article made it clear that these were not isolated occurrences; Ms Bates was overwhelmed by the number of people who reported similar events – “a deluge of similar stories from hundreds of students”.
What have we done as a society to prepare our young people for university and for adulthood? Clearly not nearly enough if this is how they behave – rape-victim themed parties, events where flashing is a required, or women are pressured into taking off their tops and behaving for all the world as if their sole reason for existence was to be labelled as sexual objects. The argument that this is “just a bit of fun” does not wash in any way; under no circumstances can it ever be right to make fun of rape, for instance. Both men and women can be complicit in these activities; but so too are the universities themselves, who have a responsibility – the main responsibility for the next few years, in fact – for the education, both academic and social, of these particular students.
Universities need to sharpen up: as Laura Bates writes, “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.” Is this really how our universities want to be perceived? I suspect not – in fact, I know not. But they are being tarnished by the brush of misogyny. Just as university departments are now having to lay on remedial Maths lessons to cope with the results of grade inflation in our public examinations system, perhaps they need to lay on remedial social lessons to counter the relentless pressures in society that are undermining our drive as a civilisation towards a fairer, more respectful community. In any case, they have to be far, far tougher on students who act in such a way as to degrade women.
It is evident, of course, that we have done something right as a society if enough people feel uncomfortable about these sorts of events to be able to complain. At least we are no longer under the impression, as Jimmy Savile’s victims were – probably correctly – in the Seventies, namely that no-one would listen to them, believe them, or take them seriously. Now we just need to act on these complaints, and make sure we stop this kind of appalling behaviour for good.