September 25, 2013, by Tara de Cozar
#freshersweek sexism – what do you think?
Since it was published, Dr Bloomfield has received various responses. Megan Clark wrote a piece about her experience of sexism in her first week at university, and he published another piece refuting suggestions that women are to blame for this kind of treatment. As part of their general response to the issue, The University of Nottingham publicly stated on Twitter that “There’s no place for #FreshersWeekSexism here. Uni and UoN Student Union won’t tolerate it, neither should our students”, a stance which was recognised by the Everyday Sexism Project. The Student Union also reiterated their Zero Tolerance policy on harassment, and the new University of Nottingham Feminists group announced a campaign against sexism on campus. The series is still open, and Dr Bloomfield would love to hear from anyone wishing to write about their experiences, whether under their own name or a pseudonym.
I’ve been spending some of the last week in meetings with academics who are ridiculously excited about the prospect of another university year beginning. Jokes and attempts at cynicism aside, when autumn rolls round the anticipation on campus builds: we can’t wait to greet the new cohort and share a new year of exploring literature together. This is heightened by a nostalgia for our own time as students, remembering how thrillingly intense everything was in our freshers’ week. And in our first term. And in our first spring. In fact the whole business was pretty exciting.
Freshers’ week is a wonderful – and sometimes intimidating – blend of possibilities, a point from which almost any direction can be taken. There’s the crowds of new people to meet, the array of societies and clubs to sign up for, and of course the pubs and clubs. There are even some books around there somewhere, if you believe your tutors. One less enjoyable aspect of freshers’ week, however, is the frequent sexism which more and more people are calling attention to in the press. Laura Bates wrote in The Guardian today about the way many young women are treated in their first week at university, being faced with offensive posters, routine sexual harassment and “jokes” about rape.
I’ve written before about so-called lad culture in university, how it demeans both men and women, and how it often starts by leveraging people’s desire to fit into an exciting new environment. When the only club night on offer is themed “Geeks and Sluts”, or getting served at the bar involves running a gauntlet of sexist jibes, people are often understandably reluctant to cut themselves off from the social life of their newly-claimed university, even when they find aspects of it offensive. Female students shouldn’t have to make this bargain, accepting demeaning treatment in order to be accepted into the culture of their own institution.
After listening to students speaking out on Twitter about their anger over the way women are treated, I’m starting a blog series specifically to talk about sexism and misogyny in freshers’ week. The first post will come from Megan Clark, who has promised her thoughts (and possibly they will be ranty thoughts) about why this state of affairs cannot continue. I’d love to post pieces about people’s experiences of freshers’ week: how they found it, how they navigated the pressures, suggestions for how to improve the situation and any advice they might have for this year’s freshers. Who did you find it useful to talk to? What made you angry? What is being done to combat the problem? Please leave comments below, or if you’d like to write a post in this series, email me at: Jem.Bloomfield@nottingham.ac.uk