Clara Heffernan shares her top tips for fighting sexism on campus.
University can be an exciting time in your life – meeting new people, discovering a different city and testing out your newfound independence; that is, until the infamous lad culture rears its ugly head, chiming in from across the table at your first pre-drinks. ‘Ah, so are you one of those Feminazis then?’. Before your eyes roll back into your head, take a few minutes to swot up on some ways to fight the power and stick it to the patriarchy on your way to becoming a thriving academic woman. To help you on your way, here are some things I keep in mind when I’m faced with lad culture at university.
- Stay True to Yourself
It’s not easy, but one of the most important things about fighting casual sexism is to stay strong in your principles. Never be afraid of being ‘that girl’ who doesn’t banter along with sexist jokes or offensive comments. In the first weeks of uni everyone is desperate to fit in, and maybe sharing a joke with someone seems like an easy way to make friends. But honestly, is that person cracking jokes about a woman’s ‘role in the kitchen’ really destined to be your best pal for life? Probably not. Don’t fake laugh for the sake of their ego; you’ll be better off just telling them to do one and making a mental note to avoid them forever.
- Speak up!
As daunting as it might seem, playing a more active role early on in your time at university will not only feel empowering but may encourage other women around you to do the same. Running for leadership roles such as president or treasurer of your halls or being a course rep is a great way to get to know people around you and improve your leadership skills. One of my regrets from last year is that I never took those opportunities because I was afraid of being perceived as bossy; I wish I’d known that there’s nothing wrong with a girl who enjoys being in charge.
- Support your Sisters
Being on your own for the first time can feel scary, but remember you are surrounded by thousands of other girls who might be feeling the same way. One of the best ways to fight everyday sexism during your time at university is to stay strong and support each other. See a girl looking uncomfortable when she’s by herself in the club? Step in and ask if she wants to head to the smoking area. You spot a girl sitting alone in your lecture? Go and have a chat about how you haven’t done any of the reading, or about how many times you got lost trying to find your way to the chemistry building. Female friendships are the strongest bonds I have formed in my time at university, and most of them stemmed from something as simple as a random conversation, so don’t be shy!
- The System Doesn’t Work, but You Still Can
It goes without saying that the system is not always in favour of women working to fight sexism on campus. A survey carried out by the campaign group Revolt Sexual Assault revealed that three in five students have been assaulted or harassed at university, yet only two per cent felt comfortable reporting the incident to their institution and were satisfied with how it was handled. Despite these figures, only two UK universities, Durham and Kent, are running compulsory consent classes in 2018. At times, it can feel futile trying to fight against a system that seems desperate to consistently sweep issues of sexism and rape culture under the rug. But it is important to stay motivated and do what we can wherever possible to improve things for future students. Write to your Student Union representatives, write to the Dean of your University, write to the Universities and Sciences Minister (the recently appointed MP Sam Gyimah). If writing isn’t your style, find out ways to take part in marches or get involved with women’s charities around you. Volunteer with Bristol Women’s Voice, a foundation dedicated to helping all women in Bristol suffering maternity discrimination, gender-based violence and political inequality. Or for Londoners, head along to the Black Girl Festival in London on the 27th of October, a showcase of the creativity of Black British Women. Get involved, be proactive and make a difference where you can!
Illustration by Mae Farrow.