Sexism rife in universities, warns NUS report

More than half of female students identify “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their universities, according to a survey by the National Union of Students.

March 8, 2013

The report, That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of lad culture in higher education, released on 8 March to coincide with International Women’s Day, found that nights out and sports teams were hotspots for  “lad culture”, defined as a “pack” mentality and the use of sexist, misogynist and homophobic “banter”.

Such behaviour could spill over into “sexual harassment and humiliation”, the NUS said. This included verbal harassment and “catcalling”, while groping in nightclubs was viewed by some as part of a “normal” night out.

Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable about misogynist jokes circulating in their friendship groups, and pressures to engage in profuse sexual relationships. Stories of sexual harassment and molestation were common, and there were also accounts of sexual violence.

The NUS has called on women and equalities minister Jo Swinson to convene a summit on lad culture. It is supported in its call by leading women’s organisations including the Everyday Sexism Project and Equality Challenge Unit.

In a letter to Ms Swinson, NUS women’s officer Kelley Temple wrote: “The study found a worrying prevalence of ‘lad culture’ and the report will make uncomfortable reading for many of us - NUS and students’ unions included - when it comes to our own responsibilities. Lad culture is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed.”

The findings were based on interviews and focus groups with 40 women students from England and Scotland, carried out by academics at the University of Sussex.

Quotes from respondents to the NUS survey on “lad culture”:

“In [the] first year there were definitely club nights which were advertising this image of slutty girls… trying to have this image of girls who are going to put out whatever, using them as bait for the guys to come.”

“I think that’s the misconception, that they’re these rough lads from rough backgrounds who have no respect for women, well they’re not, they’re everywhere, they’re in all parts of the country.”

“I do politics and history and within that there …is a slight focus on feminist theory. It’s always the time when the lad comes out. For example, if you try to make an announcement in [a lecture], everyone will immediately start shouting stuff… along the lines of being a ‘shit feminist’ or something.”

“We got them all to line up on the floor on their hands and knees and they just got pelted with eggs, flour, oil, water, washing up liquid, silly string, squirty cream by all the older girls, the girls who were [in the] second and third year. We made them do bobbing for apples in a thing of baked beans, cat food, Worcester sauce, chilli powder….I felt so uncomfortable but there’s nothing I could really do about it…I voiced opposition and it didn’t make a difference.”

“I was on a bus once…with a lot of lads…they started making quite horrific rape jokes and [there were] quite a lot of individual women on the bus and you could see that everyone on the bus was really uncomfortable… Someone made a particularly horrible one… and there was kind of like a mood change and one of the guys was like, ‘Don’t worry ladies none of us have been convicted yet!’”

“[Laddish behaviour] generally makes me not want to go certain places, [or] talk to lads I’m friends with on their own.”

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