It’s time for male students to stand up to sexism and harassment

In their first week of uni, young women are being made to feel like sexual prey, unsafe even on their own campus, says the Everyday Sexism Project’s LAURA BATES.

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Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project launched the #FreshersWeekSexism campaign, asking new students to report any experiences of sexism or harassment during their first week at university.

Why did we bother? Well, partly because incidents of sexism, harassment and assault experienced at university are one of the most commonly reported issues to our project website, and we visit universities up and down the countries every year and hear hundreds of similar stories. Here are just a few of the stories we’ve received this year:

“At the freshers fair there were women in knickers, vests and stilettos promoting SU events. Why? Are you trying to alienate female students by using female sexuality to promote your events? Are you trying to make your female students feel small, unappreciated and only valued as sexual commodities?

Why are we ‘making a fuss’ about issues like these? Because they have a huge impact on students’ personal safety and their enjoyment of what should be a fantastic first week at university:

“Last year’s Freshers’ Week, I got smacked in the face for refusing to give oral sex to a stranger in the street.”

“Uni campus during Fresher’s Week (my second or third day in my first year) a friend of a friend I’d been introduced to earlier put his hand up my skirt, inside my pants and tried to put his fingers inside of me, right in the middle of the dancefloor.”

Some young women are receiving the message, from their very first week at university, that they are seen as sexual prey, and that they are unsafe even on their own campus.

One club night in Cardiff was promoted with a poster that used a rape joke.

The victims aren’t just women, but men too – this is an issue for everybody. Incidents span a whole spectrum from sexism to harassment to serious assault. Nobody is suggesting that all male students are sexist or routinely behave in this way – these are the actions of a minority.

But men in this environment do have a unique opportunity to take positive action to change it. Call out sexism and harassment when you see it – challenge other guys and don’t let them get away with it. Freshers’ week should be fun for everyone – nobody’s first experience of university should be a gauntlet of potential assaults. And as one mother reported that her son was advised at his own fresher’s week, “Consent is really too low a bar. Hold out for enthusiasm”.

Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.