When I think the words ‘sexual harassment’, I normally associate them with the occasional article in the newspaper or something prevalent in decades gone by. I don’t associate it with university.
That has changed. The National Union of Students (NUS) published a survey showing that 37% of the women and 12% of the men they interviewed stated that they had faced unwelcomed sexual advances at university. Most shockingly, two-thirds of students have experienced unwanted sexual comments with under a third stating that the harassment experienced is gender based.
On your doorstep
Looking at these results, it becomes clearer that, for students, sexual harassment is not this far-fetched idea. No, sexual harassment is on our doorstep, lurking in the queue for the student union nightclub, hovering over students as they choose their clothes in the morning and most disgustingly, embedded in today’s culture.
Many could choose the age old argument that many females are asking for it. Anyone on a night out in the big university towns will see that many girls wear next to nothing while the males get by with simple jeans and t-shirt. However, why should girls be in fear of some sort of harassment just because they want to wear a short skirt? A night out is a time to let your hair down, show yourself off when you haven’t just rolled out of bed for a lecture – many girls would dress up the same way to go out with girls with no intention of attracting males.
This is all begs the question: why is sexual harassment even in the university environment? The NUS suggest that this is down to the universities not having clear stances against this harassment as well as the growth in the lad culture within the UK. The lad culture has become more apparent in recent years, which essentially allows young males to be rewarded for exercising their masculinity by drinking copious amounts of alcohol, doing dares and most significantly, trying to have as many sexual partners as possible.
In a nutshell, these are the kind of guys who I roll my eyes at whenever they enter the lecture hall with their jeans showing far too much of their boxers than is really necessary for a 9am lecture.
This is supplemented by social media websites like ‘The LAD Bible’ or ‘Uni Lad’, all displaying this macho, masculine image that many male students feel they need to live up to. While there is also The LASS Bible, it featured memes of cute animals, swooning over actors and thinking about what to wear in the autumn – far from the sex, alcohol and dares on its counterpart.
It’s all great realising a serious issue and perhaps the reason behind it, however, nothing can be fixed from statistics and words alone. If the increasing lad culture is the cause of sexual harassment in UK universities, maybe we need to introduce and accept some different ideals. The lad culture harks back to a time when feminism seemed impossible. The idea of this all turning into reverse makes the equal rights women have achieved in the past seem like a waste of time. If it’s a wider issue that is at fault for sexual harassment, especially as this is happening to males as well, maybe we all need to take the time to think about how we are treating one another. When you’re young, there’s this bravo that you can behave how you want. However, we all need to take a step back sometimes and think about how a joke about a guy’s muscles or a comment on a girl’s cleavage could have potential to turn or be interpreted into something darker, even without realising.
Harassment as important as league tables.
Universities have a part to play in addition. These establishments need to set out clear codes of conduct on serious issues. In some ways, their lack of action is inadvertently promoting lad culture and the idea that sexual harassment is acceptable. Some universities are starting to realise this in recent years, with Bournemouth University banned the sale of ‘lad mags’ on campus. Sexual harassment is important as any league table, the damage on victims can affect their work and life at university. So, when university is described as a time for freedom, for independence and to be accepted for who you are – sexual harassment simply goes against all those principles.
I don’t want to live in a world where I’m at fear at being harassed, where putting on a short skirt in the morning makes me wonder if anyone will shout at me as I walk along the high street or if a guy in my lecture hall, who I haven’t ever spoken to, ever suddenly strikes up a conversation, mostly due to the amount of leg I may be exposing. I certainly don’t want to associate sexual harassment with university – would you?