NUS Women’s Officer protests sexist student marketing.

// 18 September 2009

The National Union of Students’ Women’s Officer, Olivia Bailey, has written an open letter to BAM student marketing, who are promoting the Miss University GB beauty pageants and pushing for the distribution of lads’ mag FHM at freshers’ fairs:

We believe that Universities and Colleges should be spaces which are welcoming and inclusive for all. Beauty Pageants, like that run by Miss University GB, promote a narrow and exclusive view of women students, and contribute to a culture which values women by what they look like, and not by their character. Students’ unions take their equal opportunities policy very seriously, and, advertising a competition which seeks to divide students from each other based on sexist notions of the ‘perfect woman’ directly flouts those policies.

The distribution of FHM is equally concerning for similar reasons. Women are bombarded with images of the objectification and commodification of their bodies on a day to day basis – and education institutions should be a place where all women can feel free to be themselves. FHM and other lads mags normalise and encourage warped views on how women are supposed to look, and on how they are supposed to behave. Just as supporting beauty pageants promotes a narrow view of femininity, handing out FHM promotes a narrow view of masculinity and sends the message that the ‘average’ male student constructs his masculinity through the act of objectifying women. This is also clearly discriminatory to gay men.

You can read the full letter here and sign the statement of support here.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 18 September 2009 at 1:07 pm

Have added my name in support of this letter and I hope BAM student marketing change their policy with regards to promoting ‘beauty pageants’ and men’s pornographic magazines to students. Such a policy reinforces our now normalised culture of sexual commodification of women and how it negatively affects women in all spheres of life. The Fawcett Society have just published a report on Corporate Sexism and how the sex industry has infiltrated the workplace.

Such normalisation and acceptance of women as men’s dehumanised sexualised commodities directly reinforces women’s inequality and promotes a hostile environment for female students. Also not forgetting that widespread availability of men’s pornographic magazines such as Nuts and Loaded at university shops serves to promote blatant reduction of women as dehumanised beings.

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 18 September 2009 at 3:25 pm

Is an educational institution the place to be having a beauty pageant?

And if we want magazines with pictures of naked women (and men) could they at least be sold in sex shops and not normalised in ordinary newsagents or even worse in universities.

Colin // Posted 18 September 2009 at 11:18 pm

Depressing as this is, it’s nothing new. I remember when I was involved with my student union back in 1996, there were a few campuses where Loaded was given out as part of the fresher welcome packs.

Mercifully, our union didn’t get any. However, what we got instead were seperate packs for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. The ‘boy’ packs had copies of Viz inside, whilst the ‘girls’ got a copy of the short-lived ‘ladette’ mag Minx (anyone recall this?). Both sexes got a free bottle of Sub, which was an alcoholic cream soda (this was the height of alcopops’ popularity). It was vile stuff – once tasted, never forgotten!

polly // Posted 19 September 2009 at 8:42 am

I’m glad they added the last sentence, because I was just about to point out that it was deeply heteronormative as well.

Maxine // Posted 19 September 2009 at 7:54 pm

In my final year at Durham, a student society organised a widely-promoted lapdancing event to raise money for streetchildren in Brazil. Three years on, I remain baffled that someone with the intellectual capacity for a degree thought this was a sensible idea and found any suggestion of the reverse incomprehensible.

Qubit // Posted 20 September 2009 at 10:32 am

Last year at Freshers fair I was given a swimsuit calendar of some female undergrads at my uni. As I teach some of the undergrads (not sure if they were the ones in the calender didn’t pay enough attention) this seemed incredibly inappropriate. I’m not sure how it made new undergrads feel.

It was given out by a group of people hoping to set up a pole dancing society and the union later refused to ratify the society citing the calendars among other things as evidence against the societies claims it had no associations with pole dancing’s objectification of women.

I am not sure if it will happen again this year. I was certainly shocked by it and don’t think something similar would happen where I did my undergrad.

Colin // Posted 20 September 2009 at 4:56 pm

I honestly thought this kind of sexist stuff would have died out on uni campuses by now, but from what people are saying here, it seems to be getting worse.

I do often wonder if the kind of laddish mentality we were battling against back in the mid-90’s has “won” and become part of mainstream culture.

It really does depress me how many young, intelligent women in their late teens & early twenties seem to accept sexist behaviour in their male peers, and even find it charming and attractive. I know this isn’t the case for all of them by any means, but it does seem more common than it did when I was that age.

Liri // Posted 20 September 2009 at 6:49 pm

All student unions who use the BAM marketing agency for their sales have full veto rights to any (and indeed all) campaigns, promotions etc that are sent to them.

I really don’t see the point in targeting a commercial company who just exist to make money for student unions (and work on a commission basis). From my own experience, they don’t “push” for distribution – unions are completely free to say no and many do.

Maybe it might be worth the NUS lobbying *Unions* who choose (usually for financial reasons) not to say no to such campaigns instead of targeting a company who are already incredibly understanding of and sensitive to some Unions’ policy on such matters. Would be far more effective.

Jackie Bather // Posted 21 September 2009 at 11:05 am

Although Colin’s comment may have been well intentioned, as in:

“women in their late teens & early twenties seem to accept sexist behaviour in their male peers ”

but this remark perpetuates the myth that young women are the ‘gatekeepers’ for male behaviour.Women are not responsible for ghastly laddish conduct and the men need to get their house in order themselves. We are not their mothers ( although some of them think we are ). However, I do take the point that less acceptance of such grim conduct , on a very large scale, might compel young men to reconsider their behaviour and attitudes.That is, they would need to shape up…. or bugger off.

Anna // Posted 21 September 2009 at 12:29 pm

I’ve just started university and was flyered today by two women for an event sponsored by FHM and Nuts – just depressing really. Not going near the club that holds them; I’m also told by a postgrad to watch out for the students’ bar which is apparently covered in posters of half naked women. Grim.

Vivienne Offord // Posted 24 September 2010 at 12:24 am

This is really depressing and almost unbelievable. How shocking that in a university campus girls have to contend with naked pictures of women in bars, particularly when they are often in the majority. Surely the girls can all forcibly insist that they be taken down from the walls? This is no longer allowed in workplaces so surely such sexism should be banned. My friend, who’s daughter has just started freshers week at Kent Uni, is shocked that at the welcome ball is proudly advertising ‘showgirls’ at the event whatever that entails ( half naked women I expect). The girls it seems just have to put up with the fact that the advertising for the event is clearly marketed solely at the males at their expense.

Why is this sexism so prevalent at universities and aimed at impressionable young males?

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