A degree in sexism

Going to university has made me a feminist, says Cherry Morris

, 14 November 2011

“Do you swallow?” Three tiny little words, so completely unexpected that it took me a while to register what had been said to me. The group around me was already erupting in laughter; the speaker, staring at me insolently, seemed to expect a reply. Unable to think of anything witty or even articulate to say, I simply shake my head in shock and turn away, the boys’ raucous laughter ringing in my ears. I had only sought to warn him that the cash machine that he was using had swallowed my card earlier that day. I was with a female friend; our group had walked a little way up the street away from us and we were alone.

It had never occurred to me that I might be a feminist

This, a chance encounter at a cashpoint late at night, sums up for me a year that has opened my eyes to the sexism still endemic even amongst the youngest (and therefore theoretically most ‘progressive’) and most educated members of our society.

University College.jpgYou see, last year I began studying at one of the top universities in the country, somewhere that prides itself on producing graduates destined for the most prestigious and important roles in the country; alumni enter the civil service, the BBC, top banks and advertising companies, taking on responsibility for our politics, our media and our money. Students here have achieved top grades in their A levels and are some of the brightest and most motivated young minds we have. So why, I am forced to ponder, do male students here still subject their female colleagues to such degrading and insulting sexist treatment?

Before university I led what you might call a sheltered existence; both my primary and secondary schools were single-sex, and I have had instilled into me ever since I can remember the importance of equality for men and women. I have heard the story of the suffragette movement, the Pankhurst sisters and how countless women sacrificed so much for my right to have a political voice.

I have learned about Margaret Thatcher and the equal opportunities reforms of the 1960s and ’70s; I have studied Top Girls and The Handmaid’s Tale, read Virginia Woolf and idolised Martha Gellhorn and Christina Lamb. To me, the battle of the sexes was an open and shut case; women should be equal to men, and we’re not there yet, but things are a lot better than they used to be, and no-one’s giving up any time soon. And it goes without saying that sexism and misogyny, in any form, are completely unacceptable.

Sexism no longer exists and women who claim that it does are simply whining about things that they do not understand and cannot change. I am being naïve in suggesting that complete equality is possible, and humourless in objecting to ‘women in the kitchen’ jokes, wet t-shirt competitions and strip clubs

These idealistic views were soon to mark me out among my new-found friends. I disliked it when my bum was pinched in a ‘playful’ manner, while other girls simply squealed and flapped. I was outraged to hear male friends make ‘women in the kitchen’ jokes, and angry when a guy in our year suggested to my friend (apparently as a joke) that she should not expect to achieve high grades because she is a girl.

I was uncomfortable hearing female friends casually describe acquaintances as ‘sluts’ because of how they dressed or behaved. Fairly early in the term I was being asked if I was a feminist on a regular basis; the question was posed usually in a casual, curious way, although once or twice it was accompanied by a disparaging tone and a disbelieving look, which made me feel like an unwitting relic from the ’80s.

My answer? I had never really thought about it; I had just assumed that everyone else thought the same as me. It had never occurred to me that I might be a feminist. The term felt extinct to me. I thought the values promoted by feminism were fully espoused by and integrated into society. Apparently not.

Bulletin board.jpgOn more than one occasion I have been advised to “lighten up” and “stop overreacting”, and it is true that the extreme reaction produced by a simple mutter of “inadequate women” by any member of the male sex has caused people to start being casually sexist in front of me in order to produce a response. The problem is twofold; firstly that I can’t seem to be able to control the effect it has on me. It is kneejerk. The second issue is that I don’t want to change my reaction. I don’t see why I should have to sit there fuming silently whilst my male friends nonchalantly abuse my gender.

Even tiny little things, such as filling my name out on an online booking form as ‘Ms’ as opposed to ‘Miss’, expressing exasperation at being surrounded by boys playing pranks all the time, or incredulity at the lack of female directors nominated for Oscars, are greeted by cries of “such a feminist!”

What’s more, I feel that this light-hearted verbal ‘banter’ is only a short step away from behaviour such as I experienced at the cashpoint, street harassment which can very quickly become thoroughly terrifying. I have been approached whilst walking home alone at night by a group of drunken male students. The most inebriated asked where I was going and when I replied “home”, wittily retorted, “There’s space for us all lads!” He then began to follow me, whispering drunkenly in my ear until he was pulled away rather sheepishly by one of his rather more sober friends. On another I was walking with a friend in broad daylight when a car slowed down beside us so that the passenger could lean out and slap my friend’s bottom.

Car windows have been wound down and indistinct calls bellowed at me. A friend walking to a social in fancy dress was followed a good distance down the road by a man in a car, who at one point pulled over in front of her in a side road; she told me quite casually how she had been afraid he would grab her, “But it was alright, because then he gave up and drove off.” All this in a small, quiet, supposedly extremely safe university town.

I’ve been greeted by reactions that could be described as variations on “what’s the point?’ Apparently my doing all this complaining about such trivial and irrelevant issues as sexual harassment, exploitation and stereotyping just creates a whole lot of hassle for people who actually don’t need to hear about it, thank you very much, as well as making me ‘too angry’ on too regular a basis. Well, I am angry. I am very angry, because things like the cut budget for Planned Parenthood, or the misogyny of music video culture, or the the victims of Dominque Strauss-Khan being slandered all over the mainstream press, make me really, really mad. What makes me madder though, is the indifference of many (not all) of my otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, liberal minded friends.

Why is this attitude so common? It seems to me to be partially down to complacency; views such as I had before coming here are endemic. To many, sexism no longer exists and women who claim that it does are simply whining about things that they do not understand and cannot change. I am being naïve in suggesting that complete equality is possible, and humourless in objecting to ‘women in the kitchen’ jokes, wet t-shirt competitions and strip clubs.

I feel like a spokesperson for women’s rights, compelled to do and say the right thing at all times because I represent the modern face of feminism

I should enjoy being honked at; it means I am attractive and obviously no harm is meant by it. I should enjoy having my bum pinched; it is a sign of affection. I should accept that my physical weakness in comparison to most men means that I cannot enjoy the same levels of freedom that they take for granted. My refusal to do these things marks me out as different, militant, angry.

As time has gone on, I have discovered that I am not quite as alone as I originally thought. There is a Women’s Collective which has been defunct for some time but is attempting to relaunch this year. The amount of interest it generates will be an interesting measure of the actual number of feminists hiding away on campus. Campaigning on International Women’s Day was an interesting experience; among the hordes of guys being obnoxious (“When’s International Men’s Day?”, “Get back in the kitchen!”) there were pockets of genuine interest. The SlutWalk movement at the beginning of this year also enabled me to connect with a friend over our shared values. I have been forcing everyone I know to read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, with some positive results. It seems that there is movement in the right direction.

Ribbons.jpgFeminism still seems to encompass my identity. Things I do or say are a representation not of me as a human being, or even a woman, but as a feminist; I am a case study of a dying breed, on show to be questioned and challenged and mocked. The books that I read, the websites I visit, my political and religious views; all are intractable with feminism. Even tiny little things, such as filling my name out on an online booking form as ‘Ms’ as opposed to ‘Miss’, expressing exasperation at being surrounded by boys playing pranks all the time, or incredulity at the lack of female directors nominated for Oscars, are greeted by cries of “such a feminist!”

This is grating, simplistic and slightly exhausting, and also makes me feel incredibly pressured to behave in a certain way. I feel like a spokesperson for women’s rights, compelled to do and say the right thing at all times because I represent the modern face of feminism. It’s scary, yes, but also exciting. I have a real chance to change a small group of people’s perceptions and attitudes, to make them consider a little more closely the way they talk and think about women. So I have to get it right.

This would be deeply terrifying and probably close to impossible had I not sought out sites such as this one in order to find some opinions in sympathy with mine. I am tired already of defending my views against sometimes quite hostile disagreement, but I feel empowered by the hundreds of writers and bloggers, male and female, that I have found on the internet, whose views chime exactly with mine and make me want to punch the air in triumph and relief that I am not old fashioned or alone. The struggle for equality is far from won, and if the most educated and intelligent of our young people persist in behaving like dirty old men, we may have a lot further to go than we imagine. I, for one, am not giving up any time soon.

Image of a university college, uploaded by Flickr user Lawrence OP. Image of a bulletin board (including a sign reading “DON’T RAPE”) uploaded by Flickr user orbz. Image of a male student reading a ribbon with a message about violence against women uploaded by Flickr user tom cochrane.

Cherry Morris is a student in her first year at a British university. She likes lavender, making collages and digital radio. She should probably do some work sometime soon

Comments From You

lil1 // Posted 15 November 2011 at 4:08 am

I see myself as a person, made painfully aware in my everyday life, of how the human rights of such a majority are routinely violated. I will never ever accept any label, including the label of ‘feminist’ for this. It suggests to me that I’m not an integrated part of the world I live in but a fringe faction, a school of thought. I’m not a faction, nor neccesarily feminine, the facts of my and others’ experience is not an ‘ism’ and the label assumes all of these. I don’t believe there are ‘levels’ of ‘feminism’ – or extremities – only differences in opinion on how misogyny and other abuses that stem from it are to be dealt with. It’s fine if other people want to term themselves as a ‘feminist’, I can’t stop them but I’m one of those people who just won’t tolerate being told what I am *by* someone else when being called out on all of their privilege. It feels deeply unhelpful as a term, especially by others who seek to pigeonhole the people challenging abuse, as a minority that can be dismissed with their fringe little opinions. If you take away the label, the slurrer is left with just someone else – another person calling them to account. I hope this makes sense.

Ellie // Posted 15 November 2011 at 12:42 pm

I really enjoyed reading your article, Cherry, and I wanted to comment to say that you are not alone! It may feel like you’re the only feminist in the college (it certainly did for me a lot of the time) but there is of course a whole community of us out there. I also experienced the difficulties you mention with feeling as though I need to be the face of modern feminism whilst at university. I often used to have to defend myself against several male friends who had strong argumentative skills and openly said “Please don’t judge the movement by my poor defence of it!” One aspect of my experience at an elite university which still shocks me is the evolutionary determinism many used to explain and justify perceived gender differences.

Good luck with your continued feministing!


sarahfogg // Posted 15 November 2011 at 3:15 pm

I really enjoyed your article, especially as I suspect you go to the university that my sister and two of my friends attended. I was shocked at all the casual ‘ironic sexism’ my sister picked up, just things as simple as saying ‘man up’ and calling people sluts. You know, the kind that’s done in a sort of ‘equality has been achieved so we can all joke around’ way.

I was one of those people who thought feminism was over until university (although the seed may have been planted by a mad English Lit teacher in 6th form, who I realise now was totally right about everything) but I was fortunate enough to go to art school, where there was a very healthy population of feminists. For me the really shocking thing was coming home for the Summer between second and third year, when I was really starting embrace all sorts of social equality movements, and suddenly being struck by the kind of opinions I heard my dad voice and realising what a toxic environment I’d grown up in! The internalised misogyny I had to get rid of was immense, and the less said about the racism and ableism the better!

I guess what I want to say is I think you’re doing a great job just by refusing to be quiet about this stuff, and you are not the only one in the offline world who is angry about the casual misogyny we wade through. I grew up believing that rape victims brought it on themselves and that maternity leave is an unreasonable demand, and it’s thanks to meeting people like you at university that I changed my mind. Not to mention the courage to stand my ground when family members make bigoted comments and I can’t let it slide. Your anger could be inspiring people already!

Kate Harris // Posted 15 November 2011 at 10:46 pm

I identify so much with this article. I’m a young woman studying in a supposedly safe city at a Russell Group university. But I think a lot of these experiences probably chime with A LOT of people. Thank you for writing it. Sisterhood etc

Anna // Posted 15 November 2011 at 11:28 pm

I was so pleased to read this post – I think one of the biggest questions we face is ‘what happened to feminism’? How did we lose our momentum and how can we get it back? WHY are so many women prepared to put up with all this, when there was a time when we didn’t have to? Things like removing hair and wearing make-up, small but symbolic issues, became optional for a while there, back in the early 80s, but instead of more women choosing to just be as they are, we’ve arrived at the virtual normalising of plastic surgery, especially to disguise ageing. I think part of it is down to whoever coined the phrases ‘politically correct’ and ‘post-feminism’ to dismiss any challenge to the divine rights of able-bodied, straight, white, middle-class men. Do we need to restart campaigns such as slapping ‘this ad degrades women’ stickers about the place, and having something akin to consciousness raising groups? For things to change we need to get the sisters back on board, and let’s not be too down-hearted – there have been loads of huge improvements since my younger days. When I was first married I couldn’t get contraception without my husband’s consent, there was no such crime as marital rape as consent was deemed to have been given in perpetuity, and virtually no public women’s voice at all.

sianandcrookedrib // Posted 16 November 2011 at 9:12 am

You are not alone!

My uni experience (2003-2006) wasn’t as bad as what you’re describing, but I was also in the same boat of being laughed at for being a feminist and my objections to sexism being undermined, not taken seriously…as well as exposure to some troubling sexism from my male and female friends.

Let alone the male bias on my course texts…

BUT i had amazing feminist tutors who really inpsired me to look at feminism and gender. And when I left university i discovered that i wasn’t the only feminist – i found the f word and me and women friends did ladyfest and 4 years on i’m running a busy feminist network.

it is hard when you feel like you are fighting a never ending battle and that your views are being mocked and derided; let alone the fact that you are being subjected to harassment and the threat of sexual assault. But keep going! Speaking out, talking, writing and refusing to be silenced are important.

Now i find so many of my old uni friends are feminists or pro feminist, and talk to me seriously about why we need feminism and how angry gender inequality makes them.

Which is great!

Rachael // Posted 16 November 2011 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for writing! You’re not alone. I studied physics at either the same university as you or a very similar one, and the guys were often incredibly, mind blowingly sexist. And a lot of the girls would giggle coyly and go along with it. Depressing…

There was one particularly horrible incident at my college where a ‘fox-hunting’ themed pub crawl was organised, where the girls dressed as ‘foxes’ (ho ho ho) and were pursued by boys dressed as huntsmen who had to catch up with the girls and tie themselves to one. When the college women’s officers sent an email round making it clear that this wasn’t an official college event and apologising to female students who had been made to feel uncomfortable by it’s inclusion in a college newsletter, there was widespread fury and outrage amongst the male students at their ‘banter’ being criticised. A college ‘bog sheet’ (an informal gossip newsletter) was produced which described the women’s officers as ‘bleeding-cunt liberals’ and feminazis – the writers of this were eventually disciplined by the dean, but general sympathies in college seemed to lie with them rather than with the women’s officers.

This was the moment when I realised that I was entirely out of place and generally unwelcome among the Oxbridge student body as a working class feminist, and I remained pretty uncomfortable around my male peers after this incident, knowing that most of them had been on the ‘fox-hunting’ side.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 16 November 2011 at 1:49 pm

Welcome to the real world – a world wherein men rule and men’s definition of women’s experiences are accepted as truths not misogyny.

Your experiences are misogyny and women-hating because men are terrified of any woman who is seen or perceived as deviating from her supposedly subordinate role and that is to massage men’s egos 24/7. Feminism is hated by male supremacy because it challenges men’s pseudo right to dominate and control women.

The mere fact this university produces graduates who will swiftly enter male dominated and male controlled professions such as the the Civil Service, BBC, corporate businesses does not mean this university is not immune to misogyny or continued male belief that the world is indeed run and owned by men for men’s benefit. Furthermore it will be males who will be the ones entering these white male professions not women because these professions continue to be male dominated. Only a token number of women will be accepted by the white male establishment and even fewer women will be allowed to climb the greasy pole. So this university is only concerned with perpetuating white men in suits and is not interested in challenging embedded misogyny and women-hating. After all men are not the targets and given only males are human therefore no human is being harmed by such degrading insults.

Feminists have had to fight long and hard to even have the term male sexual harassment acknowledged and accepted by our male supremacist system as male violence against women.

Reason why so many boys and men are engaging in misogyny and sexually harassing women is for two reasons. One is the fact women and girls are still viewed by male supremacist system and men as dehumanised beings so this means whenever a male/males subject a female to sexual harassment/verbal sexualised insults no human was harmed. We women are still viewed as ‘sex’ by men and therefore our only value in existing is to serve men and their needs 24/7.

The second reason why so many men and boys engage in sexually harassing women and girls is because they have learned as boy children that it is a male’s right to treat women and girls as dehumanised objects. Now where do these lessons emanate from? Just take a look at the malestream media and popular culture because we are bombarded with women-hating images and it is supposedly ‘cool’ for males to subject females to sexual harassment/sexualised insults.

Women and girls are constantly told that whenever a male(s) sexually harasses/sexually insults and/or treats them with contempt then the female should remain silent or else believe such insults are males method of praising females! But on the rare occasions when a male is subjected to ridicule because of his sex then we have hysterical claims made by men’s rights groups that they are being subjected to ‘sexism!’ Wrong – men cannot be subjected to sexism or even man-hating because such individual insults do not affect men’s socio-economic standing and power in comparison to women. Men are not routinely subjected to sexual harassment or have their views dismissed because they are male not female.

That is why feminism is hatred by men because we real feminists know the problem is male domination and male power over women. Challenging male power means feminists will not be popular or be awarded cookies from so-called superior males because we do not believe men are superior to women and furthermore we are holding men accountable for their women-hatred/male contempt for females.

That is why men target individual women because they know many women believe they are the only females who are routinely subjected to male sexual harassment/male sexualised insults and of course male supremacy does its utmost to perpetuate this lie. Male sexual harassment of women within public spaces is still not a crime and universities too condone/or turn a blind eye to deliberate male hatred/contempt for women. Only if the issue is one of racism or homophobia does the white male dominated establishment react and that is because racism and homophobia affect males. But male hatred/male contempt for women is specific because it is not directed at males and therefore according to male supremacy illogic misogyny/women-hating does not exist.

Equality – no we feminists do not want equality when it is defined by men for men’s benefit. We want the total eradication of male supremacist system and an end to male power over women. Nothing more nothing less and that sends shivers of fear down the spines of innumerable men and boys because they know their power will be curbed if we achieve this change. That is why so many men and boys engage in sexually harassing women and no it is not ‘sexism’ it is misogyny naked male misogyny being expressed and continuing to be denied by men because they claim to be the only ones capable of defining woman and her experiences.

Individual women cannot change men’s hatred/contempt for women but women working together as a group can and do challenge male power and that is why we have feminism. Women are not individuals we are the majority of the human race but male supremacy continues to claim women are ‘individuals’ and this perpetuates the lie that male power and male domination over women does not exist. Divide and conquer is male supremacy’s mantra wherein by keeping women divided and believing their experiences of male hatred/male contempt are committed by individual men ensures we do not examine how our male supremacist system is constructed and operates to maintain male power and male domination over all women.

Jopip // Posted 16 November 2011 at 2:20 pm

Great article. You’ve really managed to define how it feels to be a feminist surrounded by those who think it’s some kind of ironic or archaic reference. Keep standing up for what you believe in.

Curt // Posted 16 November 2011 at 4:08 pm

Great piece, showing that lots of “little” incidents of sexism happen every week, day, hour … It’s good to be reminded of this challenge, especially when much of the “debate” is about much more subtle kinds of sexism. It’s almost a desperate situation:

Peer evaluation is not objective: Academia and Law Firms

Nicola Taylor // Posted 17 November 2011 at 10:01 am

Oh THANK YOU for this article. You might as well be describing my experiences!

rose411 // Posted 17 November 2011 at 10:56 pm

(my first comment ever on the f word!!!) – not much to do about the above article but wanted to say that my first sense of feminism came from when I was at a store where I happily and rebelliously bought a yorkie bar! at around age 9 :)

Margaret // Posted 18 November 2011 at 5:47 pm

Great article. I attended a VERY liberal Liberal Arts college (one where they don’t have grades and there are LITERALLY drum circles in the common areas) and was struck by the extent to which the feminist perspective was ignored (it seems like some professors purposefully avoided feminist theory) and, when my fledgling feminist self expressed concern that a text we were reading came off as sexist (or, I realize now, male-centrist is probably a more apt term) I was met with incomprehension and even hostility. It still amazes me how little gender was considered in my studies. I has expected a higher education environment like that to be necessarily inclusive of considerations to gender, sexual orientation and race, but I was wrong. When the leaders of academia are STILL largely white, heterosexual men, I guess it makes sense.

Keep trying to educate your classmates. This may be a time in their life when they are more open to accepting different viewpoints. Kudos. (also, very well-written piece.)

Laura // Posted 18 November 2011 at 6:02 pm

I’ve had similar experiences. Having moved into halls at the start of this semester, I was on one hand shocked and on the other, not really, by some of the comments, attitudes and behaviours expressed not only by the new young male students by but their female colleagues. On a couple of occasions this has made me feel like poo, like the frumpy feminist in the corner, but then, as a slightly ‘older’ student, I’ve appreciated that if I had moved into halls when I was 17, I’d either have hated my early uni experience more or come out with different views.

evil_spice // Posted 18 November 2011 at 6:09 pm

How depressing. It’s just over a decade since I was in your position (and I suspect the same place, or possibly the other place!) and it sounds like attitudes have really regressed. Do people really still make a big deal about Ms versus Miss? This is the kind of thing which is drawing me back to feminism/womanism/the radical notion that women are people. I thought that by the time I was a grown up we’d all be acknowledging each other as equals, but it seems like we’re as far away as ever.

Great post, it is so reassuring to know there ARE other people out there thinking the same way.

Cherry Morris // Posted 18 November 2011 at 7:38 pm

All these comments have made me so so happy! I’m going to think of you lovely lot every time I get the roll-eye treatment in future :)

And Ms vs Miss still is a big deal unfortunately; as is changing your last name (I get told I’m ‘making a point’ ALL THE TIME when I say I don’t want to change mine..)

Ophelia // Posted 18 November 2011 at 7:46 pm

Thank you so much for writing this. I had a similar experience when I attended a similar university in the United States. Popular party themes included “CEOs and Corporate Hos” and “Models and Bottles” (aka the guys dressed up as Investment Bankers, and the women dressed up as the models who’d sleep with them for free booze). The flippancy of it, in a community that would be appalled if it was accused of sexism, really made my head spin. As most of the people involved in those parties have now gone on to start careers in consulting and finance, it really feels like these guys were playing out the roles that they believed we all belonged in.

Mary // Posted 18 November 2011 at 9:06 pm

Your experience in many ways resonates with mine. I had similar run-ins with fellow students at a very elite institution over a decade ago (particularly over the perenial complaint about it being unfair that there were ‘women’s officers’ and ‘women’s days’ etc. without the same for men). I also pursued – and won – a harassment case against a fellow student (it probably helped that I was a model student with high grades and he definitely wasn’t – I’m not sure I’d have fancied my chances if those tables had been turned). But I did find real and very affirming support from academic staff – and not just the women – many of whom saw the prevailing ‘laddish’ culture as a violent suppression of all sorts of creativity and interesting ideas and as an attack on the intellectualism they valued and were prepared to lay down a very clear line on what was and was not acceptable behaviour. You may find you have more allies than you think, and they may not be the obvious ones.

Rosie // Posted 18 November 2011 at 11:57 pm

Very true! I’m still at uni. One particular experience I had was in a criminal law lecture, I was sitting in the third row from the front. The lecturer was taking us through a particularly grisly murder case, and a male in the row in front of me yelled out “s**t” referring to the female defendant in the case. A large portion of the lecture laughed, including the lecturer! When I emailed her she said she didn’t hear it, which I am sure is simply not true.

miffyness // Posted 19 November 2011 at 3:17 pm

It makes me sad to see just how far the backlash has come. I went to university in the mid-90s with my feminism already firmly established, and I never had any qualms about saying I was a feminist or speaking out against the relatively few instances of sexism I encountered. That said, I was lucky enough to attend a former women’s college where men had only recently begun to be admitted, and my experience could have been very different if I’d gone somewhere else.

blackeyedbess // Posted 21 November 2011 at 8:31 pm

Thanks Cherry for a great article. I attended a similar uni to you (perhaps the same one from the sound of it) and was astonished at the cro-magnon attitudes I encountered. I had ignored the sexist pranks/jokes of the schoolboys I knew as I assumed they would grow up. How wrong I was. I have to say, among the worst culprits at uni were those chaps who had been to all male schools (often but not exclusively public schools, some of them the finest in the country). Apparently no woman had ever disagreed with them on anything, however minor, and any attempt to state any opinion whatsoever, rather than giggle and agree, was met with amusement, bemusement, or downright hostility. I hasten to add that there were plenty of men from similar backgrounds who were pretty ardent feminists, but based on those I knew well, that was because of feminist/egalitarian influences in their home life.

The party I went to where the women were told to turn up in fishnets and were all referred to all night by the generic name “Doris” particularly sticks in the mind. Yeah, I have to admit I went along with it at the time, because all my friends were going, but I felt pretty sick and annoyed with myself afterwards and learned that saying no to stupid events like that did not make me “boring”, “frigid”, etc.

I took courage from the number of successful female academics around me and did my best to fend off the stupidity until I graduated. Sad to say, the world of work presents its own challenges. All I can say is, every woman should trust her instincts about what is inappropriate sexism as opposed to innocent “banter” (god how I learned how to hate that word!!!) and never be afraid to speak out and/or carry on regardless. Keep going, girl.

Clodia // Posted 30 November 2011 at 4:35 pm

I really enjoyed your article, and don’t you give up pointing out unconscious ( or otherwise) misogyny to your peers.

What is somewhat chilling about your blog is that I could have written it, over 35 years ago! I too went to single sex schools where I was taught both in the overt and hidden curriculum that the sky was the limit for girls and women, and I too attended one of the older universities where we all had top grades and were expected to enter the professions or the world of finance. The fact that nothing has changed since 1975 is a sad indictment of the behaviour and often subliminal attitudes of some of even the most intelligent young adults.

hils // Posted 3 December 2011 at 12:23 pm

hey – its an interesting piece and i certainly sympathize with the experience, and agree with most of the sentiment. I struggle a little with the surprise at “brightest and most motivated” still being sexist, and the assumption that that’s who you find at elite(elitist?) institutions.

Its unsurprising to be me that elites are sexist, or for that matter homophobic, racist or bigotted in other ways. It been my experience that privilege doesn’t make you ‘better’ at these things, just as different class backgrounds, or levels of intelligence, or educational opportunity doesn’t make you less good at understanding, recognizing or countering oppressive behavior. Particularly not if its in your daily life.

A lot of people experience all of the gender, race, *class* oppression sooner. It often means they don’t get the right a-levels. Its a different sort of education that. It doesn’t mean your not motivated, intelligent or bright.

Finally – also surprised at the assumption of age. Young = progressive? When the statistics for violence, rape, domestic abuse, homophobic or racist attacks become part of your life, and have happened to people around you – as sadly happens the longer you’ve been around, a lot of folk get a deeper understanding of the stakes.

Again, I don’t mean to be unsupportive – just that maybe a wee check on the assumptions made about the world of academic and class elites.

candida74 // Posted 15 December 2011 at 1:53 pm

Finally found a place where I read views expressed by me, where people seem to have an understanding and are voicing as unacceptable how the world is violating women with banter, sexual idolatry and obvious misogyny thanks F-word I am finally home and this is where the journey starts!

Indie Ninja // Posted 15 December 2011 at 6:06 pm

Loved the article. I’m in my second year of university and although I’ve identified as a feminist since sixth form – a combination of reasons including a fiercely feminist mother and step-mother, two mad feminist English teachers and a best friend who, when I asked her if she was a feminist at the tender age of 14, replied, “Of course I am, I’m a woman with a brain cell!” – it’s taken the university experience to make me realise how strongly I feel and yes, how angry I am at the state of gender equality.

This Hallowe’en, I was walking home with my boyfriend when we went past a group of drunk student boys outside their house having a smoke. One of them was watching girls go by and asking his mates in turn, “Would you rape her? What about her? Which hole would you rape her in? Would you rape her in an alley or wait until you got her home?” He asked it of me, and I was too stunned to say anything. My boyfriend was silent, as were all his friends- even the more sober-seeming among them. Once we got home, I burst into tears, outraged and ashamed of how little power I felt I had over this boy and his disgusting attitude.

We should not be pressured into “calming down” or “lightening up”. There are a wealth of young women in the UK today who are not taking this as a joke – we are angry, and we have a right to be angry. It seems there’s been a rise in humour based on not just the degredation and dehumanisation of women but on violence against them. Men seem to have no qualms about referring to every other woman as “bitch” or making jokes about punching women in the face or the like. Unless women can be motivated to stand against this behaviour instead of accepting it or even laughing along with it in an attempt to be accepted by a misogynistic society, we will *never* achieve gender equality.

Women need to be reminded that we are under no obligation to be acceptable or inoffensive to men. We are under no obligation to laugh at their jokes, to accept their opinions, or to ignore their behaviour if we find it unacceptable. We do, however, have an obligation to ourselves to demand respect, fair treatment, and the right to defend our own dignity. If that means refusing to fit into a misogynist’s idea of a “perfect” woman, then all the better.

msjolly // Posted 10 January 2012 at 9:54 pm

this says everything i have ever felt about the increasing need for a feminism movement today – i want to share it with everyone i know! thank you so much.

hs // Posted 12 January 2012 at 12:48 pm

You have written such a powerful (and depressing) piece. I admire your courage.

have confidence in your abilities and thoughts, and intellect, and use these to combat such horrible sexism in your studies as well as your daily life. For me, one of the most important things was realising I was not alone. I went to University as a mature student, and thought that these were supposed to be enlightened places. finding friends and people to talk to, being there for other women – it’s a great way we can fight back, and gain strength!

you may also be interested to read a female academic on sexism in academia:


Alex Calvin // Posted 28 January 2012 at 11:02 am

As a man, I do feel that we are at a more equal time than ever. Looking back to only the sixties, we have come an awfully long way. While it is not perfect, it is still progress. Maybe you have had more than a little bit of bad luck with the men who you see and are around, but I know for a fact that most of the guys I know are not like this. I go to university and do a course with a female majority. We all get along, there is joking, and there are ‘sexist’ jokes back and forth, but these are just jokes.

Maybe I am being naive. All the same, I really enjoyed your piece.


Katherine // Posted 8 February 2012 at 6:32 pm

David Cameron belonged to the Bullingdon Club and that sort of attitude is still in some of the top universities today. I would go so far as to think that the “top” universities are worse than the “common” ones.

We definately do not have equality, even though we have come a long way. I don’t think that women should just accept the state we are in though, as if “it’s better now, so put up with it”. But women are as much to blame as men for the inequality. If some women want to walk around looking like Katie Price and enjoying the sexist jokes and attention, then it really isn’t helping equality.

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