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Leading women back 'That's What She Said' recommendations

Friday 8 March 2013 Women

New research published by NUS reveals that that 50 per cent of study participants identified "prevailing sexism, 'laddism' and a culture of harassment" at their universities. Below, leading women give their thoughts on the research.

Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, calls on the government and universities to tackle the normalisation of sexism on campuses, following the NUS research on ‘lad culture’:

‘It is important that the government and universities listen to what students are saying, and challenge any normalisation of sexism on university campuses. This isn’t about being killjoys, but about building a society where people can learn and thrive free from shame, harassment and abuse.

‘I think what we’re seeing is a crisis of masculinity, with a lot of our young men feeling lost, in terms of their roles in life. To me, this research reveals a glimpse of a world without respect, warmth or boundaries, and where groups of people are being marginalised and degraded.  We’ve got to question and understand how things have ended up like this.’

Laura Bates, The Everyday Sexism Project:

“The new research from the NUS confirms and reiterates themes that have arisen again and again across hundreds of young people's entries to the Everyday Sexism Project. Young women report being bullied, harassed and belittled, with sexual jokes and threats punctuating their experience of higher education.

From aggressive sexual advances by male peers who deride them for being 'frigid' and 'uptight' if they protest, to demeaning and objectifying commentary on websites like 'UniLad' and 'Student Confessions', the rise of 'lad culture' is having a very real and detrimental impact on the educational experiences of a great number of young women.

It is shocking to realise, in 2013, the high proportion of students who describe their time at university as marked by sexism and harassment and it is vital that this should be addressed. The term 'banter' is being widely used to disguise and excuse the harassment of female students and the belittling of sexual violence and rape. It enables a thuggish, pack behaviour whilst ridiculing and isolating those who dare to complain.

It is a mentality and a culture that demeans, objectifies and belittles women and specifically the female peers of the male students at whom it is targeted.

It sends a powerful and constant message to young people that perpetrators of sexual harassment, assault and rape are 'lads', achieving something to be praised and rewarded and crowed over, whilst reminding victims that they will not be taken seriously, and suggesting they are likely to be shamed and blamed for what has happened to them.

Not only is it taking a severe toll on the experiences of female students, some of whom have reported to the Everyday Sexism Project that they have left their university courses as a direct result, but it is also shaping the ideas and norms of the young people who will be our politicians, CEOs and decision makers in the very near future. When you recall the advice of websites like Uni Lad, that "85% of rape cases go unreported... that seems to be fairly good odds", the idea is a chilling one indeed."

Polly Williams, Senior Policy Adviser, Equality Challenge Unit said:

“This research That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of lad culture in higher education is a sobering read which raises important issues around gendered campus cultures and sexual harassment and violence against women in UK higher education.

“The report demonstrates that there is still work to be done by some institutions to create more inclusive and positive campus cultures in UK higher education institutions that are safe and welcoming for all students.

“A dominant ‘lad culture’ may also damage the student experience of many male students, who either feel that they have to conform, or become disengaged from campus life to avoid it.

“ECU’s 2012 research into patterns of male and female undergraduate engagement with academic and pastoral support services (Male students: engagement with academic and pastoral support services ) found that men are less likely to be aware of, or approach, support services. Improving male student engagement can make an important contribution towards creating a positive campus culture and student experience.

“ECU looks forward to working with NUS and institutions to develop recommendations and guidance for the sector on these important issues.”

 Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

"This is a useful study that contributes to our understanding of behaviour that can seriously undermine women and other minority groups, and how that can play out on campus in a way that ends up disadvantaging all students.

"Universities take the welfare of their students very seriously and have internal rules relating to student behaviour. Where students require support, there are a variety of services available, including welfare officers, advice centres and university counselling services.

"It is important to remember that this is an issue for society generally, not just one confined to university students."

Thats what she said

Download the full ‘That’s What She Said’ report here.