Beth, women’s officer atUCLSU and ULU’s women’s officer Susuana photo: Oscar Webb

Tackling rape culture on campuses

Anna Rivers investigates how students are fighting against rape culture in the UK

A rape culture is a society whose ideology condones or trivialises sexual violence:the term originated during the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s, when campaigners were trying to raise awareness about sexual assault. This issue is no longer so taboo, but even now there are probably not many female students in the world who haven’t experienced some kind of sexual assault first hand. It varies in degrees and it varies in context, but it is everywhere and it affects everyone. Although it’s presented far too often by the media as a joke, it is a serious issue.

A video was posted recently by students at the University of Stirling, exposing a drunk hockey team’s misogynistic display on a public bus, a charming chant joking about groping and molesting women, incorporating such hilarious lines as “A lady came into the store one day, asking for some material … felt, she got.” Girls left the bus to try and get away from them.

University College London has joined 20 other universities in banning Robin Thicke’s controversial Blurred Lines. Warwick university has yet to do join universities such as Edinburgh, Leeds, and Brighton in a banning the song.

At an event last term at the Kasbah nightclub in Coventry, the presenter got two girls up on stage and tried to get them to stuff bananas down their throats; then, when one of them actually did so, she was hailed as ‘slut’ and ‘filthy bitch’ by the crowd. Warwick student Josie Throup denounced this scene in a letter to the owner of the Kasbah, stating: “You made them simulate a sexual act then proceeded to abuse them when they did what you wanted them to do.” The stage presenter has since been dismissed for sexual discrimination.

The stories are everywhere: an anonymous second year English and Creative Writing student described how “every guy in a club, they just want to get you to go home with them. They make the whole clubbing experience kind of scary.” When asked if she finds the attention flattering, she replied, “they could at least be classy enough to ask us for our numbers.” It’s not thatwomen don’t enjoy sex; it’s just that sexual abuse, harassment, coercion or intimidation is not the same as sexuality. As Josie Throup said so pertinently, “I like my sex how I like my coffee; without a hearty helping of sexism.”

This is not a phenomenon unique to club life, either: a recent Guardian survey states that one in ten women in Britain has been forced into having sex against her will. We are living in a world in which sexual assault, minor or otherwise,
has become a fact of life.

Kasbah nightclub advertises its Friday ‘Kinky’ night with the ‘i’ replaced with the figure of a posing naked woman. What more do we need to know about the image of women that the evening will be propagating? This is how rape culture develops: in the symbols and images we become accustomed to accepting. Pop culture has a lot to answer for – we are bombarded with images of highly  sexualised women: underwear models and sci-fi heroines in Lycra. Women are conditioned not to value themselves highly enough to say no – refusal is barely considered a right. Far too frequently the word “no” is interpreted as a joke, a game, and consequently ignored.

The whole point is we’re all different: we all want different things out of life and should be able to choose them for ourselves, without being crushed by a culture constantly warning us not to get to that point where men won’t want us anymore.

The recent No More Page Three campaign has been taking the university world by storm. In the forty-
three years since its initiation, Page Three has traditionally been the magazine page with a woman’s breasts plastered across it which is meant to be somehow liberating. The argument goes that this helps women to be more confident with their bodies and their sexuality, but the effect is to reinforce this idea of a woman as first and foremost a cute and mindless doll for male
enjoyment. Men do not buy these magazines and look at these women’s chests for the sake of admiring their courageous feminist statement. This page at the most basic level employs the frozen image of a woman posing, silently, in order to please and draw in a male readership. The woman on Page Three of the Sun is an objectified body, and seen as nothing more, rather than a person.

26 UK universities have banned the selling of the Sun magazine on campus in reaction against the Page Three phenomenon, and it has also generated massive student protests and debates in Nottingham, Leeds and Bath as well as Warwick. The response has been amazing but the battle to keep this pornographic image out of the pop culture world is not yet won. Right now Warwick students are petitioning to boycott sales of the Sun at Costcutter on campus.

Despite the massive differences between the Dark Ages and now in terms of culture and mindset, our societies still share, at the fundamental level, that Medieval notion of women being little more than bodies. Now cultural forces like advertising and the movie industry are pumping up this same idea: nobody is putting the picture of a naked woman on a billboard for any other reason than that she looks physically alluring enough to sell their product. As that image becomes normalised, it becomes objectified and degraded. This image becomes the ‘woman’ of our society. If women are constantly portrayed by the media as sexual objects, eventually that is how they will come to be seen.

Movements like the Page Three campaign and voices speaking out against incidents such as the Kasbah events are the only way our society is going to properly stigmatise rape culture and move out of this supressed, but very present discriminatory rut. Women are human beings and have the right to choose. A culture that diminishes that right in any way, openly or via the more subtle vehicles of ideology, is a culture gone wrong, and it is the responsibility of everyone within that culture to fight to repair


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