On Friday 15th November this article about sexism in British universities was published in the Guardian. The article documents a number of incidents that have taken place in recent weeks where female student have been subject to threats of rape and assault, all justified with the phrase ‘just banter’. For ‘educated’, ‘intelligent’ young men it seems raping women, treating them like objects, forcing them to miscarry are just all terribly funny and woe betide any woman who does not see the joke. The article reveals not only a lack of respect for women, but also a violent hatred.
The article filled me with rage. After I read it I shook with anger at these young men who are going to leave university, go off into privileged positions in the world of work, probably get married and even have daughters, all without ever realising that women are equally human to them and have just the same rights to enter universities, succeed in the world of work and have sex on their own terms. So many years after ‘women’s liberation’ how has it come to this?
Two things struck me after the reading the article. The first was that despite the fact a large number of the women academics I follow on twitter tweeted the article or made comments on it, not a single man did. Could they really not have seen it, even though it was about the industry they work in? Or was it just not important to them?
The second was about the responsibilities that we as academics have to combat sexism, racism and homophobia on campus. This made me think about someone I know who is a student at the moment. She told me that this term two of the three modules she is taking have NO readings from women on the reading lists – she is studying English and Film subjects with no shortage of women researchers. Two of her lecturers could think of NOTHING that women had contributed to their areas of study. That is so absurd and offensive. If women are treated like that and represented like that inside the classroom, of course they are going to be derided outside it. If male students see that their lecturers can overlook or despise the contribution of women to the important things that they study, why shouldn’t those same students think they can despise women in general? I’m not saying for a single minute that putting a few books by women on a reading list is going to solve the problem of sexism but a concerted effort by university staff to represent women and people of colour at all times as worthy of respect would at least be a start.