Having read the article in this week’s Guardian by Sally Williams entitled “Campus nightmare: female students on the rise of sexual harassment” I began to look at other article about gender inequality in the UK university system. I found another by Ms Williams from earlier this year called “Facebook’s ‘Spotted’ pages: everyday sexism in universities for all to see”. I felt obliged to make comment.
We are aware of the historical (and current) objectification, harassment and misogyny of women (No more Page 3), but these oppressive behaviours seem to be alive and kicking for female university students up and down the country.
I have spent the past thirty years working as a diversity practitioner. We all recognise that working environments have moved a long way towards gender equality, though recognise that there is still a way to go. Indeed, with regard to boardroom equality there may yet be a need to bring in quotas, as Lord Davies suggests, if public company boards to not achieve 25% women members by 2020.
With over forty years of gender diversity legislation, improvements are everywhere. In September one of the last bastions of men only space, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally voted to admit women. So why would misogyny be on the increase in our universities.
With a seventeen year old daughter about to enter the complexities of university application, comparing one against the other for courses, results and environment, I wonder should the level of misogyny also be part one of her assessment criteria.
Facebook allow (or at least do not prevent) university “spotted” sites from existing. It is on these pages that level of public objectification, overt sexism and humiliation can be seen. In the Guardian article there are several extreme quotes about sex and what the contributor would like to do to the object of their desire. Being inquisitive, I went to explore a Spotted page for myself and chose at random, the UCL Library Spotted Page. This is the text of the eighth post.
To the sexy medic brunette sat across from me…
I couldnt make out your full name but your surname is Bangham?!
I would bang you over and over again. Come on over, you can feel my hair and maybe something else*
The stud with the Afro xx
* In case I wasn’t explicit enough, I was in fact referring to my penis
This clearly does nothing for Ms Bangham, but neither does it do the writer any good, or for that matter, the high quality educational institution from where it emanates. What I found quite staggering is that the post has thirty-five “likes” from male and female students alike and several reinforcing comments too.
Perhaps I should also add that it’s not only comments from men about women on Spotted sites, but these seem to be the most humiliating.
How has our youth society dropped to this level of public sexism that in the workplace would clearly be considered illegal?
Sally Williams’ feature this week goes even further, describing pranks, practical jokes and initiation ceremonies that have no place in our higher education establishments or, for that matter, anywhere else.
I am not a prude, but cannot find any part of me to condone or accept the behaviours described in the articles. I wonder whether Facebook and the universities are themselves complicit by allowing the sites and the behaviour to continue.
Perhaps it’s time to take control and start campaigning against these Facebook pages. If your daughter or son is going to apply to university, why not check out the Spotted Pages from the institution they are applying to (easily found via Google or another search engine). Have a look and see what is going on. Amongst the many inane comments there is plenty of misogynistic harassment. If enough people report these sites for their content, eventually Facebook will have to respond.
I am fearful that the long term impact of this behaviour on young men and women will be a regressive step in the journey towards gender equality in the workplace. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s employees and managers. Hopefully they will leave their behaviours at their colleges and not take them into their future lives, potentially damaging forty years of gender equality work. If not, where will the glass ceiling be in twenty years – lower than it is, I suspect.
Perhaps it’s worth asking, what did you learn at your university?