The Darker Side Of Freshers’ Week

High levels of socialising, alcohol consumption and teens living away from home for the first time, make university campuses the prime environments for the rise of lad culture. The freshers’ week influx of younger students high on the excitement of their newfound freedom creates even more space for the problem to exist. For most people, freshers’ week means awkward small talk with flatmates until you start drinking and immediately become best friends, joining as many clubs or societies as you can and grabbing whatever freebies are on offer in-between parties and club nights. It will probably be one of the best weeks of your life: the sense of independence combined with the friendly nature of a campus full of people looking for new social groups, plus the fact that it’s a week designed for nothing but partying, is amazing. But for a lot of people the experience is tainted with sexist comments or harassment on the dance floor.

‘Lad culture’ is a term that is becoming well known in reference to the fact that misogynistic behaviour in young men has become an ingrained part of society. Last year The Guardian published statistics showing that around 40% of female students experienced ‘unwanted groping or touching’ as well as ‘unwanted comments about their body’ compared to 12% of male students. Two thirds of female students claimed to have heard unwanted sexual comments being directed at fellow women and just under a third reported ‘gender-based verbal harassment’. The additional problem in freshers’ week is that new students get dragged into this sexist culture believing that it’s the right way to fit in and make friends or simply assuming that at university this behaviour is acceptable. This only increases bad experiences for women and people of other genders who feel intimidated or unsafe on their campus.

When I asked students to give quotations about their experiences of lad culture during freshers’ week I was horrified to receive even more responses than expected. Almost every girl I spoke to had something to say and it’s also not only women who have had these experiences.

“I was seen as bitchy and unfriendly because I didn’t laugh at sexist jokes and leering when I was meeting guys during freshers week.”

“During freshers’ I was consistently regarded to be a bit of a party pooper. The boys in my halls just thought I was a killjoy because I didn’t drink very much, I didn’t want to sleep with any of them and I didn’t laugh at their gross misogynistic jokes. It’s hard arriving at uni and wanting to make friends and be seen as a fun person but not wanting to compromise your principles.”

“Freshers and lad culture are definitely synonymous as people associate freshers’ week with sex. A lot of people are out there to pull, which means “lads” can get a bit out of control.”

“I would meet guys on a night out and have a really brilliant conversation with them but as soon as you go into the SU they try to get with you. It’s really frustrating because I honestly just want to make friends. My friends from home always say I’m really naive thinking that if a male talks to me on a night out that he’s interested in friendship.”

“Just the fact that around Freshers you’d hear the phrase ‘Fuck a Fresher’ floating around is bad enough!”

“ “c’mon, it’s Freshers’, you have to be after a hookup” I was more bothered about Intstagramming and the free T-shirts and pens to be honest!”

“In freshers’ week I was in the car with three guys and as we drove past the SU. There was a girl walking to the SU wearing a body-con dress and one of them said ‘look at that SLUT she’ll take anything she can get what a SLUT she’s just asking for the D in that dress’.”

The launch of projects like ‘Everyday Sexism’ and campaigns aiming to empower women like ‘This Girl Can’ have been received positively and seem to be having an impact on raising awareness of sexist behaviour. However, as the term ‘lad culture’ suggests, gender based harassment is such a major part of our culture that it’s an incredibly tough job to tackle it and the same goes for student based campaigns. Despite campaigns like the NUS ‘I Heart Consent’ initiative and universities training their SU security staff in exactly how to handle complaints of sexual harassment, the problems remain. These projects have definitely raised awareness of the fact that firstly, lad culture and rape culture exist, and secondly that they are an important issue and people deserve to feel safe when they go out. But as the experiences of this years’ freshers show, there is still a lot that needs to change.

(For the Huffington Post)