International Women's Day 2012: Estelle Hart, NUS Women's Officer, On Lad Culture At University

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International Women's Day 2012: Estelle Hart, NUS Women's Officer, On Lad Culture At University
International Women's Day 2012: Estelle Hart, NUS Women's Officer, On Lad Culture At University

"This lad culture is neither new nor unique to universities," sighs the women's officer for the NUS.

Despite Thursday marking International Women's Day (IWD), Estelle Hart, who represents females for the biggest students' union in the UK, says the country's gender values are still stuck in the nineties.

"This whole sexualisation of women is the same as it was 20 years ago. Women selling cars, women posing naked; nothing's changed," Hart says, in an interview with HuffPost UK.

Contrary to popular opinion, Hart insists universities are not "in a bubble".

"They reflect society around them," she says.

"Is there any surprise the amount of people in universities setting up websites like UniLad when overtime I walk into my local newsagents I'm confronted with rack upon rack of 'Lads mags' containing some of the most vile commentary on women."


NUS Women's Officer Estelle Hart says she finds lad's mags "vile"

In the wake of the UniLad saga, Hart's fears are incredibly real. "Lad culture is a worrying thing. it's very old fashioned ideas of femininity and masculinity and gender relations. It's concerning it is being dismissed as harmless fun or 'banter'.

"But if you don't understand that women are being oppressed and that we live in a patriarchal society - and actually, why would you, where would you learn that - of course you're not going to think it's serious."

"Feminism needs integrating into education but it is so concerning that the government is cutting funding for citizenship education. It seems really bizarre to me you can leave school and not know what feminism even means.

"People don't know there's a pay gap or there's a prevalence of domestic violence. It's an absolute scandal.

"I think if you learn about the Suffagettes why are you then not told in certain countries around the world women still don't have the right to vote? That women only got the right to vote 100 years ago and they still only make up 22% of MPs? Why are we only learning one side of history?"

According to the women's officer, many people, and students in particular, do not even realise IWD exists and the day does not have the profile it deserves.

"A lot of people have the attitude that IWD doesn't matter because legally women have equal rights. But the day isn't just about saying women aren't equal, it's about celebrating the achievements of women and it's disappointing that doesn't really happen. Women are treated differently, that's the whole point."

Feminism is still a "dirty word" Estelle continues. "Certain sections of the media have done a really good job in demonising feminism.

"There's still a stereotype of what feminism is, what it does; people didn't burn bras, that's not something that happened. Those sorts of views do have an impact, particularly on campuses.

Over the course of this week Hart and other NUS officials are visiting university campuses and speaking at events held by women's societies in order to "build a sisterhood".

"We do a lot around challenging perceptions over what it means to be a leader," Hart explains.

"One woman's definition of feminism may be different to mine but we're still working towards the same goals. It's important to realise feminism isn't an ideology, it's a movement.

"I think it's a really feminist issue to talk about the fact women can't go to a nightclub without having their night ruined by people harassing them. And some people might not even think about feminism but still think that's an issue"

Hart is determined to dispel the myths surrounding feminism, insisting it's not "about turning up to a meeting and recounting line for line your favourite passages of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman".

"It's about working together and not saying you have to have x, y and z politics to get involved in this campaign.

"It's about ensuring all women feel they have a place in any feminist campaigning."

Click to read David Cameron's blog How We're Tackling Violence Against Women: An Iceberg Under the Surface of Society.

Cherie Blair: Behind Every Successful Man is a Woman? Let's Reverse That Saying.

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