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Everyday Sexism: Complacency Won't Serve Feminism

11/04/2014 14:57 BST | Updated 10/06/2014 10:59 BST

It appears to be a somewhat common belief that political or ideological movements have an endpoint. As if they factor onto a chronological timeline wherein the goals of said movement will eventually be achieved and we can all pat ourselves on the back, wipe our hands of it and look for something else to invest in.

Let's take feminism, for example. Feminism is something that has garnered - rather unfairly, I might add - a reputation for being 'almost there'. It's perceived like the hammer game in fairgrounds, wherein we've nearly reached our target and with one final push the contraption will light all the way up and we can finally sit back, ice cold beer in hand and gloat about how we're equal to men.

But I would contest it's not something with an end in sight. It might not compare to bygone eras when voting rights were absent, or a career was deemed unfathomable - and laughable. But feminism IS still an ongoing struggle and women - younger generations particularly, are experiencing sexism, perhaps in different forms, but just as frequently ever. And complacency, or worse still, ignorance around the matter won't serve anyone.

Recent events of a mainly anecdotal nature have centred on the courting tactics of young men at the University I attend. Far from being the chivalrous, if occasionally immature, men that I expected them to be, I found my fingertips enlivened in a textual fury by the sheer distastefulness of their dating strategies. The stories made men sound like mechanical robots driven only by desire and with little care for the feelings of the women they were targeting.

Having recently attended an International Women's Day protest and following the events occurring at the WOW conference at Southbank, I was overcome by an air of positivity surrounding the equality of women. There were accomplished, inspirational and eloquent women everywhere and hearing stories of struggle, of prejudice and of overcoming obstacles almost lulled me into the false sense of security that the degradation of women was disappearing.

With certain discoveries I was pulled brutally back down to earth.

In 2010 NUS published the 'Hidden Marks' report which produced the staggering statistic that 68 per cent of respondents had been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student.

New research published by NUS reveals that that 50 per cent of study participants identified "prevailing sexism, 'laddism' and a culture of harassment" at their universities. (http://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-calls-for-summit-on-lad-culture/)

This seems startlingly exemplified by the anecdote of a man who currently has 5 relationships - of varying intimacy - with women on the go and took to comparing them to players on a football team. Not only demonstrating that his attention to and appreciation for them is utterly devoid (most men can little care for one women at a time, let alone five) but also reducing them to their value as 'players' or the capabilities that they can provide for him. One phrase he chose to describe a woman was as the 'striker' because she always scores. Oh good, I'm being entirely summarised by the pleasure I can bring a man. Said no woman ever.

If that wasn't enough to despair in a gender that as women we so emotionally invest in, I then heard of a 'misogyny hour' that several of my male peers engage in, which operates much in the same form as tinder, but without the potential for reciprocation and therefore, our consent.

Essentially they visit the profile page of their female friends on Facebook and then rate them, or say what they'd like to do to them. Having a female friend describe me as a 'victim' of this practice, was not only insulting, but quite frankly frightening. That people I surround myself with and regularly converse with don't have the respect or courtesy to treat me as a person, but rather as a subject or a product they can rate is disgraceful. Secondly, that I was called a 'victim' of their Facebook rampages certainly doesn't allude to the benign nature of this behaviour and has me somewhat worried about the outcome of their opinions. If I was being victimised I certainly wouldn't put money on the fact I was being championed for all my achievements or characteristics, but rather upon my appearance as based on my latest profile picture choice.

Never had I felt more two-dimensional. Worse still, was that they called it 'misogyny hour', as if they were fully aware their conduct was sexist and ridiculous and were on some level doing it ironically, but chose to proceed anyway. As educated men, I really felt they should have known better. The fact that you might be doing it trivially, parodically or self-consciously doesn't negate the blatant truth that you are still demeaning and objectifying women.

Lastly, I heard another story of unfortunately typical 'UniLad' behaviour that involved aggressively pursuing a very attractive and intellectual young lady that had recently become single. It made her sound like a rare jewel that had come onto the market and caused men to engage in a bidding war to obtain their 'prize'. I suspected that they didn't especially care for the individual herself, but rather the glory of capturing her. Yes I'm making it sound all very animalistic and carnal and as if men don't possess a shred of conscience or redeeming courteousness. However, this ritualistic form of courting is one have I experienced myself and it does feel very predatory and competitive. It's not unusual to hear that guys at university go on a night out with the sole purpose of accumulating conquests, i.e. girls they've been fortunate enough to share a passionate (sweaty), alcohol-induced, encounter (slobfest) with.

I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by some great male friends. Ones that value my opinion, are polite and courteous and reassure me that the world isn't completely devoid of good-natured and kind gentlemen. However, that my social circles are also punctured by men that see women as something to pull, to measure, to calculate their worth to them, is honestly startling. Also that I wasn't able to see through a facade of respectability to this underlying and embedded, if ultimately 'banterful' form of misogyny also demonstrates how intrinsically it pervades university culture and by extension, culture in general.

Casual sexism just won't do. Even if it's meant trivially or playfully and there are no malicious intentions behind it. The fact that as young women we have to encounter it at all sets a dangerous precedent for our interactions with the opposite sex.