09/05/2013 13:53 BST | Updated 09/07/2013 06:12 BST

Leave Jelly Wrestling Alone, Cambridge Feminists


Jelly wrestling Photo: MASONS NEWS SERVICE

A 'jelly wrestling' event has been cancelled by Cambridge students after the Wyvern's drinking society received 1,176 signatures in protest against an event that was deemed "misogynistic" and "part of Lad Culture." The petition's author - Nina de Paula Hanika - believes the occasion has a significant role to play in the degradation and abuse of women.

As my mother is bound to tell you, I studied at Cambridge between 2006 and 2011. When I saw a photograph of two young women laughing in a paddling pool I was reminded of the members belonging to my college's drinking societies. Loud, sporty girls, capable of making their own decisions and drinking rowers under the table.

Traditionally, at Cambridge the respective male and female drinking societies will meet up on 'swaps' in pubs and restaurants in a format that means you are essentially on a date - with your friends as chaperones. I found drinking society 'lads' to be an acquired taste, but mostly sound and fury signifying nothing more sinister than a penchant for red trousers and port.

Despite my preference for floppy haired philosophers, I soon learned that there are no college colours for spotting men who hate women. Some of them wear striped blazers - some do not.

The petition objects to the wrestling on the grounds that it reinforces:

"..the idea that women are lesser, that they are only good for their bodies, and that in order to contribute socially they must be sexualised objects."

Putting aside the notion that a banter-wanker garden party is symbolic of society: I am not swayed by this subliminal theory and I find that garden-variety 'objectification' is a herd word used by women who can rarely recall the name of their last waitress...

If a person sees a woman arse-deep in jelly and regards her as subhuman because of it, then that business is on them. Dignity and degradation is not in the eye of the beholder, providing that everyone is consenting to be there. This is where feminism may point out that the issue is wider than individuals involved, but I cannot recall a significant imbalance of power at these events where men and women were friends, lovers and academic peers -living in each other's pockets.

My college, Trinity Hall, was a small one and if you saw a student in a bikini, it was highly likely that you had also seen her wearing pajamas as she flossed. You had probably met her brother and made her tea when she pulled an all-nighter. In communities, like student bodies, it takes more than nudity to cancel out a man's regard for a woman as a human being. There will be misogynists in any crowd but -newsflash- a true woman hater will dehumanise you no matter how you behave or what you wear. That is the nature of prejudice.

It could be argued that the wrestling is sexist because only women can 'compete.' It certainly is sexist if your idea of equality is symmetry. That said, every event in May Week is flooded by half-naked young men, covered in whipped cream, with spirit bottles taped to their wrists as fully-clothed women watch and sip Pimms. I'm also tickled by the petition's dismay that the wrestlers are being financially compensated - a sign that the women are a little savvier when it comes to the price of excess.


Not the stuff of headline heaven: most garden parties involve queuing for BBQ food. Author's photo

I'll be convinced that these 'objectification' debates don't hijack more important issues if students can gather the same support for a petition that asks why Dr Nicholas Hammond, who was found to have 1,100 images of child pornography and received a suspended sentence, is still employed by the university.

Perhaps I'm a little weary of Cambridge feminists because, like drinking societies, I find they embody a mob mentality that gets tiresome when they strain themselves getting outraged over a college's pole fitness class. The Students' Union's Women's Campaign can be applauded on their approach to sexual education, but I wish their campaigns didn't include an affiliation with Object and its discomfort with "the normalising of the porn and sex industries." It is a group known for lobbying against sex worker rights and for spreading incorrect data -particularly in regard to the fantasy that the Olympics would usher in an "explosion of prostitution." Also on the campaigns list is 'Smash Miss Contest' who "set off stink bombs [and] attack alarms" at beauty pageants, believing the harassment of women is the future.

Since graduating, feminism still feels like someone rescuing me from the patriarchy so that I may be told what to do by 'sisters' who need to get their opinions out of my knickers. The banning of jelly wrestling would bother me less if I didn't think it was symptomatic of a feminism that will fight for your right to choose until it no longer trusts you with that right.

A corner of Cambridge feminism I do recommend is Gender-Agenda whose writing includes a piece that settles the 'Can You Vajazzle And Be A Feminist?' debate - Answer: "My vajazzle is neither my freedom nor my chains." There's alsoan essay that could be a jelly wrestler's answer to those who link her outdoor sploshing with sexual violence:

"The fact that it has been suggested that I am putting myself in the place of a 'thing', object or dehumanising myself, is quite frankly insulting as it suggests that I have no will or understanding of the way the world works. I'm an educated woman; I know exactly what I am doing when I go out. I know that man buying me a drink has no interest in my personality, life story or what I'm studying. Yet I don't have any interest in him either, I'm just out having a good time and getting a free drink. To be honest, what business is it of yours anyway?"

You can tell me that you find jelly wrestling dated and tasteless, but don't expect me to believe the abuse of women is encouraged and built upon such wobbly foundations.

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