In light of the recent scandal at Durham University, Samyukta Vidyashankar argues universities don’t do enough to punish “lad culture” in elite male students.
Durham University, a prominent British institution, is currently facing backlash from the “group chat scandal,” which revealed a series of misogynistic and sexist comments believed to have been made by a bunch of incoming freshers. It has been claimed that members of the group chat made multiple comments discussing a competition based on which of them could sleep with the poorest girl on campus. The statement which was screenshotted and posted to a Facebook group to alert authorities and warn members was captioned: “Have I told you about the posh lads competing on fucking the poorest girl?”
Durham University quickly released a statement saying that they were opening an investigation by the disciplinary team, and if the posts were found attributable to any incoming freshers, serious action would be taken to ensure that those involved would have no place at the institution. It has since been confirmed that the perpetrators have had their positions at the university revoked. But does this really solve the problem? Does it actually do anything to prevent the misogynistic mindsets of such individuals?
Over the years rape culture has been overly desensitised, so far to the point where we casually throw it around in conversation without even realising the impact it might have on some individuals. In reply to the above situation, one student commented: “Consent is a very blurred concept at Durham.” But this doesn’t stand true to just Durham University. After having a chat with some of my fellow classmates, it has become clear to me that it’s impossible to go on a night out even here in Glasgow without being groped. If you think about it, common student drinking games often come with an element of sexual aggression, and are often deemed essential at any gaff or society social. These games feed off of peer pressure and a fear of humiliation, and students are therefore sometimes obligated to partake in certain “traditions” just to fit in. The incident at Durham seems yet another example of this kind of student lad culture.
A much older, but still very predominant example are elite dining clubs such as the one the film Riot Club was based on. These clubs only host a small minority of wealthy, male students and promote ludicrous behavior. Think Bullingdon club: having sex workers present and working at dinners, trashing property, and simply throwing cash at the owners - and yes, that David Cameron pig incident. These clubs, which offer a stereotypical depiction of old Etonians at Oxford or Cambridge, may be synonymous with extreme glorified elitist behavior, but their members have rarely been handed any punishment from their actions and have gone on to have influential careers - the most influential in our society. Oxford’s Bullingdon Club has given us not one but two prime ministers: the aforementioned piggy fiddler, and our current bumbling bigot, Boris.
Social structure plays a key role in incidents of sexual assault, often involving people who hold positions of great power - especially in universities. It’s absolutely terrifying to see the average straight White male get away with such heinous acts. Case in point: the Stanford sexual assault case involving Brock Turner. He was found guilty of three felony charges in 2016, one of which included sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. He was very conveniently let off with a six month sentence, of which he served half. The way in which this case was handled, raised multiple questions about the privileged White males and their reputation for committing horrific acts and getting off scot-free, yet nothing seems to have changed.
I remember just after I graduated high school, I was informed that a couple of boys had commented on a girl’s legs, so it became mandatory for all the girls to wear leggings with their uniform while no action was taken by the school authorities to punish the boys. It is high time that schools, universities, and the legal system in general hold men accountable for their actions. The fact that individuals think that it’s okay to pass such horrific comments and not be penalised for it is nothing less than terrifying.
These internalised, misogynistic views need to change. Men need to start calling their mates out on their inappropriate behavior. Universities need to do more - kicking those freshers out was a start, but it isn’t enough. Most complaints of sexual harassment have been made through student led organisations which have been blatantly ignored by universities. There is absolutely no need to protect the male perpetrators for such behavior, serious action must be pursued in order to uproot this internal misogyny and classism.
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