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Tag : sexism


Silicon Valley is having to cope with yet more damaging allegations of harassment and sexism as a prominent engineer accuses her company of creating a hostile work environment that led to her resignation.

Julie Ann Horvath, who was a developer with GitHub, made the allegations public on Twitter and in an interview with technology blog TechCrunch over the weekend.

GitHub, which has raised $100 million in funding, said Sunday night that it would conduct an investigation into Horvath’s claims. The company also said it had placed a co-founder and an engineer on leave.

“I would like to personally apologize to Julie,” GitHub co-founder Chris Wanstrath wrote in the blog post. “It’s certain that there were things we could have done differently.”

Horvath responded on Twitter. “I’m glad it’s being addressed now, but don’t congratulate and praise an org that knew and refused to act for over a year,” she said.

She added: “Nothing will be resolved on my end until both of those men are asked to step down.”

GitHub is just the latest tech company accused of sexism. High-profile voices including Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have spoken up in recent years to urge the industry to make women feel welcome and supported in Silicon Valley.

The tech industry may be famous for its bravado about changing the world, but it lags behind other industries in its treatment of women, many of whom say they routinely confront sexism.

Horvath’s revelations came as a surprise because she had publicly promoted GitHub as a good place for women to work.

She joined the company in 2012 and headed up Passion Projects, a group that promotes the work of women developers.

But behind the scenes, Horvath told TechCrunch that she was subjected to a pattern of gender discrimination.

Her male colleagues judged her work based on her gender, she said. A male engineer whom she rejected romantically retaliated by removing lines of code from her projects, she said. She recalled male colleagues gawking at two female employees hula-hooping. And she said the wife of a co-founder harassed and intimidated her.

“Every employee deserves a safe work environment and to be respected by their peers,” Horvath said on Twitter.

Horvath did not respond to a request for comment. GitHub also did not respond.

“GitHub has grown incredibly fast over the past two years, bringing a new set of challenges,” Wanstrath said in the blog post. “Nearly a year ago we began a search for an experienced HR Lead and that person came on board in January 2014. We still have work to do. We know that.”


Once again, Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham’s mouth has landed him in hot water. The loose-lipped Silicon Valley power broker said some dumb stuff about women.

graham tweet

In an interview with The Information, Graham was asked about discrimination in the tech scene. Troves of evidence exist revealing sexism in tech exists, like this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference, as one example. But Valleywag highlighted Graham’s comments that show he doesn’t see sexism as a problem, and in fact thinks women are just naturally behind the hacking eightball. Graham now contends the whole thing is one big misunderstanding.

The Information’s Eric Newcomer asked whether Graham’s startup accelerator, Y-Combinator, discriminates against women, and his answer quickly became a defense of tech culture as a whole. Graham said his company does not discriminate, and that any gender imbalance can be explained by the fact that girls don’t start hacking at the same age boys do.

If someone was going to be really good at programming they would have found it on their own. Then if you go look at the bios of successful founders this is invariably the case, they were all hacking on computers at age 13. What that means is the problem is 10 years upstream of us. If we really wanted to fix this problem, what we would have to do is not encourage women to start startups now.

It’s already too late. What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that.

Later, Graham tried to explain that discrimination cannot exist because girls attend tech conferences too. Besides, the time thing. “We can’t make women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years,” he said, later in the interview.

The notion of limits on when and how one can start coding is astonishing. Coding is supposed to be the one thing anyone can learn and change their life with. What about all the homeless people? Silicon Valley is supposed to be where bootstraps pick themselves up by the bootstraps and change the world. But apparently that’s not an option for women because of they’re too busy not being on the computer at 13-years-old.

People were predictably outraged over Graham’s comments about girls not hacking for the last ten years. A storm is brewing. That these comments are coming from Graham, an extremely important and influential person in the tech world, is especially troubling. ”Here is a hacker hero—the figurehead behind Hacker News!—and he has no clue how to get girls to care about tech,” said Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku. But maybe they should not be surprising, considering this is the same guy who admitted discriminating against startup founders with foreign accents.

At one point Graham also said startups sometimes don’t hire people who did not start hacking until studying computer science in college. This, according to Graham, is why there’s some confusion. See, he meant to say “these women,” as in the ones who didn’t start hacking until college:

 

(Update, 04/01/2014 at 5:25 p.m. Graham expanded his defense in emails to Valleywag. He was allegedly misquoted during an interview for a profile on his wife.) To summarize: girls aren’t interested in hacking or coding at an early age, but sometimes they start in college, and then they’ll have terrible job prospects because they didn’t start early enough. Or, something. That’s a rough outlook for any women hoping to break into tech’s boys club.

Following Graham’s logic can be difficult. Tiku put it best when she said he’s merely “justifying the status quo,” rather than examining a real problem. Graham has once again proven himself proud to be the champion of everything wrong with Silicon Valley culture. Thankfully, there are people like Elissa Shevinsky telling women they can go to liberal arts school and read Plato and still play with computers.

Update, 06/01/2014 at 8:55 am: Graham has posted an explanation on his website at: http://paulgraham.com/wids.html


Robin Thicke has been named ‘the sexist of the year’ by a body representing dozens of women’s groups around the UK.

The singer achieved fame and notoriety on the back of his single Blurred Lines, which was accompanied by a video in which he was surrounded by naked dancing models.

Robin topped the voting in a poll conducted by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, with Prime Minister David Cameron runner-up for the second successive year.

The coalition – which has more than 60 member groups working to end sexual and domestic violence, trafficking and other forms of abuse – also highlighted comments Robin had made in interviews.

In one interview with GQ magazine earlier this year, he said: “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before’.”

The coalition said it would be sending Robin a voucher to enable him to download Aretha Franklin’s hit R.E.S.P.E.C.T. as a prize.

Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition pointed out that Robin’s video had created such a backlash that it had actually had the effect of fuelling a campaign against videos using sexist imagery.

She said: “Our heartfelt congratulations to a worthy winner Robin Thicke for both his concerted sexist efforts, and in the end the platform he created for rejection of the use of women as objects to promote mediocre pop.

“Sexism might be de rigeur for some music industry ‘creatives’ but the times they are a changin’.”


Rather than put our palm to our face when people say blow-dried hair precludes their being a feminist, let’s listen and make the movement more inclusive.

“Absolutely not: I definitely wouldn’t call myself a feminist,” began Angela Epstein on Newsnight on Tuesday. Answering a question from presenter Emily Maitlis about whether she’d describe herself as a feminist, the journalist and broadcaster offered up a wistful eulogy to the ghosts of feminism past and bemoaned the deterioration of the movement. Apparently one woman under the king’s horse was more than enough to secure feminist victory for all time. Women, she reminded us, now have the vote! Some women have even got the vote, a career and shiny hair. This is great news, but someone really ought to pass it on to the “grumpy women in bad clothes” who, according to Epstein, have bastardised feminism and committed the even graver offence of being poorly coiffed in the process.

There’s no need to defend feminism from tired arguments such as this. Epstein was invited on Newsnight alongside Mary Beard and Natasha McElhone to provide the obligatory counterpoint to the feminist strand of the debate. And she is patently wrong. The imbalanced distribution of wealth and power between men and women is proof enough of feminism’s legitimacy. And for those who still need convincing, personal testimony – via movements such as Everyday Sexism – paints an even more vivid picture of the prejudices that today’s feminists have to combat.

From within a feminist bubble it’s tempting to imagine that Epstein is just hollering into the void from her little soapbox and that her pointless polemics about being “disqualified from the sisterhood” for having a career, are falling on deaf ears. But if we think this way we’ll be sabotaging our own cause. Epstein’s views reflect a wider neurosis about the meaning of feminism. Rather than just shouting her down, we need to ask why such distrust still persists and what we can do to dispel it.

In an article she wrote after her TV appearance, Epstein paints a picture of a feminism set on taking from her the things she holds dearest: her husband, her pride in being a mother and her daughter’s right to play with dolls. As early as the first sentence she notes that her blow-dried hair should be evidence enough that she’s no feminist. It’s the kind of remark that make women up and down the country collectively facepalm. We mustn’t laugh, though: these sorts of imagined dichotomies are more common than we might like to believe.

I have heard young women say that they wouldn’t be a feminist because they love their boyfriends, or because they like to look sexy, or because they want to be a mother. Feminism apparently has been kept at arm’s length by those for whom it’s a pejorative term and shoehorned into the twin cones of Madonna’s pointy bra. It is seen as limiting by as many women as find it empowering.

Rather than ruing the fact that so many seem to have missed the memo which explained how feminism is necessary and liberating, we need to take responsibility for hand-delivering its message. We need to understand women’s reasons for recoiling from the word feminism, listen to their concerns, and see what we can do to be make the movement more inclusive. I’m not suggesting that we dumb down the message, abandon our demands or compromise on our principles, but we do need to take time to listen and to explain.

In the meantime, Angela Epstein has unwittingly exposed herself as just kind of person she abhors: the woman who thinks that career and family shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, the woman who wants to achieve on her own terms and who expects the freedom to dress as she wants without being reduced to a stereotype. Sorry to break it to you, Angela, but I think you might be a feminist, too.

By Ruby Tandoh


In the wake of Emma Roberts’s arrest for allegedly battering her boyfriend, Philip W. Cook writes on the shockingly high number of women who beat their partners—and why it’s harder for the men to find help.

The recent news that Emma Roberts was arrested for domestic violence July 7 in Montreal after a fight with her boyfriend, American Horror Story co-star Evan Peters, is merely the latest celebrity case where the man is the victim.

Police were called to their hotel and Evan had a bloody nose, and one source reported a bite mark. Emma was arrested, but Evan did not press charges so she was released. Emma is the daughter of actor Eric Roberts and the niece of Julia Roberts and was a child star on the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous.

But this is far from the first time a female celebrity or celebrity’s wife has been in the news for violence against a man.

Kelly Bensimon, who played in the reality show The Real Housewives of New York City, was arrested for allegedly giving her boyfriend a black eye and a bloody gash. The girlfriend of Tampa Bay linebacker Geno Hayes was arrested for reportedly stabbing Hayes in the neck and head. The former wife of ’80s pop superstar Lionel Richie was arrested for investigation of spousal abuse, trespassing, and vandalism. Humphrey Bogart’s third wife, Mayo Methot, was frequently abusive to him, with Bogart receiving a stab wound in the back. In an interview with Redbook, Whitney Houston said that she was the aggressor in her marriage to Bobby Brown. “Contrary to belief, I do the hitting, he doesn’t.” Actress Tawny Kitaen agreed to plead to spousal abuse and battery charges after attacking husband St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chuck Finley. Actor and comedian Phil Hartman was shot and killed by his wife, as was Carolina Panther Fred Lane. Lane’s teammates reported that prior to his death, he had more injuries from his wife than those received on the playing field. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was fatally shot by a girlfriend.

There is great similarity between female and male victims and their abusers. The biggest difference is that male victims find themselves in the same position women were 30 years ago. Their problem is viewed as of little consequence, or they are to blame, and their are few available resources for male victims. Three-quarters of the men who contact an abuse shelter or hotline report that the agency would provide services only to women, and nearly two-thirds were treated as the abuser rather than the victim.

University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus calls it “selective inattention” because of the total emphasis on female victims, despite what research has shown since 1977. Straus and his colleagues found that in minor violence, the incident rates were equal for men and women. In cases of severe violence, more men were victimized than women, with 1.8 million women victims of severe violence and 2 million male victims of severe violence a year. Women suffer a greater amount of total injuries ranging from mild to serious, but when it comes to serious injuries where weapons and object use come into play, the injury rate may be about the same.

Hundreds of scientific studies support what every experienced law-enforcement officer knows: half the time, it is a case of mutual combat; a quarter of the time only the woman is violent; a quarter of the time only the man is. Women strike first in some manner half the time, which of course, greatly increases her chances of being hurt in return.

In May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its latest study with about half of violent couples reporting mutual combat, but “in nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70 percent of the cases,” and men incurred significant injuries. The CDC reported that about one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

We need to be realistic about how to deal with intimate-partner violence, based on research and best practices—but that is far from the case.

In Gender Inclusive Treatment of Intimate Partner Abuse, researcher John Hamel says, “Individuals who have been identified as perpetrators by the criminal justice system are typically mandated to batterer intervention programs, also known as BIPs. Forty-five states have established legal standards to regulate BIPs. Treatments based on psychodynamic theory, impulse control disorders, family systems or mental health models are prohibited. More than two-thirds (68 percent) forbid participants in BIPs from seeking couples or family counseling. … Less than one in six states require BIP group facilitators to hold a professional mental health license.”

All this means that women and men who return again and again to the same type of violent relationship are not being helped. One size does not fit all—there is a difference between the intimate-partner terrorist and the one-time family dispute.

Celebrity or not, men, women, and the children who learn about violence from their parents are, in most cases, not receiving appropriate help and intervention.


Recently scientist Laura Waters wrote a piece explaining “why I’m an equalist and not a feminist.” Molecular biologist and feminist Andrew Holding responds.

The world is against men. This week a man was turned away from Legoland for not having a child, apparently to protect the families and children that visit. Men are not allowed to sit next to unaccompanied children on planes because apparently they’re all paedophiles-in-waiting. I’ve had my own experience of someone alerting the whole of John Lewis that my daughter was abandoned, because she wasn’t near someone who looked like a mother. Then there’s the old issue that only 8% of children in single parent families are with their fathers. Perhaps all this contributes to high suicide rates in young men. So we need equality not feminism? I don’t agree.

When I was born, my father could rape my mother. Legally. The act was only criminalised in England in 1991. We’re less than 100 years since Emily Murphy fought to be recognised as a person because she didn’t have a penis, and still, in the 21st century, girls have been shot in the head for suggesting the radical thought that we should educate people with uteruses.

If you think feminism is a dirty word, or some kind of female ‘supremacist’ movement, you’ve been had. This slippery-slope sensationalism is the same old dirty trick we see when anti-equality campaigners make ridiculous arguments about marrying their sons in an effort to stop marriage equality, or suggest that giving all genders an equal chance in life is some how going to lead to the oppression of men. It’s ridiculous, and those who protest are typically those who have the most to lose from equality.

There are individuals who dislike men, in a hand-wavingly general sort of way, but that does nothing TO men on the whole. There is no power structure in place – and never has been – that causes men to be systematically disadvantaged compared to women. That is misogyny, the history and the culture and the actions of individuals that pile up to create a hostile environment to women in work, life and play, and in  a country where a woman’s attractiveness is still seen to be more important than her achievements it is impossible to miss.

So what about single fathers, young men committing suicide, or suggestions that every man is some kind of Schroedinger’s paedophile? The answer to these problems is more feminism.

Feminism fights patriarchy. It’s this system that is responsible for the fallacy that women need to be mothers in place of men; a lie that can cost fathers their children and women their lives. It places unreasonable expectations on young men, leaving them ill-equipped for the modern world and leading to an epidemic of mental health issues. It runs the entire country, and those that gain from it would prefer that women don’t stand together for their rights because they have so much to lose.

And feminism is pro-men. In discussion of rape and sexual assault, it is feminists who have challenged the myth that men are incited by short skirt, and the belief that the average man can barely stop his penis leaping from his trousers into the nearest woman.

We need a word because it provides focus, a banner to rally behind and, in the case of feminism, a history. Yes, equality is great, but we wouldn’t expect those fighting against racism or homophobia to drop their banner because a few people want to make it into something it’s not.  We all need, in the words of Geraldine Horan at Bright Club recently, to ‘grow a pair of ovaries’ and start calling ourselves feminists.

If you’re affected by issues around young men and mental health, CALM offer information and an advice line.

Andrew Holding (@AndrewHolding) is the father of two amazing children, who happen to have four X chromosomes between them.


Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward handled two sexual assault complaints in four years as an Air Force wing commander. Both times, she recalls, the accusers recanted, ending the investigations. Both times, General Woodward assumed the assaults never took place.

She sees things differently today. While overseeing the Air Force’s investigation of sexual abuses at Lackland Air Force Base last year, she learned that victims often withdrew complaints because they blamed themselves, were ashamed or feared no one would believe them.

“I didn’t know enough to try and at least look into it and help,” she said. “You sit there and go, ‘Could I have made a difference?’ ”

The general is getting her chance to make a difference now. Last month, the Air Force named her to run a significantly expanded office in charge of its sexual assault prevention and response policies.

Among her main goals, the general said in an interview, will be to encourage more airmen and women to not only report sexual assault but also pursue prosecution. Providing good care for victims will help in that pursuit, she said, but so will improving the way cases are handled, from initial reports through investigations and prosecutions.

“How a person is treated in that first report can determine how she is going to handle it up the chain,” the general said. “And even how her recovery goes.”

General Woodward’s hiring represents not just an expansion of the sexual assault office, but also a significant elevation of its importance, as her predecessor was a lieutenant colonel. The move comes as the entire military is under fierce Congressional pressure to reduce sexual assault, fueled partly by a recent report estimating that 26,000 assaults took place in the military last year, up from 19,000 two years before.

Though its rate of sexual assault is not significantly different from the rest of the military, the Air Force has had a run of particularly bad publicity. Last year, a series of courts-martial at Lackland revealed widespread sexual misbehavior involving instructors and recruits in training programs. This year, two Air Force generals have come under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases: one for reversing a conviction, the other for granting clemency to a convicted officer.

But perhaps most embarrassing, General Woodward’s predecessor as director of the sexual assault response unit, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested in May on a sexual battery charge. The police said he groped a woman he did not know in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

Just a few weeks after that arrest, General Woodward, then chief of safety for the Air Force, received a call from Gen. Larry O. Spencer, the vice chief of staff, asking her to lead an expanded sexual assault office. After she demurred, he called back the next day, a Friday, to ask again. When she finally agreed to take the job, General Spencer told her she would start on Monday.

In an interview, General Spencer denied that the Air Force had rushed to expand the office because of Colonel Krusinski’s arrest. But he acknowledged shortcomings in the Air Force’s efforts to fight sexual assault. “Whatever we were doing obviously did not solve the problem,” he said.

Putting the office under a two-star general who reports directly to him is just part of a broader campaign, General Spencer said. “I am on a rampage to stamp out sexual assault,” he said. “We’re pursuing this with as much vigor as anything I’ve ever seen.”

This year, the Air Force created the new position of special victims counsel to help sexual assault victims navigate the legal process. It has also begun requiring that all sex crime cases be reported up the chain of command to general officers to increase oversight. It will soon begin an online campaign to educate airmen on sexual assault, and this fall it will require wing commanders and general officers to attend a sexual assault conference.

General Spencer said that vigorous prosecution of perpetrators would be crucial to curbing the problem, likening the Air Force effort to the campaign to reduce drunken driving two decades ago. Though General Woodward’s office does not oversee investigators or prosecutors, she said she hoped to influence them through training and education programs.

General Woodward, 53, has the authority to hire a staff of 31, eight times as many as who worked in the small branch that Colonel Krusinski directed. Fourteen people have joined so far, including someone with a Ph.D. in social work, an analyst who will crunch statistics and a criminal investigator to provide guidance on how cases are handled.

The newest hire, Master Sgt. Heidi Huff, who volunteers as a victims’ advocate at Andrews Air Force Base, said she hoped the office would succeed in encouraging more people to report assaults.

“From my experience, that’s the toughest part — victims blaming themselves,” said Sergeant Huff, whose full-time job is as a flight attendant. “It makes me cry to think about it.”

Her experience is particularly relevant: in the 1990s, she said, she was sexually assaulted by a service member. Though she reported the attack, the perpetrator was not prosecuted, she said.

The newness of the unit, located on the fifth floor of the Pentagon, is palpable on the empty white walls of General Woodward’s office. Photographs she intends to hang sit on the floor awaiting hooks.

Among them is a picture that underscores her Air Force pedigree, showing her with President George W. Bush, with whom she became friendly when she commanded the 89th Airlift Wing, which operates Air Force One.

A pilot who has flown C-130 cargo planes and C-135 refueling tankers, the general has also commanded a wing at MacDill Air Force Base and the 17th Air Force in Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she directed the NATO air campaign over Libya in 2011.

Her résumé will undoubtedly give her valuable credibility as she tries to influence the commanders who must carry out the policies her office develops. But there is also a sense of humility among her and her staff about the task ahead. “It sounds trite, I know, but we’re building the airplane as we fly it,” she said.

Describing her initial hesitation about taking the job, General Woodward said she expressed concerns to General Spencer about not having the answers for such a complex problem.

“He said that no one does, but that I needed to go out and find them,” she said. “I hope I can do that.”


Champions of Wimbledon Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli received hugely differing comments during and after winning Wimbledon. Murray was called a hero, while Bartoli was called other things…

Commentator John Inverdale’s moronic musing on the ‘looks’ of the women’s champion was, oddly, not matched by any word on the Scotsman’s nose

One is a tale of mere triumph; the other of triumph cut with scorn. Yesterday Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon and climbed into the players’ box to celebrate; Saturday on Centre Court was less edifying. As the French tennis player Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the women’s singles title, Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale thought it an adequate moment to comment on her appearance – what else? “Do you think,” he mused moronically, “Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”

Andy-Murray-2036711

He even had the malice to place the words in her father’s mouth; poor Bartoli, not even pretty enough for Daddy.

Even at this moment of exquisite delight, was Daddy ashamed of Marion’s inability to incite lust in Inverdale? I did not know professional women’s tennis was simply a vehicle for the expression of masculine desire in high temperatures; or that Inverdale had a right to feel aggrieved by Bartoli’s appearance – which is, by the way, perfectly acceptable. (She is, if it matters, and it doesn’t, pretty; but who is pretty enough in these days of dull homogenous beauty?) I do not wish that Murray had received the same grotesque treatment; but that he did not is remarkable.

Inverdale had said earlier that any mocking of Bartoli’s looks was done “in a nice way” and that “she is an incredible role model for people who aren’t born with all the attributes of natural athletes”. I would have thought that winning Wimbledon displayed all the attributes of a natural athlete, except Inverdale did not personally desire Bartoli; in that, she failed. Whether Murray is sexually desirable to individual presenters is not a matter for the BBC, and, in this case, they know it.

Bartoli understood him perfectly. I do not know if she is aware of the comments made about her on Twitter as she played – calling her, among other things, too ugly to rape. (In fact, the blogger made a factual error here, which compounded his psychopathy. No woman is too ugly to rape, because rape has nothing to do with desire.) But she was told of Inverdale’s comment and said: “I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact.”

Ah yes, blonde. Blonde is considered an attribute in a female tennis player, if you don’t care who wins, and I am not sure Inverdale does; it’s only women’s tennis, after all, and if the game is so uninteresting, being played by women, why not discuss the more important matters? Who can forget the fantastically blonde Anna Kournikova, who failed to win the Wimbledon singles title, but looked so lovely losing that front pages of newspapers clung to her, as if she was painted with honey?

What to say? Some will call it a throwaway remark – if the calls for Inverdale’s replacement with a broadcaster whose eyes do not immediately rise to the sportswoman’s hair colour, or fall to the sportswoman’s crotch, grow louder, he will be handed the victim mantle. He will be posited as the scapegoat of a radical feminist plot to obliterate lust, joy, blonde hair, pigtails (why not?), miniskirts, lollipops, a beguiling sheen of sweat (nothing terrifying or mannish) and so on. So many young female tennis players look like dolls, the confusion of woman with (sex) doll is almost natural for the broadcaster swimming in the miasma of his own idiocy.

Except it is a remark, throwaway or planned, that exposes the wider culture. Sexism and the explicit discussion of the female body is still acceptable; that it exists in the sporting arena, where women thrive because they are strong, is only more offensive. Women are judged on their appearance everywhere, the better to ignore their skills; in a male, ugliness is always more forgivable.

It is well established that men’s sport is more exposed, more prestigious and more lucrative, although Wimbledon has had parity of prize money since 2007; in the 18 months to August 2011, women’s sport comprised only 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage. The cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won Britain’s first medal in the 2012 Olympics, called the sexism she faced “overwhelming. It’s the obvious things – the salary, media coverage …”

2012 was a bitter triumph for sportswomen – they were patronised, objectified and insulted. Boris Johnson yearned for more sport in schools, mostly because it would produce “semi-naked women … glistening like wet otters”. The heptathlete Jessica Ennis was called fat by an un-named UK Athletics executive; Frankie Boyle compared the swimmer Rebecca Adlington to a dolphin. This is a culture where Holger Osieck, the manager of the Australian football team, can say “women should shut up in public”; where the former boxing world champion Amir Khan can warn female boxers, “When you get hit it can be very painful”; and where the American network NBC can air a slow-motion montage of female athletes wobbling, like Olympians who have wandered, obliviously, into porn.

It is a foul pottage of denigration, inadequacy, spite and lust; consider this, and Inverdale’s remark is barely strange. He should have been fired; instead he waffled excitably yesterday, commenting on Murray’s win. He did not, of course, disclose whether the exact size, or shape, or site of Andy Murray’s nose is a grievous personal disappointment to him, to Murray’s mother, to the world.


It’s a time of freedom, a time when people are away from home, often for the first time and understandably they tend to go a little wild. Freshers’ week is by now an infamous rite of passage, an alcohol-fuelled blur that most students spend the rest of the year attempting to remember. My personal memories are just as hazy as my flatmates’, but one night in particular stands out.

After attempting to out-drink the boys in our flat (having been crowned an honorary ‘lad’, an accolade I bear with mingled pride and disdain), we met up with some other guys. Suffice it to say that one of them took a more than keen interest and didn’t seem to realise I wasn’t returning his attention. After a very long night, I was left to wonder as to whether I’d deserved this harassment.Slutwalkfter sobering up, I quickly came to realise that what had happened was not usual freshers’ week behaviour. Or at least I hoped it wasn’t. When I came to talk to my flatmates about it, I was told that if I hadn’t been flirting with him, or let him into our flat, he wouldn’t have got the wrong impression. It wasn’t just my flatmates either. It was also the person appointed by the university to ensure that we were all feeling safe and happy within our accommodation. The message I received from this incident was that if you’re a young woman and you talk to a man, you deserve everything you’ve got coming to you. Because talking means sex. Surely.

When I asked my flatmates to stop making sexist jokes, I was shot down, told by the guys and girls that it was just harmless ‘banter’ and I shouldn’t get so upset

I spent the rest of my freshers’ week and the following weeks feeling dirty and ashamed. I was constantly watching over my shoulder for the guy in question, terrified that he’d come and confront me for my double standards as I’d clearly led him on and then reported him and twisted the facts in some sick game.
I spent the following day unable to process not only what had happened, but also people’s reactions to it. Was it my fault? Should I have not spoken to him? Had I led him on?

As I got thinking about what happened, I tried to put it in the wider context of sexism at universities, an issue that the National Union of Students has, for the first time, placed at the centre of policy-making through their recently released report ‘That’s what she said’.

An example of the deeply ingrained sexist culture at universities is the now infamous website UniLad. UniLad was temporarily closed due to one of its members posting: “And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t spread for your head, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.” It was followed with: “UniLad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.” When I read this out in a room with three guys in, one of them laughed and didn’t understand why it could be construed as offensive.

Sadly, this attitude is not confined to the internet. A standard, pre-drinking drinks session, or even sober discussion, will inevitably feature jokes about lads’ behaviour or rape.

One in seven female students is a victim of sexual assault or violence while at university or college

When I asked my flatmates to stop making sexist jokes, I was shot down, told by the guys and girls that it was just harmless ‘banter’ and I shouldn’t get so upset. The guys didn’t mean it when they said that the only exercise a woman needed was to be able to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen and back. They didn’t mean it when they said that women’s rights were the biggest joke in history. And they certainly didn’t mean it when they made jokes about rape. Because it’s all just banter.

The fact is that one in seven female students is a victim of sexual assault or violence while at university or college. 90% of these students do not report what happened to the police and are most likely not to tell friends or family. 50% of them don’t talk about it because they are too ashamed or embarrassed. If rape and violence jokes are becoming an acceptable form of humour, how are victims of sexual assault supposed to feel able to talk about it?

Some guys participate in this culture to be one of the lads. Then there are guys who make a point of showing that they don’t buy into lad culture. They come across as the ‘nice guys’, the ones who frown upon those who openly treat women as sexual objects. Yet some of them demonstrate the same sense of entitlement felt by the men they disdain. They feel that, as the good guys, they are better than their peers and deserve not only a woman but, essentially, a fairy-tale princess – a girl who is sweet, innocent, pure and utterly devoted to them.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I have learnt from all of this is that behaviour that derides women is so acceptable at our seats of learning

Students.jpgI recently got told by one such guy that my confident attitude “makes [him] think there’s a darker side to [me], hence why I’d say you’ve got a promiscuous edge”. He also told me that my tattoo on my lower back reinforced this, clearly using his magical man intuition, mantuition if you will, to determine my sexual habits from my confidence and choice in body art.

Then in a seemingly random turnaround, I was told that I’m too intelligent to be “any old slag” and should therefore “be treated better than such”. The implication, notwithstanding the insulting use of the word ‘slag’, being that women with active sexual lives are somehow unintelligent. Or that, as a woman, to want to sleep with multiple partners you must be stupid as you should be saving it for your prince.

Lad culture has become a daily part of university life. Anytime anyone makes a joke that could be construed as offensive or behaves in a way that can be deemed insulting, it’s dismissed as banter with the shout “What a lad!” If you shout loud enough, you can’t hear people’s objections. This seems to be the philosophy of lads. Yet, people are offended. People are hurt and disturbed by their behaviour. Women are degraded, reduced to an object to be obtained through either demonstrations of extreme ‘laddishness’ or saving women from those men by being a nice guy.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I have learnt is that such behaviour is so acceptable. It is taken as a hideous rite of passage that every girl has to go through. Can we really condone a culture that exists within our centres of learning that makes young women merely accept assault as a fact of life? Unfortunately, it appears to be showing no signs of disappearing. This means, terrifyingly, that the men bringing up the next generation will be passing these attitudes on. We, as a society, need to address lad culture before it becomes any more ingrained and acceptable than it already is.

First image of a Slutwalk at a university in the United States, uploaded by Flickr user weaverphoto. Second image of students during a university freshers’ week uploaded by Flickr user jeisaacs.