When Feminism Doesn’t Translate

“’Sexist’ Rugby Team Banned Over Leaflet ‘Mocking Women’”– BBC.co.uk

“London School of
Economics Disbands Its Rugby Club for Entire Season in Reaction to Sexism in Fresher’s Week Leaflet” – dailymail.co.uk

“LSE Rugby Club Distributes Horrific Homophobic, Sexist Leaflets to Freshers Calling Women
‘Slags, Mingers’”– huffingtonpost.co.uk

These were the headlines welcoming me to my first week
at the university that I will call home until July. At the London School of
Economics’ annual Fresher’s Fair, first-years and study abroad students signed up
for clubs, societies and sporting groups. An unspoken contest of who could collect the most free swag in a few hours, Fresher’s Fair was the British version
of the 5C Club Fair, complete with free food, candy, stickers and pens galore. 

At
an on-campus, school-sponsored orientation week event, we can only ask one
question of the LSE Rugby club: Why would you type up all of your homophobic
and sexist beliefs into a handy leaflet and pass them out freely to all who passed
by? They might as well have attached a formal request to be
disbanded, tied up with the flourish of a flamboyant bow.

This isn’t what I want to focus on in this column, though. To be honest, I’m not surprised by the things they said:

“Some of you will have heard endless tales of what goes on at initiation ceremonies in every university […], but we can assure you that we do not tolerate Poly* activities that involve feces, genitalia and outright homosexual debauchery.”

“ZOO Bar: The tales we could tell. Nowhere in the world can so many mingers** look so appealing.” 

“No matter where you are or what you’re doing—if you hear
this [song]—get your top off. Why you may ask? Because there are beautiful
women’s lives at risk and we have collectively been chosen to save them of
course!”

This discourse communicated in the leaflets is not unfamiliar, especially in universities
where the intensely heterosexual ‘lad’ culture is laid on thicker than clotted
cream on tea scones. The British ‘lad’ culture, known as ‘bro’ or ‘frat’ culture
in America, is something with which I had become familiar long before I knew how to label it. 

It is a culture deeply rooted in excess. An excess of
alcohol, an excess of women and an excess of ego allowing them to believe
that women want and need each and every one of them. 

I’m not surprised or
outraged to hear such sentiments from rugby, one of the biggest sports clubs on
campus—known more for being a band of drinking buddies than for their
athleticism. This dialogue is many times an expectation of behavior that men
police each other into carrying out for the sake of their ‘masculinity’ and ‘heterosexuality;’ without it, these men may have little else to bond over. I’m not saying it’s okay or a construct of society that doesn’t need massive reform.
But all in all—I’m not fazed in the least.

The shock unfortunately enters the story later as I happily sip a half-off almond martini with
a flower floating in it and devour a free platter of pita and hummus. A proud Scripps
student, I quite obviously had to check out the meet-and-greet event
for LSE’s Women Leaders of Tomorrow (WLT) society with Sharika
Kaul SC ’16. After ordering my second martini (an equally satisfying blood
orange and vanilla flavor), I chatted with the WLT society
president during her obligatory social rounds. We complimented her
on the amazing events the club organizes with well-known consulting firms such as
McKinsey & Company and Pricewaterhouse Coopers and talked further about the club. It was extremely out of the blue, then, when she confidently confided the following: 

“To be completely honest, I would never identify as being a
feminist. Because, like, I wouldn’t get mad if a man held the door open for a
girl and stuff like that. And I never even thought about feminism until that rugby thing happened last week.”

Shock.

My mouth fell open as Sharika and I shared a side-eyed
glance.

An awkward pause quickly became uncomfortable as we assured
her that feminism wasn’t about ‘men’ holding doors open for ‘girls,’ and shared our various perspectives regarding feminism. 

How can the president of this
club at one of the most world-renowned universities be so uneducated on
feminism when, if
nothing else, it is a theme so prevalent in our western, day-to-day media? If
the culture shock of coming to the U.K. from the U.S. was slight, the culture shock
in coming from our liberal arts bubble to this huge economics- and political science-focused university suddenly seemed immensely alienating.

Ironically, I’ve traveled more than 5,000 miles from Scripps to finally
fit my Gender/Women’s studies requirement into my schedule in an anthropology
course entitled “Kinship, Sex and Gender.” Thankfully, this class is filled
with students who know more than a thing or two about feminism and gender
studies, with a kick-ass lecturer, readings and syllabus to boot, so this girl
hasn’t completely tainted my view of British feminist education.

I knew that coming to a large university with huge lecture halls
and a focus on the social sciences would be a change from the liberal arts
environment of the Claremont Colleges. What I didn’t realize was that in a
university where you focus solely on your major, some people have no
understanding of concepts you simply can’t avoid learning about at Scripps and
the 5Cs as a whole. It has made me realize how well-rounded my Scripps education really is and appreciate the type of woman it has helped me
become. 

I’m not yet sure if I will join the Women Leaders of Tomorrow club for
their remarkable events and connections, but what I do know right now is
that, despite the dirty martinis, pub ciders and rugby-less debauchery
surely to come, this isn’t a storyline I will soon forget.

*Poly: The term Poly is used as an abbreviation for someone who attends a polytechnic school rather than a university to train in a technical skill. It is many times used in a derogatory way.

**Minger: Urban Dictionary describes a minger as someone who
is very unattractive, smelly, promiscuous and attention-seeking.

Sam Widdicombe SC ’16 is an economics major studying in London. She caught a 20 lb. rainbow trout in second grade, and it remains stuffed and displayed in an acrylic box on her kitchen counter to this day. 

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