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Conversations on Sexism

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On Wednesday 27th October, York students joined other university students across the UK in boycotting clubs and bars to protest against spikings and drugging. This aimed to get clubs and bars to increase their safety measures to protect all genders from being spiked in clubs. This has all come from the risk of being injected, which has dramatically increased over the last few weeks and has been well documented across social media and news channels.

Students took the ‘Girls Night In’ and made it their own. Societies did socials involving watching films together, people had cocktail nights in, self-care nights, and these are only a small handful of examples. I attended a group session, organised by Catherine Gregson, a second year Politics student, at her house with just women to discuss feminist issues. This intimate evening was fascinating as we discussed a multitude of issues in the most respectful way I have ever seen these topics be spoken about. There were disagreements, but everyone was non-judgemental, and it highlighted to me the importance of safe spaces for women to discuss these matters.

Some of the issues we discussed were: assumptions around women’s outfits and their sexual availability; sports culture, particularly at universities; how the patriarchy doesn’t just oppress women, but people of all genders, including men; early experiences of cat calling; experiences of being called ‘bossy’ in situations where men would be called ‘forward-thinking’ or ‘authoritative’. The ability to sit and discuss these matters was a real rarity for me, even though I study subjects involving gender studies regularly; to just sit and be with other women and discuss these issues in an open and honest way was a valuable experience.

The other women there really helped to create this safe space. Everybody was open, kind, and honest with each other, and it was a very calm environment to be in. There is a special kind of bonding in understanding each other’s experiences which have made us, as women, scared, uncomfortable, or doubt ourselves. We spoke in depth on many topics which didn’t necessarily pertain to the purpose of the evening, but related to our experiences with oppression and microaggressions as women: not being believed by tradespeople in describing an issue they’ve come to fix; in being told by doctors that our menstrual cycles are the root of all our problems; comments like ‘you’re on your period aren’t you?’ to explain any strong emotion. The list goes on.

In light of recent events, we all shared the feeling of being genuinely worried to go out at night. We don’t want to have to rely on the fact that we have male friends with us on nights out to potentially be enough to protect us from being spiked or harassed. We just want to be able to have a ‘Girls Night Out’ instead of a ‘Girls Night In’. 

You don’t have to be part of a group of women to have these conversations. In fact, it is worth educating male friends of these sorts of issues for women. The conversations we had spiralled in so many directions, and we only scratched the surface of all the things we could have spoken about. Educating people is our best option until real change is made. But these conversations are important; they are informative, they are uncomfortable and sometimes shocking, but in a sense this makes them comfortable, to feel like you’re being heard. So listen to people when they express these worries to you. Listen when they want to talk about these things. There is nothing more comforting than to really feel like you’ve been heard.

Written by Laura Powell