Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sexism on Campus

Originally appeared in Nouse.

It may be many years since feminism’s peak, but apparently sexism still blights our society. York University has recently been in the spotlight for its alleged “institutional sexism”. Online magazine The First Post published an article singling out this university for its chauvinistic campus practices, primarily Goodricke’s Playboy Mansion and the Pole Exercise club. York was not alone: Loughborough’s student union was criticised for extending an invitation to both Nuts’ Brat Pack Tour and FHM’s High Street Honeys. Kat Stark, NUS Women’s Officer even compared such things to a theft of feminism, a claim that, if fair and accurate, should be troubling for just about everyone.

The most important question then is: are we at a university infested with sexism? Or, more prosaically: is there really such sexism on York campus?

Those who have had criticism levelled at them naturally disagree. Ben Wardle, Goodricke Chair, and Matt Hood, President of Pole Exercise, both outright denied the charges of sexism, and it seems with good reason. Goodricke has yet to receive a complaint about its events and their popularity on campus can barely be denied. Last year the AU nominated Pole Exercise as its club of the year, not least in recognition of their charity achievements: last year Pole Exercise raised almost £1,500 for Medicine Sans Frontiers with a single event.

Besides, perhaps Pole Exercise is liberating and empowering for the women of York. But Club President Matt Hood dismissed this idea out of hand, and rightly so. As he put it, “it’s just an exercise class. We keep people in good health, that's the point, that's the only point.” Pole Exercise is fun and healthy and, even better, most people don’t seem to realise that they were even exercising until after the classes. The sessions focus on fitness moves rather than dancing and are open to anyone. The nearest thing to sexism in Pole Exercise is the logo: a girl on a pole. But even that is stylised and abstract. Is there really a problem here?

What of Goodricke’s evocation of the Playboy brand to market events? Playboy is a name that is certainly connected with pornography and the objectification of women, undeniably so – from the polyamorous Hugh Heffner to the famed centrefolds and Playmates. But, as Ben Wardle emphasises, describing Goodricke as the Playboy Mansion becomes ironic as soon as one calls to mind the less-than-palatial hall in which the event takes place. Irony is, of course, subjective and maybe its invocation is an ad hoc defence. Further, if irony is a defence or not is even more difficult to say. But if we can accept the rampant anti-Semitism of Borat or, less controversially, the high camp irony of the recent Yorkie adverts without harm, can we not also make space for the Playboy Mansion? That Goodricke JCR is yet to receive a complaint implies an agreement across campus.

However, maybe things aren’t quite so positive as the picture just painted. Perhaps it is true that York is not a festering hot bed of chauvinism, misogyny and testosterone, but that might not be the whole story. Perhaps the complaints made by The First Post should be reflected onto current British society as a whole rather than just our little corner. It cannot be denied that the maxim “sex sells” still hold currency in the advertising world and the steady liberalisation of our culture has been trailed by an equally steady sexualisation. From the cheek-caressing temptress promised by the Gillette adverts to the proliferation of “lads mags” – FHM, Maxim and Nuts – sex is everywhere. And if at any point this seems like a singularly male phenomenon, do not forget the “Top 10 Tips to Please Your Man” features in the aspirational women’s magazines, the orgasmic Herbal Essences adverts or the media obsession with whom our celebrities sleep with. But so often, this sexualisation leans in favour of the masculine, certainly in favour of certain gender stereotypes. The often-raised example is the difference in connotation and meaning between the word “slag” and the word “stud”. There is even an asymmetry in the terms “man” and “woman” that could be seen as revealing - though the etymology of these words is not necessarily indicative of sexism.

Relative to the rest of British culture, the name of a termly campus event and the nature of a fitness club seem moderate and tepid in nature. Yes students should be progressive and radical: that is so much of their social role, but there are certainly better places to direct energy and anger. The sexism in British culture lies at a deeper level than the Goodricke ents team.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

British Weather and the Death Toll

A horrific implication of the immediate nature of new media has been making itself much too apparent today, as storms have whipped through much of Britain. I've been internetting on and off all day, and watched as the death count has risen on the BBC RSS feed, from two this morning to eight now.

This is not pleasant. It means I know that five people died whilst I studied and another one whilst I played Wario Ware. It's a stark and grim and deeply uncomfortable thing to watch.

LATER: The number went up to nine whilst I wrote this post. It's awful.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The news is rubbish

It must be so dull to be a journalist these last few weeks. Nothing has happened. Yet, there has been so much potential. Prescott as acting prime minister must have created some kind of headline story. I thought it was his job to keep a number of journalists employed, seems he can't even do this properly. I want scandal.

Instead, I am constantly reminded of 'what is going to happen in 2007' and the Ashes. All fair and well, but if I have to read that 'later this year, Bush will become the most experienced G7 leader' again or England lose again, I will have to start making the news myself. An idea that comes to mind would be invading a country. I've always wanted one of those. Obviously invading somewhere where they can fight back would be a silly idea, that's why i'm off to the Dominican Republic, where their military expenditure is $0. I cannot lose. Genius.

Then I can be portrayed as a wicked dictator. Wicked in the sence that i'm great, not that i'm a tyrant or something like that. Although I can't rule that out. I think i'll have to leave a little subclause in the constitution, 'may be a tyrant if forced'. I mean, I wouldn't want to. Just if it was necessary. People would love it. I have found there can be too much free thought and happiness, I can't let them get away with it.

Write about that, Mr Guardian.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book: A Human Being Died That Night

I'm currently reading A Human Being Died That Night, by Pumla Gobodo-Madiizela, an incredibly well-written but harrowing account of her meetings with the man known as the Prime Evil of the apartheid, Eugene de Kock.

As I was reading, I became more concious of the language and writing, partially because the author was herself discussing language, specifically that usede to relate traumatic incidents. And as I read account after unbelievable account of horror and so much misery - husbands shot in front of sons, reducing the child to an inconsolable wreck for the rest of his days, for example - I became so glad, so very glad of the words and the pages that seperated me from these stories. I was finding them through several degrees of seperation: they were told to the author and then filtered through the writing to me. Where many would want writing to be a window or doorway, through which one can step and engage in the fiction, I wanted Gobodo-Madiizela's words to be a barrier or even a fortress, to protect me from the narrative. How the victims of such horrors survive as themselves, I can barely imagine.

"Sexy and Factual"

Men and Motors, that venerable broadcaster, is to be airing a series named The All American Strip Off. Not spectacular news in itself, but the contestants are to keep video diaries that will be "sexy and factual". This is such an amazing description. If even half of my life could be called sexy and factual, I would be a much happier man.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Little Chef: A Sad Start to the Year

Little Chef enters administration: from the BBC

This upsets me perhaps more than it should. Little Chef is something that featured quite a large amount in my childhood. Despite the staff whose lacksadasical attitude to sersvice bordered on the offensive, terrible food and general British crapness, being taken to our local Little Chef was quite a treat: the several months in between the mysterious fire and subsequent refitting were difficult ones.

To be completely honest, essentially, the pleasure was tied entirely to the lolly given at the end of the meal, kept in the mysterious jar hidden behind the till.

Regadless, it is a sad year that starts with such a loss.