The (almost) x-rated flyers I received with my freshers’ pack offered solid proof of the things that I would enjoy at university. A freshers’ week band would be well worth it, surely? The full stretch was what you had to do if you wanted to have a good time and actually meet people! Everyone wants to attend a ‘School Daze’ event, dressed in the old school shirt and tie. Shirt buttons can be used liberally to display cleavage and if you are male, sleeves may be rolled up to show the nice arms you have achieved through either curious teenage commitment to the gym or a private school rugby background. The end result will be undoubted interest from a prospective sexual partner, possibly via a successful grind on the dance floor. Some drunken, rudimentary imitation of an act of intimacy and the infamous ‘walk of shame’, or ‘stride of pride’ ha ha ha (because, you know, it’s easy at university and one night stands are just what you do). This would, with a bit of luck, be repeated every night of freshers’. If you’d been to Ayia Napa or Malia during the summer, you could expect more of the same. Let’s do this shit!
But I have an objection.
I suspect that all of the above is delusional nonsense and I know from the friends I made at university that I’m not just different to the entire student population in the UK. Moreover, it is nonsense that is sustained beyond freshers’. The result is the perpetuation of a predominantly laddy culture, of ‘getting on it’, bundling into the night club and making semi-verbal efforts to secure a number and a name. It’s a culture that isn’t negated by the willing participation of women. From a male perspective, it does little to deter sexism; it encourages it by normalising a style of socialising: charged-up lads intent on snaring any girl, known or unknown, often viewing the female party as little more than a vehicle by which to secure a higher number of sexual conquests. It promotes behaviour that is manifested in LAD forums across the internet – with men teaming up to form a collective and proclaiming loud hatred for the enemy.
The freedom offered by university was something that, for me, revealed itself in my ability to frisbee my finished plate at the sink and spend £20 at the supermarket and emerge with two Muller yoghurts and a packet of bacon. I had already experienced night club environments before I entered higher education. I was no longer amazed by how friendly and complimentary people were when they have had a third of a bottle of vodka and four snakebites. I wasn’t bowled over by the pounding beats of the freshest R’n’B music in the charts. And I sort of knew that attending a nightclub, with its heavy decibels, wasn’t going to guarantee that I’d meet a girl or anyone else for that matter. I’ve never been persuaded by the one night stand philosophy, which isn’t the invariable outcome, but is prevalent when chemistry and compatibility are determined by jagermeister and cheering mates. Yet the pamphlets I received before freshers’ week cast my experience into doubt, suggesting that the only way to do university was to do it this way, funnelling everyone into this mindset from the off, feeding the notion that we should do all the shots, play shag tag and fuck like fuck for fun. For many people this may well be agreeable, supporting a lad culture that could produce no end of entertainment. For the rest who don’t quite see it like this, the freshers’ literature amounts to no more than a trick, otherwise known as advertising. For those of us who didn’t subscribe to the prevailing view, the whole exercise achieved little more than to fill the Union coffers, leaving us feeling short changed.
This is not to say that drinking and dancing per se are never enjoyable. My problem is with the packaging of these activities into a lairy one size fits all model of social engagement, with the assumption that this is what we all want and need. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to suggest a sea change when it comes to socialising at university, but for the sake of freedom of choice I suggest an alternative advert alongside the wad of glossy toss in the freshers’ pack:
Not persuaded by all this stuff about jager bombs, DJ sets and thinly-veiled references to shagging? Care to avoid a gropefest in a sauna? Don’t have any specific interests that would be sufficient to start a club of like-minded enthusiasts? Down-to-earth, think that you actually ‘get it’ and hope that others feel the same? Meet outside the Protein Phosphorylation Unit at 19:30 on the first Saturday of freshers’ week. It will cost nothing, but make sure you receive the correct amount of change.’