For ‘Fresher’, I wanted to use the same processes that I used in my ‘First Time’ piece, but this time I wanted to use a less pristine base to work onto, something that was less delicate, less pretty, as my subject matter was completely different, along with my feelings and thoughts. In order to achieve this effect, I didn’t bother to wash my freshers t shirt before beginning to make the piece, as this meant that there were visible remains of makeup, coloured hairspray and paint left on it.
‘Fresher’, a short series of sculptural photographs, is based on my experience of freshers week at university, which I personally found to be very weird. I obviously had a general idea of what it would be like as a result of what I’d heard from some of my friends, but I just found the whole experience pretty bizarre. It was like witnessing one big drunken orgy every night, it was a really surreal week. I could tell that it was going to be quite full on after going to a welcome talk conducted by my college’s Student Representatives at the start of freshers week. One of my Student Reps introduced himself, whilst drunken photographs of him were projected onto a screen behind him, and he proudly claimed “I won fresher of the year last year because I’m a LAD”. Good for you. Another of my Student Reps naively tried to say “it’s absolutely fine if someone doesn’t feel comfortable drinking”, whilst organising all the vodka and wine bottles on the table, ready for the drinking games to begin.
I wanted the piece to have two main focal points, a ‘consumed’ list, which records the amount of alcohol that I consumed during freshers, and an encounter with a drunken boy. This encounter happened on the first night of freshers. A boy came up to me, grabbed hold of my waist and bum and asked me “What’s your name? Can I have your number?” without knowing a single thing about me. Due to my friendly nature, I gave him my number as I saw it as a new friendship opportunity, shrugging off the grope due to the fact that he was drunk. He then text me and simply put “johnny h” (smooth talker.) I didn’t hear from him after that, which I can’t say I was disappointed about. It was only the morning after that I realised that this boy wasn’t meaning this encounter to be friendly, it was purely sex orientated.
I experienced, witnessed and overheard a lot of sexism during freshers week, and unfortunately, I’m still seeing it now, one month into university life. None of these boys that approached me, or shouted so called ‘compliments’ at me, bothered to ask me how I was, what course I was studying, what accommodation I was in etc. – it was purely on a sexual basis and was centred around my physical appearance. They cited me out to be sexually attractive or “fit”, as one of the boys so nicely put it. A compliment and a half, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Obviously I’m not trying to say that this is the attitude of all male students at my university, because it isn’t. The male students that I live with, and some of the individuals that I’ve formed friendships with, show a little more respect towards women, not much, but enough to be noticed.
Another boy in my college referred to a girl as a “hoe” and a “slut” and was really critical of her because she’d had sex with a couple of boys since arriving at university, when he had done the exact same thing. I’m sure I won’t be alone in my experiences. Almost every young woman, if not all young women, will experience sexism during freshers week, and this unfortunately may also continue throughout university for some.
There’s the classic “you were wearing clothes that made you look like you wanted to pull someone” comment that will probably be raised by the people that disagree with me. Don’t be so ridiculous as to try and tell me that the sexism I experienced was as a result of the clothes that I was wearing, or that it was self inflicted. It has nothing to do with what clothes women wear. I’ve experienced this exact same sexism before I came to university, and most of those times I was wearing outfits that meant that I was ‘covered up’ or ‘modest’. I might have been wearing a tight dress with my breasts slightly visible on some of these occasions at university, but this is not justification for me to be groped or drooled over like I’m a piece of meat. I’m worth more than that, and so is every woman.
I understand that when people have had a few drinks they can become much more confident. A few years ago, I used to be really shy and quiet, but when I’d had a few drinks I could literally talk to anyone. I also understand that alcohol can occasionally blur your senses and thought process, this has happened to me many times, but this does not excuse sexual harassment or sexual assault in freshers week, or at any other time. The victim of sexual harassment or assault is not to blame, no matter whether they were drunk or they were dressed in a way in which you felt was provocative or suggestive. The fault of sexual harassment/assault lies with the harasser/assaulter.
Imagine if the roles were reversed and this was a woman that had done this to a man in a night club or bar, everyone would find it really weird and they’d be laughed out of there. But seemingly, it’s acceptable for young men to sexually harass women without any remorse and women “just need to accept a compliment” or they need to “take a joke”. This leads me to possibly my favourite video or all time.
While this isn’t a piece of artwork and doesn’t relate directly to university or freshers week, this video acts as a really poignant example of how sexist comments aimed at women are accepted as the norm, but when these comments are aimed at men, they stand out like a sore thumb. I’d recommend that everyone watches this video, not only is it really entertaining to see a female being put in such a powerful position, but the reactions of the men are hilarious as they have absolutely no idea how to respond.
During the video, Leah Green travels around London saying and shouting things at men that are commonly directed towards women, these include: “your boyfriend’s a slag” and “oi boys, get your arses out!” My personal highlight of the video is when Leah goes into a DIY/hardware shop and asks “sorry, do you have a woman that works here that could help me?…They might know a bit more.” All of the scenes are based on real situations that women have experienced, who have then reported these experiences to The Everyday Sexism Project, which is also worth checking out if you’re not already aware of it.
Georgia made a really valid point in her recent article about Sam Pepper: “Just this week I was in a bar with my friends and, as I was walking to the toilets, a man slapped my arse amongst multitudes and giggles from his friends. I’m a really massive feminist activist. And did I kick and scream? No. And you can not expect other women to.” This is a really important thing to remember. While I might come over as very confident writing this article, I’ve never once confronted any of the men that have done this to me. I like to think that on some occasions in the future I might confront them and say “get off me” or “what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”, but normally I just shrug it off, and the following morning I’ll feel disappointed in myself that I just accepted it as the norm.
It’s incredibly hard, however, for women to confront sexual harassment. A comment like “nice tits” or “you’re fit” can quickly turn into “fuck you, you slut” if you reject this so called ‘compliment’. While we need to identify sexual harassment and sexual assault as completely unacceptable, we also need to acknowledge and understand how challenging, and potentially dangerous, the situation is for women should they attempt to confront it.