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The Sober Fresher – Do you need alcohol to have a good time?

Before I arrived at university I was worried about three things; 1) I would lose my flat keys in Fresher’s Week and end up sleeping with the campus foxes 2) In my first seminar, a journalism lecturer resembling Jon Snow, terrifying and intelligent, would boom at me, “Young lady, what are your views on the Blair Years?” to which I would murmur something about liking his dress sense and 3) I would be taunted for my lack of interest in consuming vast quantities of alcohol.

As it turned out, my keys have always remained safely in my pocket and Jon Snow was a darling. However, drinking at university has been a slightly more complicated matter .

I have always had an unenthusiastic attitude to drinking. This is not for religious reasons or a dislike of the taste, but the idea that one Tequila shot too many can lead to a day spent with your head next to the toilet bowl is enough of a deterrent to put my glass down after just a couple.

I spent Freshers Week in a state of sobriety thus far completely unheard of at university. I love dancing and student night life without alcohol, a fate that made me as ostentatious as a porpoise hiding in a wardrobe. This didn’t faze me at all, but confused the hell out of my new friends:

He’s the happiest porpoise I’ve ever seen

“How do you even walk into a club?”

“Can you dance sober?”

“Can you even talk to people?”

So how does an abstemious Fresher fit into a daunting new world where every student’s blood is laced with Frosted Jack’s and your social life revolves around who spilled what gossip during the most recent game of ‘Never Have I Ever’? Does teetotal-ness exclude you from making new friends, having a great social life and enjoying student culture? Or, the most frightening thought of all, does it make you boring?

In sympathy of my self-esteem I want to bark, “No!” and for the majority of the time, this is true. Since attending university, I can count on one hand the times I have been singled out for not drinking. Laughably, the worst thing that has happened is a drunken boy accosting me and slurring, “Don’t you think you’re just a little bit too sensible?”which I’m sure my ego has never truly recovered from.

So far I have managed to make great friends and have an exciting, if crazy, social life on all but no alcoholic stimuli. Some of this is my stubbornness to be unfazed by a group of rowdy first years, and some of it is because the rowdy first year’s antics make for really excellent blog entries.

Student life and alcohol are so deeply intertwined that separating the two would be as difficult as imagining Tom Selleck without a moustache, and until Kopparberg becomes ten pounds a bottle, that’s not ever going to change. What perhaps needs some alteration is the idea that student night life isn’t bearable without alcohol. Whilst it’s heartening to realise I personally don’t need a drink to have a great night out, the same can’t be said of everyone. And that’s nothing if not a little bit upsetting.

My fear of not being accepted as a non-drinker dissolved within the first few weeks of being at university. I was not judged and discarded based on how much beer I could chug. Being a sober Fresher doesn’t mean a life spent sat in the corner sipping J2O’s and fending off intoxicated friends trying to tip Apple Sourz down your throat either. If club life isn’t your cup of tea, sober or otherwise, then join a film club, arts programme or debates team. Universities are bursting with opportunities for the curious student wanting a different experience.

University is a place to learn, make friends, have fun and most importantly, find and follow what you truly believe in. It’s okay to swim against the tide. The uncharted seas of intoxication aren’t for everyone.

Continuing what I hope is an excellent tidal analogy

Images courtesy of Google

14/4/13

The truth about the ‘Uni Lad’

Recently, a report was published by the National Union of Students discussing lad culture in universities. Survey results revealed that sexual harassment and violence were ‘very much related’ to lad culture. The report stated, “Groping in nightclubs were viewed by some as a ‘normal’ night out” and banter was described as “Often sexist, misogynistic and homophobic.” The report followed the NUS’ survey in 2010, which revealed 68% of students had been the victim of one or more incidents of sexual harassment on campus.

Correspondingly this month, Glasgow students boycotted their university union after it failed to respond appropriately to two of its female students being heckled with sexist and demeaning remarks during a university debate.

As a female student who has been at university for just over seven months now, I want to look at the issue with fresh eyes; a nineteen year old girl observing and reflecting on her personal experience. Is this report an accurate summary of how lad culture affects students at university?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Boys wear the label ‘lad’ like a badge of honour. Certain male students find great honour in being dubbed a ‘lad’, either due to the ability to drink copious amounts of Stella from a beer funnel or ‘pulling’ in a night club. This attitude has spilled over into female student’s social circles as well, with ‘ladette’ behaviour being seen by some as even more outrageous and sexualised than the males. In 2009, the number of women fined for drunk and disorderly behaviour had risen by 30 per cent (‘Rise of ‘ladette’ culture’ The Telegraph, 2009).

Sometimes ‘laddish’ behaviour is harmless, when simply winning a game of Fifa can earn you the title. Other times it causes upset and embarrassment, with some students even dropping out of university as a result.

My personal experience of sexist behaviour has ranged from a group of men walking past my friends and I, muttering, “Mate, you need to go for the one with the really tight ass” to being sexually harassed in a club. The latter has resulted in my male and female friends becoming so indignant and angry on my behalf that it’s been all I can do to stop a fight breaking out. I can truthfully state that being groped in a club is an occupational hazard. It’s likely that at some time during the night you will be touched inappropriately without your consent at least once.

This is not acceptable. There shouldn’t be girls who reach the end of a semester and say, “Well I was only groped four times since last month. I’ve beaten last semester’s record of three cases of sexual harassment and a request to show the football team my breasts.”

The infamous’ Uni Lad’ website is a perfect example of the lad culture in full swing. The homepage contains a disclaimer from the editor which says,

“Take a step back for a second and ask yourself, “Is this article serious?” The humour is in how absolutely inappropriate and outrageous the “advice” is, it’s the idea that men are these boorish animals to whom advice like this is actually useful. It’s taking the piss out of the entire (normally female targeted) magazine industry which dispenses lifestyle advice and sex tips…

Students love articles that don’t take themselves too seriously. The site isn’t out to offend, it’s to give them a break from the heavy stories in the mainstream news and to have a laugh.” – Alex, Editor.”

This seems a vaguely legitimate justification. Ian Hislop must be kicking himself at missing such a golden opportunity for satire. Then you stumble upon a link entitled ‘A Medley of Minge.’ The opening lines of this ‘humorous’ piece are as follows:

‘You walk into a crowded house party. Look around.

There is a cornucopia of potential clunge awaiting you.

Meet Penelope:

‘She’s likely to be really insecure because she knows she could be much fitter, so she’ll appreciate your attention enough that you’ll definitely get a blowjob. And chubby insecure girls are REALLY good at blowjobs. They’ve spent ages being too shy to get out their vajayjays, resorting instead to the good old cock-sucking move of desperation. Also, all of them at some point have probably had a bit of a self-induced vom, so their gag reflex is probably shot. Hello deep throat!’

You can grasp the general tone of the piece.

I don’t hate this website because I have no sense of humour. I hate this website because if you re-worded parts of the article you would have something resembling a personal statement in a brothel. The ‘Uni Lad’s’ defence – ‘It’s just a joke LMAO” – is unlikely to stand up in court.

With club nights such as the ‘Pimps and Hoes’ Carnage bar crawl in Sheffield in October last year and the continuing stream of misogynistic jokes appearing hourly on the Uni Lad’s Twitter feed, it is clear the issue is not confined solely to universities. With almost laughably derogatory articles at the fingertips of anyone in possession of a smart phone, computer, or it seems, a ticket to Carnage, is it any wonder that incidents of sexual harassment are so common at universities, where some students are only one Tequila shot away from forgetting their own names?

One of the other issues stemming from such behaviour is the continuing normalisation of misogynistic attitudes towards women, due to having easy access to sexist content. Its progressively tolerable place in young people’s culture belittles more serious crimes such as rape.

If we are to address the issue, I feel we must ask the fundamental question of why certain individuals feel this type of behaviour is acceptable. Perhaps it is the easy access men have to porn from a young age, whether that is online or in magazine form. Not only does this set men up to have ridiculously unrealistic ideals in a woman’s physique, but it makes magazines such as Nuts or FHM as acceptable a reading material as The Observer. This can only lead to sexist behaviour on the street being deemed acceptable as well.

Young people are always going be under pressure to conform to a certain behaviour or opinion. This affects both male and female students. Whilst lad culture is not practised by every student, its existence is disrupting some individuals lives and well-being.

We need to begin at the heart of the problem – the idea that sexist behaviour is humorous and acceptable – and make clear the frightening connotations of ‘Uni Lad’s’ behaviour.

In the NUS report, one student described the inability to even walk down the street without some of her male peers lining the road, making a bridge “with their hands … shouting … ‘U.G.L.Y. – she’s ugly, she’s ugly’.”

I don’t think we can label this as ‘just a bit of banter’, do you?

Image courtesy of Google

11/3/13

Is there such a thing as a perfect partner? 

On picturing the ‘Perfect Partner’ some people may evoke a Disney version companion. For a woman, a Prince; tall, handsome, preferably wealthy and if possible, being able to look really, really good on horseback. For men, a beautiful Princess; good dress sense, nice legs and not being adverse to occasionally cutting off their hair and attempting to overthrow the Hun.

I digress. It would be foolish to suggest these traits are on everyone’s mental tick list or are even vaguely realistic. For some, the perfect partner does exist, but without the clichéd, blank eyed beauty that so many of us were fed through watching re-runs of Lois Lane and Superman.

When questioning my fellow students on what they looked for in a perfect partner, I was given a few down-right frank answers:

“A cocksure love for rom-coms.”

“Strong hands.”

“Definitely not a Tory.”

And –

“Girth.”

For a bit of equality, I then asked the over forties what they considered were traits in a perfect partner. Some were expected:

“A shared sense of humour.”

“Selflessness.”

“Trustworthiness.”

And some were not:

“What’s important is a really nice arse.”

What we can deduce from these responses is that yes, there is such a thing as a perfect partner. At least, there is when you take off your rose-tinted Raybans and have a realistic idea of what works within a relationship.

Most importantly, not pretending everything is going to be an idyllic romp in a meadow. This isn’t the best bits of Twilight. Things are bound to get occasionally sticky. The ability to discuss (or argue depending on your preference) is needed in a perfect partner. This can only be truly done if you both have equal footing within a relationship. If one person holds the power, friction and resentment can grow.  This can be in intelligence, looks or status. Or, as one of my Labour-loving research participants pointed out, “You can’t expect harmony with a person who waves a blue flag when you’re flying a red one.”

Knowing what you’re looking for is half the battle. Don’t pine after an environmentally-conscious man if you’re going to throw a mardy every time he’s late for dinner because he‘s chained to a tree.

There will be people who laugh with you, can be trusted and most importantly, make you truly happy. Just don’t try to fit them into a Disney protagonist mould. Because let’s be honest, that really is unrealistic.

Originally written for Forge Press

Burdensome Secrets – Can keeping a secret really damage your health?

We’ve all done it. Your best friend confides a scandalous secret to you. You gasp. You cross your heart. You swear to keep it. But the next day at a lecture, a fellow chatterer sits next to you and asks the fatal question: “So, any gossip?” and it’s as hard to keep quiet as it is to write that essay when Peep Show’s residing on 4oD.

But is that such a bad thing?

Google Images

A recent study at Tufts University in America suggests that it is better for your health to divulge secrets than to keep them quiet.

New studies have shown the emotional burden of keeping a big secret can actually be as onerous as carrying a sofa up three flights of stairs.

Michael L Slepian, a doctoral student in psychology at Tufts University, has found that keeping a secret leads to the same kind of experiences people have when dealing with physical tasks, such as carrying a heavy load.

As part of his investigation, Slepian asked people to judge the steepness of a hill. Participants were asked to recall a significant or insignificant secret. Those who recalled an important one judged the hill to be steeper than those asked to recall a small secret.

“We suggest that concealment also leads to greater physical burden and perhaps eventually physical overexertion, exhaustion and stress,” Slepian and his co-workers concluded.

So is revealing your friends secrets the way to a healthy heart, or will you just end up breaking some instead?

Slepian’s research showed that sharing with people you trust allows insight into your problems and is beneficial to your health. But; “These effects don’t occur when you tell people who aren’t accepting of your secret,” says Slepian. “It’s important to only share such information with people who are accepting and supporting.”

This begs the question of when the excuse, “I had to tell someone because it felt like I was carrying an IKEA sofa bed,” is ever truly an acceptable one.

Research by the skincare company ‘Simple’ showed that the average woman kept a secret for 32 minutes before sharing it, and 1 in ten women lost a friend because of it.

As we wait on tender hooks for Gillette to release their findings, perhaps we should think twice before sitting next to the gossiper on aisle four and opt for the back row, because frankly, even the juiciest piece of gossip isn’t worth losing a friend for.

Originally written for Forge Press

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