When transposing Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and its structures into a university environment, it’s safe to say that we exist in one big Mojo Dojo Casa House. “I don’t pull girls every night because they don’t know I play rugby (…) it’d be too easy if [they] did”; “A bloke from Holland Hall laughed when a girl in my seminar didn’t have a MacBook”; “Mate I haven’t been too bad, I’ve only cheated on my girlfriend like 3 times since being here.” These are all direct quotes from @exeter_overheard , an Instagram page dedicated to statements of this kind which are shared by the University’s students. Whilst the public could well be shocked and appalled by the comments made, as a student I am unfazed. I have sadly grown immune to these comments; this immunity forces me to remember the girl who existed before entering this micro-culture.
“Mate I haven’t been too bad, I’ve only cheated on my girlfriend like 3 times since being here.”
Having attended an only girl’s school and sixth form, I was like Margot Robbie in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, blissfully unaware that the caricatures of sexism and classism not only existed but dominated in social environments. Going clubbing to be grabbed by boys who did not so much as ask your name, seeing charts with flat member’s “body counts”, and hearing racist chants sung off-key by a drunk group of privately educated boys was like being confronted with the real world for the first time. At first, I could easily cite the source of the problem in male-dominated societies, their peculiar initiation rituals, and their pack-like mentality. However, as my experience at university progressed, it became increasingly difficult to push the blame. The specific culture surrounding drinking, gender, class, race, and sexuality is concentrated by the elitism of the University system.
At first, I could easily cite the source of the problem in male-dominated societies, their peculiar initiation rituals, and their pack-like mentality.
This culture does not mean that there aren’t some incredible opportunities at university for friendships to flourish. However, most of mine are out of some solidarity surrounding our place within the social environment. There seems to be a communal path, treading a fine line between getting too involved in the lad culture whilst not wanting to miss the “good old days” whilst we’re still in them. I am not opposed to a good drink and have thus been forced to come to terms with the positive aspects of the lad culture of Exeter, but the negative undertone of violence that it carries cannot be ignored.
The language used at university is evidence for this negative undertone, notably in the verb “sharking”. To shark is a verb exclusive to second-year and up students; it means to actively make prey of first-years due to their inexperience and vulnerability. When analysing this word and its potential uses, the violence is evident. And yet the word is often used in comical settings. In Fresher’s week, I remember seeing some people dressed as sharks and pushing it to the back of my mind as a themed costume night. I now understand that this violent term is made casual by members of the student body. In claiming this word’s violence, I am not arguing that its users acknowledge it in the same depth. I believe that is rarely thought of, which is the central issue.
The language used at university is evidence for this negative undertone notably in the verb “sharking”.
A lack of thought around University “lad culture” by both students and authority figures is damaging. The culture seems to be pinned on immaturity, youth, and joviality – a scapegoat that I have easily used at times. Upon further consideration, I would argue that the micro-culture is representative of macro-social issues, as highlighted by feminist writers like Dolly Alderton, Alison Phipps, and as earlier mentioned Greta Gerwig. It is not something that we can necessarily stop, but by bringing awareness there is a consciousness given to individuals within this system. This allows students to be more reflective about their role within this culture, which will slowly decrease its potency.
So, when you overhear a comment like the ones seen on university social media sites, consider its influence in creating a Kendom.