This issue seems to have a particular focus on sex and sexuality, especially pertaining to women. Sex is an issue we seem to always have flung in our faces. Along with the belief that students are drug-and-alcohol-obsessed as well as vacuous and shallow, popular thought tells us that, once we get to college, all inhibitions go out of the window and we become crazed animals with our eyes on each other’s bodies as opposed to our degrees.
How does this highly-sexualised view of university affect us, our sense of selves and, most importantly, our actions? While we are told that society is now a completely liberal place, the reality is very different. Sex is something that is still very much viewed as negative outside certain situations, especially if you are a woman.
The ways in which a woman who dares step outside of the prescribed social norms of sexuality is punished are startling. Our language regarding the subject is swift and cutting. Words like ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and ‘slag’ have become so commonplace that they are sometimes even used as terms of greeting and endearment. We are all guilty of it, but it does not lessen the damage that these words do to the freedom of female sexuality.
The term “slut-shaming” has been coined in recent times and it seems as if this practice is becoming more and more common, especially in insular environments such as UCD. The film Easy A, due for general release in Ireland on 22nd October, deals with how teenagers and young adults have markedly different reactions to men and women having sex. Society seems to urge women to have sex, yet mark them as soiled or sullied when they do. College is one of the worst environments for this sort of behaviour.
Rumours are commonplace and while we think UCD is a big campus where anonymity is guaranteed, the opposite is true. This university is a universe of cliques, where everyone knows everyone and interlinking of friendship groups is far more common that one would think.
Our country has a long and solid history of trying to rein in and control women by damaging freedom of sexuality. The Ireland in which we live in today is a world away from the Ireland of the seventies and eighties. Women battled with the authorities, both governmental and religious, to get the basic freedoms which were afforded to their sisters in the United Kingdom.
Contraception, the criminalisation of marital rape and abortion information rights were just some of the things these women fought for. These are things that we take for granted. No one doubts that when they go to the Student Health Service for a contraceptive pill prescription that they will be denied, called names or judged. We have a preconception that everything is fine, that we can act as we please without judgement or consequence.
This is, of course, not true. Ask any woman who has been talked about because she deigned to step outside the sexual norm and she will tell you about being whispered about and called names. In judging our female peers the way we do and creating a hostile environment in which female sexuality is judged, we are undoing the work that others have done to create a more liberal Ireland. What is really damaging about this mentality is that it is insidious and marketed as a “joke”.
Our attitudes toward female sexuality must change. It is hard to marry an environment in which promiscuity is positively encouraged, yet judgement is handed out after the deed is done. Now that the Church has far less of an influence on society, it is time to be inspired by our European counterparts and be open and non-judgemental about sex and sexuality. We should be done with childish tactics of whispering and name-calling. We are, after all, supposed to be adults.
Words are more damaging than we may think, both to individuals and perceptions of sexuality in general. A reputation takes a lifetime to erase and it is time that we realised that. Stigmatising sex is not the way to create a healthy university environment and these stigmas carry on further into adult life.
To put it frankly, sex is not the enemy. Miseducation is. We need to begin to be open and unashamed about sex. By removing the stigma, we can become more informed about the choices open to us, as well as topics such as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Making derogatory remarks about people, especially women, is not the answer. We must open ourselves up to discussing sex and thus remove what is clearly problematic about our attitudes toward it.