If you have been living under a rock or as a sack-wearing hermit, you may still be unaware of uniladgate, the scandal surrounding online ‘Lad’s’ mag for presumably sexually incompetent male university students that endorsed rape on the grounds that most go unreported so its worth a try if a girl is reluctant to give it up. Subsequent twitter storm saw the filth-ridden Unilad brigade shut down the website, sadly depriving a generation of Fosters-swilling, socially inept Soccer AM addicts from a communal wank-fest in their shared kitchen. This vile piece of internet mud is now back with us, bringing us such delights as “If you want the gash, spend the cash”. FYI unilads, neither wearing £10 cream Primark chinos nor referring to young women as “gash” will get you anywhere near one. It more or less cements the fact that you will not have sex with anything other than your hand for many, many years. Still, their online poll “are you glad we’re back” pleasingly showed that 60% of their visitors were not, and their advertising space remains woefully empty. We can be grateful for small mercies.
When I went to university in 2005 I experienced first hand some of the culture that surrounds this hotbed of filth. People tell you university, especially first year, is the best experience of your life. Mine wasn’t, and I don’t think I’m alone. It was lonely, miserable, disruptive, unsupportive and seemed to be about everything except what I went there for – to learn. I got a lot of my drinking, drug-taking and hardcore partying out of the way as a teenager, so by the time I went to university I was bored of it and wanted to get the most out of racking up six grand a year of debt. I wanted to meet interesting people who had read Marx and played in a folk band. I wanted to campaign for womens rights, to find study partners, to have long intellectual discussions over coffee until the small hours. I wanted my lecturers to inspire and take an interest in me, I wanted to take up a niche hobby, I wanted to leave with my mind broadened by the people I’d met and the experiences I’d had. Instead I found predominantly a generation of immature, surprisingly unintelligent fledgling daily mail readers who were solely interested in drinking as much and as often as humanely possible and shagging as many of their STI-ridden fellow students as they could manage in a night.
I was in a flat in first year, within a block of other student accommodation flats. My room was small and prison-like, with a high window onto a courtyard. There was no noise insulation, rarely any university staff on site and nowhere to go in the surrounding area. We were effectively isolated from any outside influence. There were three girls in my flat, and a flat of six boys above us and six below. None of them were interested in what they were studying. None of them wanted to do anything except get drunk and have sex. Suffice it to say we did not hit it off well and I became a social pariah within a few weeks when I showed little interest in the aforementioned drinking/shagging. Somehow, I don’t know how it started, but I became the victim of a prolonged bullying campaign by these people. I had to start locking my room when I left the flat because I knew they would go in there and go through my stuff. Worst of all at least four times a week the boys from both flats would go out on a drinking spree and come home at 2 or 3am, so drunk they could hardly make it up the stairs. First they would stand in the courtyard screaming insults at my window until I woke up. Then they would march up the stairs chanting unrepeatable football songs at me, ‘hilariously’ changing the words to be aimed at my physical attributes. Then they would stand on the stairs my room backed onto and bang on the wall, sometimes for hours at a time, shouting and singing and laughing, all in the name of banter. I can’t repeat a lot of what they did, because its genuinely just too painful to relive. This went on for almost eight months. I became permanently unable to sleep, constantly exhausted, justifiably paranoid and terrified to bump into one of them in the kitchen or a corridor. I stayed out late and left early or hid all day. I reported the abuse several times to the accommodation staff who brushed it off as ‘just boys being boys’, or told me I must have dreamt it because no-one else reported any noise.
I often wonder now why I put up with it for so long. Why I didn’t try to do more. I felt ashamed, helpless, isolated. I felt embarrassed that at 20 years old I was being bullied like a schoolchild. I would have had grounds to sue the university for breach of their duty of care. The perpetrators would certainly have been thrown out if the extent of what they did was known. But that’s what happens to abuse victims – I am a confident, outspoken woman. I am intelligent and creative and funny, I am tolerant and interesting. But in those circumstances I was a shadow. I was told ‘boys will be boys’. I was made to feel like it was my problem for not taking their abuse in the spirit it was apparently meant – as ‘banter’. I was unable to help myself and no-one spoke out for me. Eventually one night, laughing uproariously, these ‘lads’ took a baseball bat to my wall in an attempt to get a reaction out of me and knocked a hole in the wall. They were reprimanded, and told to apologise. That was it. A week later we all moved out for the summer holidays and I never saw them again.
Quite why they hated me so much I will never know, and I hope the extremity of my situation is rare. But the culture that surrounds banter, ‘lads’, and often bullying is not rare and in the name of it, I suffered months of trauma and frequently considered suicide as a possible escape. Its behind me now and no doubt my attackers are out in the world somewhere, behind a screen, leaving comments on feminist blogs and Daily Telegraph articles about what women deserve and wanking over their miserable existences, but that culture where violence against women is trivialised, accepted and even celebrated prevails amongst a whole generation of young men. Thanks unilad. Great job making the world a better place and setting good examples for young men leaving home for the first time. Great banter.