Lucy Fielding and Liviana Sordo-de-Cock
St Anne’s Ball 2014 (10th May, Saturday of 2nd week) is the only college ball to be held outside of Oxford this year at Kingston Bagpuize House and Gardens, an 18th century home and its surrounding parkland, which is entirely at the disposal of ball-goers for one night. The sheer size of the space allows the Ball to host fairground rides which you can’t get into most colleges’ grounds, different marquees for music and entertainment, and more food options than the average person will be able to take advantage of. If you are starting to worry about transport, don’t. Transport is arranged there and back, with all coaches leaving St Anne’s College early in the evening, and returning every half hour from midnight onwards.
The theme is La Belle Époque – a luxurious era in French and Belgian history that was all about lavishness and enjoyment. It’s exactly what you want from a college ball. The choices are endless in both food and entertainment. College balls often offer you a narrow selection of premixed drinks, this one will offer you all the standard drinks you would expect from a night out (G&T, vodka lemonade, Jägerbombs etc.) as well as beer, wine, soft drinks, cocktails and mocktails for those of you who don’t drink alcohol (or need to wake up and be productive the next day). If you start to feel a little bit tired towards the end of the night there will be tea and coffee, and if you just want a warm drink there will be hot chocolate too. To accompany all these drinks there will be food, lots of it, both sweet and savoury. In terms of the latter there will be burgers, pizzas, and Croques Monsieur (French toastie). For those with a sweet tooth there will be crêpes, donuts, and a chocolaterie (think of the film, Chocolat, and you’re close). Within these options will be more options, including ones for vegetarians and allergy sufferers (dairy, gluten, and nuts). We defy anyone to say there’s nothing that tempts them there.
Keble Ball, Oxford’s largest annual black tie, is back again with “Romanov Russia” as its theme. The Tab reported Keble Ball 2013 was “a quality affair” with “strong and plentiful” drinks and “a photographer that made you look attractive when you’re actually really ugly”. Well, you’re in for a treat, because this year it promises to be even better. Our catering team have hinted at a Bolshevik Beer Hall, towers of macaroons and truffles, and of course every Russian’s “water of life”; vodka – and yes, we’ll have stock loads of it, so get psyched. These themed additions will be complemented by a wide array of world cuisine, in addition to the return of last year’s hugely successful cocktail bars and a line up filled with big names. Honestly, a premium black tie event with tickets at just £90? This is a guaranteed steal.
On May 10th 2014, Oxford’s most beautiful yet underrated college will transform each of its unspoilt 15th century quads into Heaven, Hell and Eden. At only £90 for a non-dining ticket, Lincoln’s Paradise Lost ball is set to be a night of cosmic proportions, at least where fun is concerned. Guests will also be given the chance to experience Lincoln’s renowned Cordon Bleu-standard food, with dining tickets for a scrumptious three course feast set at just £129. Rumours are already flying of a huge headliner from an up-and-coming American band, and a newly signed London talent, not to mention one of Oxford’s biggest DJ’s taking control of the dance tent. Guests will be invited into the splendour of Paradiso where they can revel in sheer decadence, before descending into the perils of Hell to party like sinners until the sun comes up. In short, Lincoln Ball has something on offer for everyone; if a night of hedonistic partying in Hell is not for you, then the legendary Ringaringaroses Garland-making company await in Eden, alongside multiple other exciting features to beguile the senses (watch this space!). What is more, the committee have some of London’s hottest street food vendors lined up, such as Anna Mae’s legendary Pulled Pork: spotted at last year’s Bestival and shortlisted for the BBC Good Food Awards. The committee will soon be making more tantalising foodie announcements, and have promised that a sumptuous feast will be available.
As one of the cheapest balls in Oxford, we provide a plethora of entertainment options, which basically means the Hilda Ball is the ultimate value-for-money ball. Set against the backdrop of Fin de Siecle, the night promises to be one of justified decadence, glamorous indulgence and shameless debauchery. Music acts include Collector’s Club, Teddy and Dot’s Funk Odyssey, as well as Hilda’s very own Jack and the Beanstalks, whose popular appeal in the past means they’ll be returning for the third year in a row. The night is expected to end with a silent disco conducted by DJs from Babylove (Action Stations) and Cellar (RUNDFUNK). If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there will also be a huge 25ft sq bouncy castle, a thirty-player game of lasertag, giant connect 4 and even an oversized game of chess. For those who prefer something a bit less hectic, there will also be an interactive photo booth and a shisha bar where you can just relax and listen to the several acts lined up for the acoustic stage. And who can forget about food? Those with dining tickets will be able to tuck into a delicious five course menu featuring a host of rich, provocative French cuisine. For informal dining, there will also be tons on offer, including our resident favourite G&D’s, a gourmet barbeque and rustic beef Bourguignon. Lastly, what’s a night of revelry without unlimited alcohol and vibrant cocktails? With so many fantastic choices on offer, the Hilda ball at least wins in the variety stakes.
Returning to Worcester as part of a triennial cycle, the 2014 Commemoration Ball coincides with Worcester’s 300th anniversary and will be the pinnacle of the College’s events marking the tercentenary year. Befitting the occasion, 2,000 guests will be treated to a night of elegance, sophistication and bespoke entertainment, spread amongst the College’s extensive grounds and gardens. With the orchard and lake forming part of the enchanting backdrop, an evening of the spectacular is guaranteed. In addition to our ground-breaking partnership with The Ministry of Sound, many closely guarded secrets remain, and will be revealed in the build up to the Ball. Our guests can expect the finest cuisines, handpicked from outstanding national favourites and boutique local suppliers, complemented by a diverse and exciting array of drinks to be served throughout the evening. A glittering musical and entertainment line-up, showcased across several indoor and outdoor stages will captivate from the setting of the sun until the first light of morning. In such a historic year, this will be a truly unforgettable occasion. To those lucky enough to hold a ticket – we look forward to welcoming you through the gates of Worcester this June.
St. John’s College Commemoration Ball, the Ball of the Year, will take you on a grand journey through the seasons. On 27th June, there quads and gardens undergo a transformation into different seasons. They recently signed a fantastic band who will be headlining their main stage, and this mysterious guest will be joined by many more great musical acts that they have lined up on all three stages. From a summer festival to a wintry fairground, there will be festivities for everyone from dusk until dawn. The unlimited drink and many seasonal food options we have on offer will keep you going all night, and those of you that do make it will, of course, be treated with a fine breakfast in the morning. At just £155 for a year’s worth of fun in one unforgettable night, make sure you get a ticket whilst they are still available.
Having spent our first year at Oxford familiarising ourselves with the Cheese Floor and Wahoo, we decided to broaden our night time horizons out and experience some of Oxford’s less busy nights out. If you’re considering something a bit different to your standard trip to Park End or Bridge, we’ve reported back on our findings from deepest darkest Cellar and Babylove, so you’re prepared should you decide to venture out.
Our foray into the more obscure side of Oxford clubbing began with a slight embarrassment at Extracurricular at Cellar. In the belief that it would save us £2 each, we wrote our names on the wall of the event, having been warned that “obvious jokes would not be accepted”. When we got to the door, we found that our names weren’t on the list — I guess this must make us “obvious jokes”. But once we were in and had adjusted to the Cellar ambiance, that is, the dark, stuffy heat, we actually started to like it. Red Stripe in hand (drink of choice in Cellar) we braved the dance floor. We weren’t strictly familiar with the music — the night had advertised itself as “no genre in particular — but soon found that it was quite conducive to rhythmic thrashing of the extremities. Slightly concerned that we’d embarrass ourselves, we kept an eye on others’ moves, and were pleased to find that no dance move is too embarrassing. For an hour or so, we made full use of this: the others may be wearing crops tops, unusual t-shirts and peak caps backwards, but everyone’s dancing is equally uncool. Even a newbie loves to see the beat drop.
Supermarket, the second stop on our journey of discovery, is hardly niche these days. To use the useful, albeit extremely obnoxious term, it’s best characterised as “entry-level niche” — sounds just right for us. We did our research beforehand and were reliably informed that the smoking area was Supermarket, as long as you don’t mind missing out on the Beyoncé and on a picture with a trendy filter (which, despite the possibility of harm to our credibility, we didn’t mind). In light of this knowledge, we decided to save ourselves a fiver and literally only go to the smoking area, with some spare friend-making Rizla in hand. But we’re here so you learn from our mistakes, so a top tip from us: go on the right night. Odd weeks, silly!
Having found Cellar quite enjoyable, we went back for more at LoveShy. A surprisingly busy night, we found ourselves having to queue for at least half an hour. However, we didn’t mind because it accidentally gave us the opportunity to interview someone who tried to bum a cig off us. “I really like Cellar”, says an unnamed fresher (because we forgot her name), “because I get really fed up of spending time too much time around Oxford students.” We’re not sure if this is really the opportunity to mingle with townies, but the feel of the place is certainly different to Camera, for example. Once we were in Cellar, and comforted by the ubiquity of the now familiar red and white of the Red Stripe cans, we took a minute to get to know our surroundings. The attire was especially surprising to us, since we hadn’t realised that geek chic had made a comeback, and there were some questionable choices in eyewear out that night. The music was also a surprise to us. Far from being out of our depth we found it a sort of remixed throwback, with bits of songs we recognise from our youth: “Babycakes, you just don’t know how I love you so”, and also that one that goes “One, two, three, four, let me hear you scream if want some more…”. With only a can of beer in us each, the booming bass line meant we were still able to appreciate the joys of rubbing against suspiciously sweaty strangers, which only reflects well on the night. On the downside, we were promised crisps, and we didn’t get any.
On the night of Burning Down the House, Wednesdays/Fridays of odd weeks, we did actually enter Babylove. The music is versatile and varied, considering that Burning is an 80s night rather than a specific genre. But generally, it is best characterised as fun, danceable pop, or otherwise as “a Radio 2 listener’s paradise”, as one regular put it. We did find it especially pleasing to be able to dance along to Kate Bush and Blondie playing very loudly in a room of likeminded people, which you can’t really get anywhere else in Oxford. The atmosphere was also unique: intimate, friendly, and this time, when we were promised sweets, we did in fact get them. There was no real “type” of person or of attire there, though it was probably above average in trendiness. The odd nod to the 80s in fashion was valued: think oversized clothes and outrageous patterns. We also did some research at the bar: it’s expensive, but the barman has confirmed that the greatest alcohol to price ratio is a double vodka and lemonade. In the smoking area, again with our friend-making Rizla, we asked another regular what their thoughts were on Burning: “I stay until the end because I like it.” We ourselves agree we, and we also stayed until the end, and at 2.56am we were treated to Wuthering Heights (what’s two years?). Unfortunately an underrated night — personally, we had the most fun there, and found its atmosphere and familiar music the most enjoyable during our foray into niche nights.
So will these newbies go back? We found that trying out some “niche nights” every now and then is a great way to break up the routine and experience something a bit different to your standard fare at Park End. Usually these nights are lacking in the numbers that the bigger clubs draw, but in the small venues, that can also be a good thing. Now with this guide, you have nothing stopping you.
‘Grats, comrades of the scholarly pursuit, for making it to 3rd week. Michaelmas has come and gone, and here hails Hilary; although to anyone well-versed in the seasonal implications of Oxford terms, the word “hails” is likely to be so jarringly out of context as to sound like an ironic clang, or the first note of a threnody to blizzard-less bliss, harbingering the gloom and doom that will soon materialise into a snowball of essays or problem sheets. For the university student, January blues embodies not so much a sentiment as a wintry way of life; an opportunity for one to defiantly subvert the aphoristic wisdom of “you snooze you lose” by hitting the dreaded button and the cosy hay all at once, and to do so without any qualms in a way that would make even the poster enfant terrible Holden Caulfield proud.
Unless you are a sorry sadomasochist whose relationship with work is characterised by Stockholm Syndrome, then the response to HT2014 should really just be “work, shmerk”, with an added dose of self-righteous spice on the side. Adam and Eve may wake up early and work in Milton’s Paradise, yet we postlapsarian sinners can’t help but appreciate the odd (ahem) slothful sleep-in, especially when the week’s essay topic literally screams boredom and we’d much rather take a wonky-eyed insta-selfie of #CBA-ness than contend with Quantum or Quintilian. But alas, rants will always be subordinate to reality, and despite the visceral vindication that bitching offers, it is markedly less helpful in terms of dealing with our primary source of pain – the material mass of reading that taunts our wilful disingenuousness on a weekly basis. Naturally, being the wronged but wily souls like the Oxford students that we are, we adopt the tried and tested approach of flight instead of fight by carrying out a policy of procrastination a la Chamberlain until the deadline comes beckoning, only to find out that history is known to teach lessons for a good reason. So alas, we inveigh and ignore to scant avail, and therefore must eventually succumb to travail. While I hope my cringeworthy attempt at poetic concordance did manage to induce a slight twitch in that frozen frown which (I suspect) has been present on your face since the New Year, I must nonetheless stress a foregone conclusion: students will always be ‘losers’ in the struggle against work, and harbouring any delusions to the contrary hardly helps with making progress. Apparently, students have developed such a bad rap on getting things done that we can now actually lay claim to an exclusive ‘syndrome’, creatively termed “Student Syndrome” which is really just clinical code for lazy bums who think that essays will somehow magically write themselves.
But at the end of the day, didactic chat cannot prove the remedy for the academic epidemic that is procrastination, because incentive to change must come from within the self, and before you dismiss what follows as the sort of motivational codswallop that your secondary school teachers used to force down your throat in after-school talks, here’s some paradoxical but constructive food for thought: spend two more minutes procrastinating (which you obviously have been by reading my article) to discover how the twin methods of self-privation and self-quarantine can help you curb and combat – yes, you guessed it, the grand problem of procrastination.
Method 1: Self-Privation
If ever there were a 21st century devilish antidote to the Holy Trinity, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube would be it. As long as you have a laptop and eduroam/college wifi isn’t being a temperamental sod that day, I am willing to wager almost anything (save perhaps my laptop and wifi) that these are the first websites you click onto upon logging in, bar none. What usually follows is a period of mindless surfing-scrolling-stalking, as one becomes helplessly subsumed by the gravitational lure of information infinite, even when ploughing through photos of your non-university friends’ latest club night shenanigans amounts to little else than a comparative exercise at self-pity. Otherwise, you engage in random chat with that tempting online presence of who the Facebook algorithm thinks is your ‘top friend’, only to realise that by the time you get to “xxx” the two-hour conversation was simply a cyber-manifestation of each other’s daily rants or a cryptic, albeit intimate, exchange of links derived from Imgur or Youtube (high five for more sources of distraction). As if ‘News’ feed (read: treasure trove for nosy people) isn’t bad enough with its python-like ability to ever-expand, tweets are arguably even worse, as they increase at a rate of about one per millisecond and don’t stop proliferating until you actually click away from the page. Finally, the escapist haven that is YouTube takes home the trophy for being the king of all procrastination culprits, as its highly effective but lethal “Recommended for You” bait most likely implies a day’s wasting on vlogs and Vevo.
While I doubt that we can sue Mark Zuckerberg and the Silicon Valley crew on charges of exploitation of weak human will, I do know that there’s always ‘Cold Turkey’ to the rescue. As you’d expect, Cold Turkey is a free productivity program which allows you to block the aforementioned websites, and what makes it more useful than simply installing a site-blocking extension on say, Chrome or Firefox, is that it blocks them for all the browsers in your system and won’t reactivate access unless you uninstall the program from your computer. Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but by subjecting yourself to the faff of having to wade through the multiple ‘barriers’ before actually getting to that step of uninstalling, at least the program ensures that there’ll be a higher chance of you reconsidering your priorities at hand before once again falling into the abyss of cyber-dithering.
Method 2: Self-Quarantine
Ok, so you’ve installed Cold Turkey and the only websites that are now even remotely ‘procrastination-worthy’ are Nexus and Wikipedia, both of which cannot be blocked – the former because your tutor might pull a volte-face on that day’s tute times and the latter because we all need an authoritative encyclopaedic source of knowledge for essay-writing. Just when you think there’s literally ‘work come at me’ branded on your forehead, however, temptation strikes in a tangible form, which most often manifests powerfully as either food or phone. Crap, and the fact you’ve exhausted that remaining dearth of self-discipline by blocking yourself from Facebook doesn’t help with the situation at all. Allow your eyes to conduct a sweeping survey of the rewards gained from that latest Tesco trip, and before long you will have become Bridget Jones 2.0 aka BFF of Ben and Jerry’s. Give that phone a swift sweep, and the next thing you know either Candy Crush or Snapchat has taken your concentration hostage. In the face of such a distracting plenitude, all you can do is to remove yourself from it all, hence the act of ‘self-quarantining’.
And where else more suits the cause than the good ole’ library? As Oxford students, we even have the added luxury of taking our pick, but my personal recommendation for maximum work productivity is none other than the architectural marvel that is the Rad Cam, where postgraduates and professors alike toil away in serious intellectual labour, all the while looking immaculate in scholarly garb and suave in professional assurance. Dare you sully that epitome of academic brilliance with a Snapchat ‘selfie’ (ugh)?! Just wait till the dons call sacrilege on you. Usually, I operate by a policy of bringing an extra jumper to the Lower ‘igloo’ or bringing an extra cushion to the Upper ‘cave’, but if you want maximised results for concentration, then ignore this piece of advice completely and let the cold/hard chairs intimidate you into some hard-core focusing. Leaving aside concerns of a cardiac arrest resulting from library-performance anxiety, at least you will finally be able to get a move on that bloody essay. So with that modern entourage of distractions sufficiently out of the way, your extra two minutes of procrastination is up, and it is now time to do some work. Without Facebook. Or Digestives. Or the comfort of your own abode.
When I first set out writing an article on Oxford drop-outs and what they were up to now, I thought I would be talking to buzzing young people bored by university life and on their way to creating the next Facebook. But instead of a nest of tech start-ups, what I found was a whole range of people, from the now-famous-and-made-it to students who suffered from mental illness. And unfortunately, the spectrum of drop-outs was heavier on the mental illness side.
Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the country; 1.6%, compared to 8.6% nationally. But from anecdotal evidence (the University does not publish data on dropped-out students), it seems that many of the few who leave Oxford do so due to mental health issues, ranging from stress to depression to anorexia.
Not surprisingly, even fewer of the sufferers themselves were willing to talk to me about their personal problems, on why they have left or are seriously considering leaving. Instead the examples come from friends of friends, or swirl around the bottom of the internet in anonymous forums featuring plaintive pleas for help and advice. A third-year English student told me of one friend who managed to get into Oxford while still battling anorexia in hospital, but was overcome by the disease alongside with the stress of Oxford life. She left Oxford soon after arriving. Another friend developed depression while at university, but did not seek help or tell his friends for the longest time; the source characterised his college as possibly having been even a bit too supportive. By giving him options to choose from, instead of firmly insisting that he leave immediately and seek help, she thought his college had hindered his recovery from depression rather than helped it.
Yet at the other end of the spectrum of Oxford drop-outs, there are the well-known who have climbed to the top, either in spite of or because of their decision to drop out. Examples include the actress Kate Beckinsale, the band Foals, and the recently deceased comedian Mel Smith. One dropout is Polly Toynbee, the prominent Guardian columnist who matriculated at St Anne’s in 1966 to study history and stayed less than a year, and who was kind enough to tell me about her experience of dropping out of Oxford. Before starting university, she took a gap year where she worked for Amnesty International in Rhodesia until she was thrown out under Ian Smith’s government, then imprisoned briefly in South Africa. Consequently, she says, “the ‘real world’ seemed to press in, and Oxford seemed somehow irrelevant”. Moreover, her first book was published during her first term, which she says was a “mistake, as it set me up to be some kind of Oxford celebrity, which I wasn’t”.
Toynbee’s college was “not at all” supportive of her decision; “I was frightened by fearsome threats that I would regret it all my life and however hard I begged they would never, ever, take anyone back”. Her academic family put her under great pressure to get a first; her great aunts, one a don, lived “up the road” and came to talk to her tutors to find out how she was doing. But today, her only regret is that “it seems a spoiled thing to do now that students have to struggle so hard and are weighed down with so much debt… I was just lucky in a very different era, not to need a degree in days when only one in seven went to university. Now, it’s a basic necessity, and even then you may still end up waiting tables.”
However, there are other options before dropping out. One is taking a year out to ‘pop the Oxford bubble’. Colin Jackson, a finalist in PPE at LMH, spent the past two years in his hometown New York to work for the Obama campaign, and later for a smaller city-level campaign. He says, “My experience in the smaller campaign was very informative: let’s just say I’ve gained a lot of respect for full-time activists. But even though I had a less positive experience for the second half of the year, I’m grateful to have gained it. After all, if I hadn’t, I’d still be sending CVs to my local congressman right about now, looking for a job which today I know isn’t quite what I expected.”
Another option that allows a student to refrain from dropping out is changing the degree course. For example, in this year’s Maths and Philosophy degree intake of 16, two students have switched degrees – one to Philosophy and Theology, which required a change of college in Hilary, and another to Philosophy and Italian. Elliott Thornley, the former student, is now at Mansfield and says while he would have tried to stick with it at least until prelims exams, but “[he] might have decided it’s just not worth it.” Meanwhile, he has found catching up on another course “tough, but not unbearable”.
While these stories indicate that some happily find a way to enjoy Oxford by changing course or taking a break, there are many stories of students who are unhappy with an Oxonian’s life but who nonetheless choose to plough on. After all, Polly Toynbee’s words ring true: nowadays, a university degree is simply a basic necessity.
Well, not actually abroad. But as far as many of us living in Yorkshire are concerned the South may as well be a different country; once you cross the border people stop putting gravy on everything and Greggs become scarily infrequent. After having moved to Oxford on a semi-permanent basis, I’ve come to realise some of the cultural differences that separate different areas. When I arrived last term, someone genuinely asked me if we had Wi-Fi and colour television up north. The answer is yes, yes we do. In an attempt to I get rid of this ignorance I’ve decided to prepare a brief guide to Yorkshire – God’s own country.
Let’s start with food, something for which the North harbours a strange amount of pride. Once you get past all the pies and pasties our most famous export tends to be the ‘Yorkshire Pudding’. After all, what would the Sunday Roast be without this vital ingredient? Traditionally it’s actually a starter course to the main meal but in most other places in the UK it’s just eaten alongside the meat dish. A slightly lesser known treat is a type of sweet cake called ‘Parkin’ made from ginger and treacle. It’s usually served around Bonfire Night but has become fairly common all year round. But if these dishes are too ordinary for you then some parts of Leeds market used to sell a much more unusual foodstuff. It’s called ‘Kicker’ and to put it plain and simple – it’s horse meat. That’s right, we ate horse long before the whole Tesco situation. Although I don’t expect it would become a popular dish in any of the college halls.
Although Leeds United isn’t quite the football team it used to be (having a reputation for disappointing their fans week after week) since the Olympic Games I’ve claimed the right to boast for Yorkshire’s sporting achievement. At the London 2012 Olympics competitors from Yorkshire received 7 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 3 bronze medals. In fact, from these statistics, if Yorkshire had been treated as a country it would have come twelfth in the global medal table. Not too bad if you ask me – I expect to see a statue of Jessica Ennis in Sheffield city centre any time soon. But if we put normal sporting achievements aside for a moment, one strange test of stamina has become typically associated with Yorkshire. It’s called ‘Ferret Legging’ and I can assure you that, despite any of the stereotypes, I’ve actually never seen it happen in my life. But it involves putting a live ferret down your trousers and seeing how long you can keep it there. The winner is the last to release the animal from their trousers, the record for which is currently five hours. Think you can beat that? Maybe we could introduce it as a component of Eights week…
Moving on from bizarre games to culture, I was surprised recently to read in an article that Yorkshire has produced very few writers. As far as I’m concerned that assumption is entirely false: as well as being the birth place of Ted Hughes, Alan Bennet, Tony Harrison and W. H. Auden, Yorkshire is most famous for being the home of the Brontë sisters. The dark moors of Wuthering Heights are a very real setting, and the Parsonage the three sisters grew up in can now be visited as a museum. For many people the remote moors and dales of North Yorkshire are a beautiful place to go walking and, as writer Bill Bryson one said, they are perhaps: “the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven” – he means apart from Oxford, of course. Yet if literature isn’t your thing, then perhaps the music scene will be able to persuade you; Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs being but two of the county’s biggest exports or, if you’re looking for something a little more high-brow, then one of England’s largest national opera companies ‘Opera North’ is based in Leeds.
So, if you’re planning on leaving the university for a bit of fresh air or a change of scenery, come up and visit. Assuming that you’ve spent a prolonged period in Oxford then you might have to show your passport at Northern border control, otherwise there shouldn’t be much of a problem. We’ll welcome you with open arms, show you the sights and maybe, as unlikely as it seems, Leeds United might actually win a game of football.
This is not a man-bashing article written by a militant feminist. I could easily write about how misogyny is worryingly apparent at Oxford, despite the fact that it supposedly harbours some of the brightest young minds in the country. I could bitterly complain about the fact that, “you really need to get laid”, is still used as an appropriate response to a female expressing a perceived feminist opinion on a night out, or that I know a certain male who stands in the corner of clubs specifically trying to locate the drunkest females in the room (both of which, I’m sure, I hardly need to report that I find disgusting). But I’m not going to do that. There are enough articles out there highlighting the problems of ‘lad culture’, sexism and misogyny in Oxford to sink a battle ship. The problem is, that these articles, whilst raising awareness of the issue, do not seem to have posed a noticeable impact: Misogyny continues to be an elephant in the room – a ‘touchy’ subject that causes disagreement between students on a daily basis.
The reason for this is, I believe, quite simple: The majority of publicity is given to the aforementioned ‘corner lurker’ type of misogynist. Most males wouldn’t dream of placing themselves in such a category, and indeed, would denounce it entirely. In so doing, many also count themselves as exempt from absolutely all misogynistic behaviour, despite actually committing lesser acts of misogyny themselves and often venturing into the territory of casual sexism.
This is not to say that these males are in denial and refusing to see their own conduct for what it really is, but rather, that they really do believe they are innocent of such behaviour and their actions are part and parcel of everyday life. The most common sexism, the sort that women encounter on an everyday basis, goes undetected by the vast majority of the male population. In fact, women are so used to such treatment that they often dismiss it themselves; after all, we’ve grown up with it, and have come to tolerate it along with other mild irritations of everyday life such as road rage and chewing gum on pavements. However, tolerance and acceptance are poles apart.
Herein lies the real problem surrounding sexism: If men don’t know that they’re being sexist, and don’t associate their behaviour with misogyny, and women come to ignore or, worse, accept it, then how can we ever expect to make progress in this field?
Everyday misogyny, not the in-your-face-outright-women-hating misogyny, is so inextricably linked with our everyday lives that it becomes hard to identify and even harder to denounce. Most females wouldn’t bat an eyelid at an unwanted wolf whistle on the street, or a cheerful, “smile love it might never happen”, as you walk past, although they may roll their eyes, mutter a sarcastic response (“It just did, sweetheart”), or perhaps smile in embarrassment. These are pretty innocuous examples.
Now imagine a female telling a male counterpart to “smile” because it ‘may never happen’, or a group of fifty year old women whistling at a teenage boy as he walks past. Instantly, these commonplace examples become socially unacceptable. In fact, they become downright creepy: I rest my case.
While it might not even cross a man’s mind that a female could conceivably find him intimidating or creepy, I have all too often found myself feeling downright uncomfortable or frightened in a male’s presence. Whilst walking home one evening this Christmas, I walked past a drunken group of men outside my local pub only to have one jolly chap in a Santa hat step out in front of me, shout ‘boo’ at me, stop me, tell me I have ‘beautiful eyes’ and ask me for my telephone number. Now whilst I’m sure this festive boozer had no intention of scaring me, and, indeed, paid me a fair few compliments, the mixture of the dark and the unwanted attention from a large group of very tall males, who towered above my rather vertically challenged frame, made it a very unsettling experience for me. If you think I’m ‘overreacting’, imagine yourself in my position, or even better, imagine the situation with the genders reversed.
Of course, I fully recognise and appreciate that often, females revel in male attention, and indeed, often exploit it in the form of free drinks, entry into clubs or bars, and other perks, as I am often reminded by my male friends when I try to argue that misogyny continues to pose issues for Oxford students. However, the sexist inconsistencies in society, however minor, combine to create a patchwork of inequality that women and men have come to overlook. I find it impossible to accept a widely held male opinion that misogyny “isn’t really a big problem”, or that women “exaggerate” when speaking out against inequality, or that “it isn’t really that bad”. Does inequality have to be ‘bad’ in order for its rectification to be justified? Surely the fact that it simply isn’t equal is enough!
So, to the well-meaning males who fully support female rights, and in no way consider themselves to be a part of a misogynistic culture: No, being refused entry to a club because you’re not wearing heels isn’t the same as being refused because you’re wearing trainers. A sexist joke isn’t ‘friendly banter’, it is never ok to call a girl a slut, and if a girl is friendly to you, the chances are it’s not because she’s interested, and no, that doesn’t make her a ‘cocktease’, and she isn’t ‘leading you on’. If you honestly don’t want to be a ‘corner lurker’, start by choosing your words carefully and putting yourselves in the position of the female.
To females, who gloss over both the misogyny and the casual sexism they experience, laugh along with sexist jokes, and who have come to accept unequal treatment, or even to profit from it – I urge you, quite simply: just don’t.
One look at ELLE magazine’s four different covers for its recent ‘Women in TV’ edition, and you can play a quick game of ‘Spot the Difference’. Each version features a prominent female TV star – Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, Allison Williams or Mindy Kaling – but while Deschanel’s, Poehler’s, and Williams’ covers are in glossy colour and feature full body shots, Kaling is cropped to above her waist and is featured in black and white. Oh and by the way, I forgot to mention – Kaling is the only non-Caucasian female of the four, and also the only one whose physique is bigger than runway size. You see the problem here.
I’ve been hooked on The Mindy Project from the very beginning, literally shrieking with joy with every new episode on Hulu. Kaling herself has also become a role model for me. At the age of twenty-four, she became the only woman writer on the staff of The Office, and with The Mindy Project, she is both the first South Asian American and the first South Asian American woman to headline her own network television show. She has also spoken up about her body, reminding us that this is in fact what the average woman looks like, despite Hollywood billboards and airbrushed magazine spreads indicating otherwise. Because women like these are underrepresented in Hollywood, those who are making headlines, such as Kaling, are reminders that a chubby coloured woman can actually be funny and even (gasp) be the star of a successful television show. In fact, staying true to her humorous self, Kaling tweeted: “I love my @ELLEmagazine cover. It made me feel glamorous and cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on thirteen dates with me.” And yes, she looks just as strikingly gorgeous as the other three women. But the point is that ELLE should’ve taken this chance to emphasise that despite the criticism that her weight and/or skin colour have drawn, Kaling is every bit as talented as the other three cover stars. Some might defend ELLE as not being consciously racist or fat-ist and point out that Kaling looks beautiful, but for women like myself who are neither skinny nor White, it is saddening to see Kaling get a shot at representing us on the cover of a major fashion magazine, only to have her be stripped of the features that we ourselves are also told by society to hide.
Because the thing is, with all of the detailed marketing research that they conduct, ELLE is aware of how many people they reach, and should’ve realized that they could be giving the wrong impression. With a readership of five and a half million people, five million of which are women, ELLE should be more conscious of the messages that they are relaying. Someone should’ve gone, ‘Now wait a minute. By presenting a cropped photo of a Size 8 woman while the other three get full body shots, we are telling our readers that you need to be smaller than average in order to have your full figure displayed on our covers. Also, a monochrome cover for the only non-white woman of the four is just going to reinforce Eurocentric standards of beauty. Mindy looks great, and I know that we’re not deliberately trying to make these distinctions, but with so many readers, we have to be more careful about what we’re communicating to the public.’ Yes, the fact that they chose Kaling is in itself a big step for women who identify with her, but come on, cropping and grayscale? What the hell, ELLE?
Last term I considered several different ideas for articles, developed them in my mind then hastily struck them down. Weeks passed and I still remained reluctant to put my pitch forward. I was certainly busy at times but on reflection I must admit that fear was the ultimate barrier preventing me from stepping up: Would my article be too controversial? ‘You can’t possibly write for the paper, leave it to the intellectuals.’ And of course I unwisely entertained these doubts further, watching the stream of hateful comments attacking my imagined article.
It is this debilitating self-doubt experienced by many women in schools, homes and boardrooms that Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, explores and challenges in her groundbreaking book ‘Lean in’. My expectation was that Sandberg, armed with her Harvard degree and wealth of business experience, would be fully secure in her abilities, fostering internally the confidence she exudes publically. Yet her story surprised and comforted me as she revealed that she had experienced the same fears and insecurities in the boardroom that I had in the classroom.
‘Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter’
Although gender equality has improved significantly in recent years the number of women in boardrooms across the world fails to reflect these improvements. “Of the top 500 companies by revenues, only 21 are headed by women and of 197 heads of state, only 22 are women.” Sandberg argues that women are generally much more tentative than men to assert their value, whether that means asking for a promotion, putting ideas forward or just sitting at the head of the table. This factor, as well as several other important problems such as issues with public policy and childcare, has held women back, and has subsequently led to a global shortage in female leaders.
For me the challenge of ‘leaning in’ is a difficult one. I came to Oxford from a school where there were many talented girls who refused to admit the extent of their successes. Modesty and humility are important and admirable qualities; however, the unhealthy culture of self-deprecation that is so prevalent among women is not conducive to nurturing the skills and confidence often required of an effective leader. As Sandberg notes, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities”, and she supports her argument with evidence of studies which show that men in general evaluate objective criteria about themselves slightly higher than their female counterparts.
Drawing inspiration from Sandberg, I see the importance of being able to confidently promote myself, especially in the competitive corporate world. Yet the challenge for change is certainly not limited to the individual. There must also be a change in how female leadership is perceived by others. In a study conducted by Stanford Business School, a group of students were given a case study about a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. The other half of the class were given the same case study with the name tweaked to Howard Roizen. The students were harsher on Heidi than on Howard. The professor’s conclusion was this: “Although they think she’s just as competent and effective as Howard, they don’t like her, they wouldn’t hire her, and they wouldn’t want to work with her. They disliked Heidi’s aggressive personality.”
As Sandberg argues, “success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.” This is a challenge that aspiring female leaders may come to face at some point or another in their careers. The fear of my assertive behaviour being misinterpreted as arrogant or aggressive certainly holds me back. However, I hope that these fears will eventually subside as I actively practise stepping forward, whether that simply means speaking up, applying for the internships I want or asking questions in class without unnecessarily apologising afterwards. Upon entering into 2014, I struggled to come up with a New Year’s resolution, but inspired by Sandberg’s message of optimism, I finally resolved to ‘lean in’, and to do so unapologetically.