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LSE rugby misogynists: your feeble, misplaced apologies mean nothing

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This year the male rugby team of LSE (London School of Economics) handed out leaflets at their university fresher’s fair, only to have them withdrawn the very next day.

The swift measure was necessary because this group of bright young students thought it apt to produce pamphlets of sexist, homophobic, classist vitriol. Scans of the leaflets have made their way onto Twitter for all to see, but here’s a quick round up of some of the most obnoxious gems (the leaflet taking the form of an urban dictionary – charming):

"Strand Polytechnic:

Affectionate name given to our rivals across the road (King’s College London). Quite simply put they are scum and they will all have to work for us one day.’

Hockey, Netball and Rugby Birds:

Beast-like women who play sport just so they can come out with us on Wednesdays, and don’t let them tell you otherwise.’

Gary:

Ancient terminology of contentious origins meaning to chat up a trollop. E.g “I’m putting in the ‘gary groundwork’ with this netball slag.”

According to the Daily Mail another section of the leaflet stated that initiations would not tolerate ‘poly activities that involve faeces, genitalia, and outright homosexual debauchery’. The pamphlet also describes how one committee member embodies all the club’s values, constituting ‘debauchery, hedonism and misogyny.’

Following a wave of complaints and condemnation from across the university and beyond, the leaflet was pulled and the club has issued a predictably limited apology in the LSE magazine The Beaver.

‘(The leaflet) contained inexcusably offensive and stigmatising language and we would like to make it clear that this absolutely does not reflect the views and values of our club.’

Note the attempt here to insist that a published leaflet claiming to reveal the very values of the club apparently reflects none of the values of said club. I, for one, often produce highly edited literature with my friends setting out strong views we hold, just for fun. I then enjoy distributing these texts among crowds of young, receptive people, even though they reflect none, yes none, of my actual values.

‘LSE Men’s Rugby does not tolerate misogyny, racism, homophobia or prejudice of any description and the Club remains committed to the LSE’s equal opportunities policy.’

They do, however, publish it.

‘We want our club to be a safe and welcoming environment for all people.’

Do you? As Michael Etheridge, Administrator in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE points out in his open letter responding to the pamphlets, ‘there is not one openly gay man playing rugby professionally in the world today […] the leaflet’s authors not only excluded gay people from their society, but went further in employing homophobia as a promotional tool.’

LSE’s male rugby team are not the first to publically announce themselves as the embarrassment of their university and a festering breeding ground of prejudice and white male privilege. Durham University’s St Cuthbert’s rugby club are another vile example; they decided to play a drinking game in public last year called ‘it’s not rape if’, following nicely on from the social in which they dressed up as Jimmy Savile and his victims on a night out back in 2012, in the midst of allegations being made against the paedophile.

I attended a debate at Durham University in 2013 that was held, I believe, with hope of establishing some kind of a constructive conversation about ‘Lad Culture’ post the ‘it’s not rape if’ social. The captain of St Cuthbert’s rugby team mumbled a few unmemorable words before, as far as I can tell, either disappearing from the hosting lecture theatre or remaining utterly silent throughout. Two unidentifiable men spoke up during the debate, arguing that the aforementioned behaviour was just ‘a joke’ and that one should be allowed to ‘banter’ as one sees fit.

This is (I hesitate to call it an argument?) a feeble, and entirely misplaced sentiment that seems to rear its ignorant head in the comments section of nearly every piece of journalism reporting on the offensive behaviour of university rugby clubs or on sexist ‘banter’ in general.

In this country we have the privilege of being able to open our mouths and say pretty much just about anything without being locked up in prison. A liberty not afforded to human beings elsewhere, this means that often swathes of racism, homophobia and sexism will exist in both individual and group discourse – LSE and Durham rugby clubs being just an example. Nobody can legally prevent such behaviour. In other words, one is very much allowed to ‘banter’ as one sees fit.

What you can expect, however, you ‘Lads’ who among many things think that flippantly calling women ‘slags’ is funny, who think rape is a subject to be made light of, is backlash.

This backlash consists of your fellow students, your university unions and members the general public condemning you – to your face, via articles like this one, through protests, through demand for action. It occurs because humour is a subjective thing, and if you’ve found that the only people who find your ‘banter’ amusing appear to be, primarily, yourselves, then you’re left to deal with a disgruntled audience who think it’s abhorrent and boring.

If you think that anyone who doesn’t find your ‘banter’ funny simply can’t take a joke, you are wrong again.

It’s not that we can’t take a joke – we just think the ones you make are shit.

If you think, as a white privileged male, that sexism as displayed by the LSE and Durham rugby clubs is amusing, then you better start getting used to the fact that a hell of a lot of people don’t. And we will fight you and denounce you. If you think homophobia is appropriate, expect serious criticism. If you spout anti-inclusivity and alienate already (historically) disadvantaged groups then await the protest of a highly diverse general public.

It is my honest belief that apologies of the rugby clubs covered in this article are as far from genuine as I am from ever being a pro rugby player (that’s very far). They emerge primarily as a result of the desire to mitigate punishment once ‘caught’.

I’ll conclude by focusing on just one of the issues that emerges here (not to relegate the importance of the others) – sexism and misogyny. I’ve heard people claim there is no link between ‘banter’ which is sexist and misogynist, and sexual assault and rape. I’ll end by asking the question, what effect does such ‘banter’ have on victims of sexual violence? Does it make them more or less likely to report or speak out against their oppressors? This matters hugely because, according to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence (and rape in particular) is considered the most under-reported violent crime.

‘In 2010 NUS published the ‘Hidden Marks’ report which produced the staggering statistic that 68 per cent of respondents had been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student. The Hidden Marks website was set up as a response to the NUS Hidden Marks research report which revealed that 1 in 7 women students that responded to the survey had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student.’

Risky humour can be hilarious. But there’s a difference between moral provocation and outright offence. It looks like until some of our male rugby clubs and other havens of ‘Lad Culture’ learn the difference, they are going to be in for a tough time. Maybe this sketch by Stewart Lee, which rips apart the ‘It’s just a joke’ defence, can help further their education.

http://hiddenmarks.org.uk/2010/

http://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-calls-for-summit-on-lad-culture/




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