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It is true that without putting in too much effort, we could witness acts of sexism in almost every aspect of our day to day life. Domestic violence, TV adverts, music videos, conversations with your friends, and even walking alone in the streets are just some of the examples of when women and men of any age could be harassed or undermined. Needless to say that these examples belong to a “civilised” society of a developed country.
Last month, The Guardian published an article in which Lancaster University students gave several examples of sexism in the academic timetable, and in our Politics seminars in particular. The article emphasised that some female students often “feel intimidated and belittled in class”. After carefully reading the article and contrasting the information with my own experience, I must say that I do not share their opinion, and this is why.
I am a female undergraduate at Lancaster, majoring in Politics and Philosophy. When I first started studying here I was fascinated by the idea that every week you could come together with a small group of students, sharing a room with a member of your department, and discuss in more detail the topics covered in the lectures. Before I came to Lancaster, I had no idea that such a thing could be possible, as the education system is very different in Spain (my home country). As soon as I realised that I could give my opinion and ask questions to my tutors and classmates on an equal footing, I decided to make the most of it by actively participating in debates and discussions.
In a Politics seminar, you have the opportunity to show your opinions on a subject, but also to learn from other points of view that you may have never considered. In fact, I can say that I have changed my opinions radically over the last two years thanks to the fact that other students, with completely opposed ideologies, were really good at defending their arguments and showing me their points. Sometimes, however, when delicate topics such as sexism were discussed in seminars, I have witnessed cases of female students refusing to fully listen to male students. Shouldn’t this also be considered sexism?
Not everyone has it easy to discuss in public or engage in debates, and there are always going to be times when someone is not going to agree with you. I myself have been involved in seminar debates where my opinion was poorly received and quickly contradicted. We would agonise for the entire hour over issues such as the battle between socialism and capitalism, and from the wrong angle it could have looked like everyone hated each other. However, in these debates, I have never been discriminated against for being a female. Whenever someone disagreed with me, it was because my opinion was confused or simply not relatable. And when students do discriminate, females are not the only victims: this situation affects men and women equally.
With all this, I would like to say, I am not denying that the examples in the Guardian article are important or true. As mentioned before, sexism is everywhere, and it is a problem that has to be taken seriously. However, there is a difference between poorly-timed, unfortunate situations, and a dangerous generalisation. I know that this opinion will be taken the wrong way by many people, but I consider myself a feminist, and when I have something to say, I will say it. If something wrong ever happens in a seminar, I will not hesitate to speak out on the issue, since it is directly affecting my education. If you truly believe in yourself, nothing but you can make you hesitate.
It is also true that people find it easier to blame others when the real issue lies within themselves. I think that the main problems in Politics seminars are usually underlaid by shyness and insecurity, not a battle of the genders. Unless a student commits direct verbal abuse, perhaps along the lines of: “You are just a woman”, then you are in no position to generalise and label these situations as acts of sexism. But when serious discrimination does arise, make sure that you defend yourself using the appropriate support.