Call it Out Campaign & James Bondage: Challenging Sexism on Campus

by Lucy Uprichard

This Monday saw the announcement of the Liverpool Guild’s brand new ‘Call It Out’ campaign, in which students were asked to call out sexual harassment when they see it and to take a pledge showing their commitment to ending such behaviour on campus. The launch of the new campaign was done in conjunction with a talk by Laura Bates, the founder of the now-famous Everyday Sexism project: a website on which women anonymously share their experiences of street harassment and other sexist encounters, demonstrating indisputably that while it might be easy to ignore one woman’s voice, together you must hear us speak.

Bates’ presence was surely a significant win for the university; she is one of feminism’s most recognisable names of the past few years, with Everyday Sexism currently consisting of over ten thousand women’s accounts of discrimination. While that in itself is not something to celebrate, it is a step forward that such incidents have a platform in the public eye. All too often sexual harassment is the crime that goes unreported, unchallenged and unrecognised as a constant and unending part of almost every woman’s daily life.

It’s good to see the guild taking an active approach to the gendered harassment that is present in likely every university across the world. Education remains a privilege so long as any barriers are put in place towards it, including the presence of sexual harassment and assault on campus. The campaign is self-described as an effort to ‘speak up when you see sexual harassment’, in the hope that ‘speaking to [a harasser] and telling them their behaviour isn’t right might be enough to stop [it] going any further’. We are asked to ‘take the pledge’ and help collect 1500 signatures to ‘show our commitment to ending harassment on campus’.

While the sincerity and good intent shines through, the joyless feminist in me can’t help but nitpick at these statements. Shouting back at sexual harassers is a rare pleasure, but its rarity is significant. Harassment isn’t a tool of the brave or fair, and consequently a great deal of it takes place in conditions that don’t lend themselves well to shouting back: at night, alone, or in an isolated or confined space. Shouting back is a tactic only available in situations where you are fairly certain that it will be the last word in the conversation – and are prepared to stake your bodily safety on it.

Of course, there is a lot to be said for speaking up when the time is right. A great deal of sexual harassment takes place under the assumption that the victims will be too ashamed, embarrassed or intimidated to respond or stop what is happening – demonstrated by the large number of men who choose to sexually harass and assault women on busy public transport or in crowd-packed bars. These men aren’t used to being challenged on their behaviour and a well-timed shoutback can throw them off. Calling their bluff shames them personally whilst also signifying this behaviour as unacceptable and untolerated – echoing the aims of the campaign precisely.

Unfortunately, the operative word here is ‘bluff’. Engaging with sexual harassers is a gamble, and not one that is always worth taking or even accurately judged. Sexual harassment comes with a very strong sense of entitlement, and biting your tongue is often preferable to risking an adverse reaction from someone who has already proven not to have your humanity at heart.

We need a concentrated effort to tackle sexual harassment that addresses potential perpetrators instead of potential victims. Calling out is a useful tactic in many situations, but sexism has to be stopped at the source, with targeted campaigns that address potential perpetrators instead of potential victims. What this would look like is open to interpretation, but a few models currently in place at other universities give an idea of how things could be. A growing number of feminist societies have worked with their establishments to get compulsory consent workshops for all societies, some specifically targeting AUs where lad culture tends to thrive. Liverpool FemSoc attempted his over Fresher’s Week, but without the guild enforcing attendance, it couldn’t be as successful as it needed to be.

The offending script: James Bondage in Hymens Arent Forever

The offending script: James Bondage in Hymens Arent Forever

In her talk, Bates publicly condemned Liverpool Medic Society’s extremely misogynistic script, ‘James Bondage in Hymens aren’t forever’. The guild was quick to follow, albeit with an apology that skirted around directly naming the indisputable sexism in the piece and promised to investigate and ensure that the material was suitable. The direction in which they will proceed from here is extremely indicative of what the focus of the newfound effort to stamp out sexism is – finding an appropriate alternative and burying the matter, or committing to finding out just how a group of future medical professionals at their university can be so openly misogynistic. The campaign may still be in its early stages, but sexism rife across campuses across the country means that it will surely be asked to prove itself.

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