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Lame Fresher Diaries: 10 things to do now first year is over

Alas, this is my final post exploring my life as a particularly boring student. As always, the year’s gone by faster than we could have imagined, but what a year it’s been! The year of Ocean Fridays, of the £5.10 mealcard, of glandular fever, of the £1 bus fare, of short term book loans, of never using the tram. This year I have established an open relationship with Hallward Library, paraded around campus with blue hair then shrivelled with despair as each new day brought a more minging shade of green, looked on in horror as six hours of work per day in the first term dwindled to six minutes in the third, and managed to attend classical concerts more times than I have attended Rock City. Needless to say, we’ve definitely all earned a break before shit gets absolutely real next year, so here are ten things to do to unwind and prepare for second year.

1) Go to a festival. This is a definitive essential for every student summer. Fake flower headbands and tie dye tees you’ll never wear again are strictly non optional

2) Start writing your novel. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone has a story in there somewhere. Plus, this’ll definitely keep you occupied when the annual British monsoon puts all outdoor activities on hold for about a month.

3) Learn 5 basic recipes. This will guarantee you and your housemates gourmet cuisine until you all give up on cooking after about a week.

4) Take up a musical instrument with plans to start a douchey band on returning to uni. Nail about six chords on guitar and you can literally play any song in the known universe. Especially Wonderwall. 

5) Interrail. It’s always more expensive than you think it’s going to be but at least you can say you’ve been to a lot of countries.

6) Send a mass email to every family member/family friend who is likely to ask you how you found first year – it’ll save you a lot of time at family barbecues.

7) Get to know Aldi; unspecified German delicacies may be all we can afford next year.

8) Read a really really long book – I’m going for Clarissa. At 1,534 pages, it’s a great excuse to lay in the sun all day while you take on one of the heftiest classics.

9) Invest in some suncream because sometimes the sun comes out in Britain and when it does you should enjoy it responsibly

10) Work out what your ‘summer jam’ is going to be – useful for da club and car journeys.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading this year and have a great summer!

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Personal, Rants

Why do we need a women’s network?

When I told my friend I wanted to run for Women’s Network officer, he, naturally, had a few questions for me. Your standard why do you want to run? and what will your policies be? came up, which lead to our conversation segueing into questioning the Women’s Network itself.

Why do we even need a Women’s Network?” he asked me, “and why isn’t there a men’s one? Surely there should just be a Gender Equality Society or something?”

After arguing that, here at our university, we do indeed have a group concerned with gender equality in the form of UoN Feminists, I was left to reflect on his comments which clearly illuminate the exclusivity of the Women’s Network. It can’t be denied that certain events, initiatives and socials are solely for those who define themselves as women, which could be seen as potentially ostracising towards men, as well as hypocritical of women themselves. Weren’t some of us up in arms when men-only golf clubs such as Muirfield in Scotland found themselves in the headlines last summer?

The recent ‘Women in Leadership’ week, an inspiring and thought-provoking series of lectures organised by the Women’ Network for, surprise surprise, women, also came up in discussion. My friend was uneasy about the distinction. He said it was insulting to suggest women were less proficient than men in terms of the skills needed to lead, and the fact that they needed help was no less than patronising. But with just over one in five women in parliament1 and with only one female candidate running for president of our student’s union this year, there is definitely an issue here to be identified and reconciled. It’s clear that for a number of reasons, women have a tougher time getting to the top. So, if holding workshops for women in leadership is an active step to decreasing unequal candidate gender distribution, then I’m afraid I fail to see the negative.

I also think the value of the women’s-only space which the Network is able to offer is overlooked. We live in a society bombarded by lad culture, slut shaming, unrealistic expatiations of beauty amongst other discriminations such as the potent and prominent sexual objectification of women (just turn to page three – yes, it’s still a thing, we’re going to keep bringing it up until it’s gone). Our society offers self defining women little retreat from principles which harm, undermine and shatter body image, confidence and common humanity. I think it is therefore understandable that self defining women have a need to meet, socialise and express themselves in a space which exists outside these prevalent aspects of society. Here, the compulsion to impress visually, as well as the risk of being judged or discriminated against as a result of being blessed with a vagina, do not exist.

However, it is true that women themselves can be guilty of perpetuating lad culture, from women slut shaming women to demonising another woman because, horror of horrors, she has worn “too much” make up. In this way, a women’s-only space is important in addressing and eradicating the prejudices and destructive attitudes which self-defining women can find themselves heaping on each other, transforming the women’s-only space into a nurturing and liberal environment. How can we hope to address lad culture in the wider community if we find ourselves adhering, inadvertently or otherwise, to its principles?

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Although I have a lot of love for the women’s-only space and all the comfort and confidence it has brought me, I feel that it has made the Women’s Network quite an insular organisation. It’s great that we’re recognising lad culture exists, it’s great that we’ve abolished it in our small circle of self-defining women, it’s AWESOME that we have a @NottsSexism project, but we currently have no palpable dialogue concerning lad culture with the rest of the student body. I am calling for the establishment of relationships with other societies to try and engage the entirety of UoN in conversation about it. What about the harmful effect Lad Culture produces on people with disabilities, people who identify as racial minorities, LGBT, many of these at once, and even men themselves? I want to follow the example set by Durham University, where a college’s rugby society was overheard by members of the uni’s FemSoc playing a game called “It’s not rape if…”. I’m sure the boys thought of some jolly warped responses, yet the only real answer to that question is “when it’s between consent-giving indviduals”, isn’t it, really. After controversy was sparked and apologies written, the story has a very positive and inspiring ending: the head of St Cuthbert’s rugby soc actually expressed a wish to “initiate a relationship” between the fems and the ruggers, “not only”, commented the rugby soc’s president to the DUFemSoc, “to demonstrate our belief in the importance of the work you do but to help you do it, too.”2   

A pretty brief discussion of some of the reasons why I think we need a women’s network. I could go on, but I might still be sat here at my laptop next week, or perhaps next month, or someone might tap me on the shoulder and whisper to me that my degree is actually over now and I’ve been sat in the library for two and a half years and would I like a cup of tea and a calm down? I do feel like I’ve let my friend down a little since I couldn’t answer his question about UoN’s lack of a man’s network. But now that I’ve thought about it, I think there is no man’s network simply because men haven’t set one up. I can only assume that self-defining men at UoN feel as if they do not need one.

You can follow my and Emma’s campaign at @emmabeth2014, or like us on Facebook. Or both.

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Personal, Rants

All Made Up: Why we shouldn’t apologise for a love affair with cosmetics

Leaving home/not having to live my life under the strict, identity-crushing jurisdiction of a rural Lincolnshire grammar school has left a whole new appearance-enhancing door ajar for me. Waking up in the morning with a pre-lecture regime entirely at my own disposal has given me leave to step gingerly through this shining portal of cosmetic discovery and go fucking nuts with black eyeliner. An undertaking which has probably given me the need to have a quick sit down to readjust/palpitate more than anyone else.

I feel, personally, as if I had the notion of wearing make-up beaten out of me before I reached an age to really fall in love with wearing it. One of the principle institutions I’ve held accountable for my early-teen perception of make-up as a shitty, shitty thing is (surprise surprise) my secondary school. Although quite a few of us got away with the odd little squiggle of token eyeliner, there was pretty much a zero tolerance policy on all students wearing make-up, which lead to a fair number of grumbling, blazered adolescents being hauled from assembly and marched to the toilets to remove the products accumulated on their visages. The question of make up at school is a difficult one; of course I can see that one’s appearance should not take precedence over one’s principle purpose for plonking oneself down at a desk at nine of a morning – that is, to learn. However, much like the recent dispute over the banning of pole dancing societies at uni, placing restrictions, or totally banning, the casual use of cosmetics is synonymous with a decision being made for a person with the intention of protecting them/the image of the educational institution. However, the bans are also responsible for the increasing preconceived negativity towards the forbidden thing and unjustly demonising or undermining those who take innocent pleasure in it.

For me, it’s all about the fear surrounding the choice to emphasise of physical features an attributes of an individual within the everyday. If a woman, or man, elects to enhance his or her features with a dab of foundation, a common assumption made by the outsider looking in is that the person has done so to sexualise or objectify themselves – image becomes paramount, and attracting a partner a priority. I think the notion that a person may use make up as an extension, a suggestion or a celebration of their sexuality (although, quite often, this isn’t the only or principle case) is unsettling to a society which frequently subscribes to a conservative outlook with a tendency to chastise those who wish to appear desirable, particularly (as ever) in women. Perhaps, like the way removing pole dancing magically removed all sexist attitudes towards women, removing make-up will remove trivialisation, the risk of being targeted sexually as a desirable human being and eradicate potential deviations from study. Outrageously, as we all know, magazines, newspapers, even ourselves in our everyday lives, are just quick to slate someone for lacking make up; those who dare to age, to have blemished skin, to lose sleep also face the wrath of their peers and the media for failing adhere to unreachable standards of beauty. We’re meant to look flawless, yet to use make up to achieve the look we want in order to feel confident is a cheat and a fail.

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I also think the vocabulary we use when referring to make up is pretty damaging and reinforces negative attitudes. I’ve witnessed people frequently judge women by how much “slap” they have on their face, an informal term which carries with it connotations of pain, malice and punishment. In opposition to the “natural” look which I’ve found is praised and basically universally strived for, bronzing your cheeks or choosing a vibrant red lipstick is “fake”, less than human, undermines your identity. There’s even a brand of make up called “Fake Bake”, a name which I’m not quite sure I get; is it satire or inspiring a tut-tutting as people walk past the cosmetics in Debenhams, in a sense condoning the derogatory labels awarded to it? Regarding attitudes to men and make up I don’t have much experience at all; it’d be interesting to learn about the experiences of men who wear it and whether they face similar discriminations to women.

It pains me to think that a younger version of myself subscribed to the belief that the use of make up equated the projection of a “fake” image, and that those who took pride in their appearance lacked substance, even brains. Now, make up gives me confidence, a way to express myself (I wear B I G eyeliner flicks if I’m feeling particularly determined, for instance). When I’m down, it lifts me up; if I feel someone’s gaze drawn briefly to a splash of bright eyeshadow it feels bloomin’ cool – I’m all like “yeah, I do exist, I am worth noticing, my face has colours on it and it looks suave and YOU SAW THAT.” It’s also my most frequent form of procrastination – when my brain is being slowly fried by constant reading and I find all the words on the page are merging into utter gibberish, twenty minutes on my face is refreshing and motivating, particularly when catching sight of myself in the mirror doesn’t reveal a spotty, exasperated face. I see the kind of face I want to, one that’s interesting, fresh, young and intelligent – applying make up is something fantastically easy I can do to make peace with myself, as well as feel really great. It makes me happy. And if it makes me happy, it makes millions of people happy, so I don’t really see how you could justify hating on people who use it to feel its uplifting effects and a renewed sense of self worth every day.

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