Sexual violence in HE – papers

This page contains links to all my academic papers on sexual harassment and violence in higher education – open access versions can be downloaded by clicking the titles, and the published versions are available below the abstracts.

On (not) being the master’s tools: five years of ‘Changing University Cultures’

This paper reflects on the first five years of the Changing University Cultures (CHUCL) collective, which conducted equality and diversity projects in four English universities between 2015 and 2020. We explore how CHUCL has been used in the service of institutional polishing (Ahmed, 2012, 143) and airbrushing (Phipps, 2020b, 230–233), how our reports have become non-performatives (Ahmed, 2012, 90), and how our findings have been weaponised in the service of institutional interests. We are two of three white middle-class women who constitute the CHUCL collective; we situate this retrospective within critical reflections on our positionality and an abolitionist theorisation of the institution. We conclude that we have often been the master’s tools, and while we join the work of imagining alternatives, we must build capacity for survival within the master’s house.

This paper is fully open access – click the title to download it.

Reckoning Up: Sexual harassment and violence in the neoliberal university

This paper situates sexual harassment and violence in the neoliberal university. Using data from a ‘composite ethnography’ representing twelve years of research, I argue that institutional inaction on these issues reflects how they are ‘reckoned up’ in the context of gender and other structures. The impact of disclosure is projected in market terms: this produces institutional airbrushing which protects both the institution and those (usually privileged men) whose welfare is bound up with its success. Staff and students are differentiated by power/value relations, which interact with gender and intersecting categories. Survivors are often left with few alternatives to speaking out in the ‘outrage economy’ of the corporate media: however, this can support institutional airbrushing and bolster punitive technologies. I propose the method of Grounded Action Inquiry, implemented with attention to Lorde’s work on anger, as a parrhesiastic practice of ‘speaking in’ to the neoliberal institution.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).

‘Lad culture’ and sexual violence against students (book chapter)

Abstract: This chapter addresses the issue of sexual violence against students and the concept of ‘lad culture’, which has been used to frame this phenomenon in the UK and has connections to similar debates around masculinities in other countries. This issue is much-researched and debated but under-theorised, and due to a lack of intersectionality, radical feminist frameworks around violence against women are useful but incomplete. The chapter sketches a more nuanced approach to the understanding of campus sexual violence and the masculine cultures which frame it, which also engages with the intersecting structures of patriarchy and neoliberalism. It argues that framing these issues structurally and institutionally is necessary, in order to avoid individualistic and punitive approaches to tackling them which may seem feminist but are embedded in neoliberal rationalities.

This is a chapter in The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Violence (edited by Nancy Lombard), which can be viewed/purchased here (click the title for open access).

Lad culture, rape culture and everyday sexism (with Jessica Ringrose, Emma Renold and Carolyn Jackson)

This paper was co-authored as the introduction to a Special Issue of Journal of Gender Studies we co-edited on the same topic. The Special Issue contains papers by Lida Ahmad and Priscyll Anctil Avoine, Lesley McMillan, Shweta Majumdar and Shreyasi Jha, Ruth Lewis, Susan Marine and Kathryn Kenney, Alyssa Nicollini, Kaitlynn Mendes, Jessalyn Keller and Jessica Ringrose, and Emma Renold.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).

(Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education

Abstract: In the context of renewed debates and interest in this area, this paper reframes the theoretical agenda around laddish masculinities in UK higher education, and similar masculinities overseas. These can be contextualised within consumerist neoliberal rationalities, the neoconservative backlash against feminism and other social justice movements, and the postfeminist belief that women are winning the ‘battle of the sexes’. Contemporary discussions of ‘lad culture’ have rightly centred sexism and men’s violence against women: however, we need a more intersectional analysis. In the UK a key intersecting category is social class, and there is evidence that while working-class articulations of laddism proceed from being dominated within alienating education systems, middle-class and elite versions are a reaction to feeling dominated due to a loss of gender, class and race privilege. These are important differences, and we need to know more about the conditions which shape and produce particular performances of laddism, in interaction with masculinities articulated by other social groups. It is perhaps unhelpful, therefore, to collapse these social positions and identities under the banner of ‘lad culture’, as has been done in the past.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).

‘Lad culture’ in higher education: agency in the ‘sexualisation’ debates (with Isabel Young)

Abstract: This paper reports on research funded by the National Union of Students, which explored women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ through focus groups and interviews. We found that although laddism is only one of various potential masculinities, for our participants it dominated social and sexual spheres of university life in problematic ways. However, their objections to laddish behaviours did not support contemporary models of ‘sexual panic’, even while oppugning the more simplistic celebrations of young women’s empowerment which have been observed in debates about sexualisation. We argue that in their ability to reject ‘lad culture’, our respondents expressed a form of agency which is often invisibilised in sexualisation discussions and which could be harnessed to tackle some of the issues we uncovered.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).

Neoliberalisation and ‘lad cultures’ in higher education (with Isabel Young)

Abstract: This paper links HE neoliberalisation and ‘lad cultures’, drawing on interviews and focus groups with women students. We argue that retro-sexist ‘laddish’ forms of masculine competitiveness and misogyny have been reshaped by neoliberal rationalities to become modes of consumerist sexualised audit. We also suggest that neoliberal frameworks scaffold an individualistic and adversarial culture among young people that interacts with perceived threats to men’s privilege and intensifies attempts to put women in their place through misogyny and sexual harassment. Furthermore, ‘lad cultures’, sexism and sexual harassment in higher education may be invisibilised by institutions to preserve marketability in a neoliberal context. In response, we ask if we might foster dialogue and partnership between feminist and anti-marketisation politics.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).

Violence Against Women Students in the UK: time to take action (with Geraldine Smith)

Sexual and gendered violence in the education sector is a worldwide concern, but in the UK it has been marginalised in research and policy. In this paper we present findings from the National Union of Students’ study Hidden Marks, the first nationwide survey of women students’ experiences of violence. This research established high levels of prevalence, with 1 in 4 respondents being subject to unwanted sexual behaviour during their studies. We analyse why the issue of violence against women students has remained low profile in this country, whereas in the US, where victimisation rates are similar, it has had a high profile since the 1980s and interventions to tackle it have received a significant amount of federal support. We urge UK policymakers, universities, students’ unions and academics to address the problem, and make suggestions about initial actions to take.

The published version of this paper is available here (click the title for open access).