The Student Room Group

Gender equality struggles? misogyny? something like that

Hey guys,

I've been really struggling to adapt to a mixed gender environment at university and I'm not even sure if it's a me problem or a them problem anymore.

For context, I'm a girl who went to an all girl's secondary/sixth form and I'm now studying engineering at university which is so very male dominated.

I actually started off the year pretty well, making "friends" of both genders over nerdy common interests from pop culture to physics/maths. I never felt uncomfortable around the guys at the start even though I had been in a near 100% female environment for the past 7 years of my life.

However, as this first term has passed I find myself feeling more and more objectified by the men around me whether it's professors, acquaintances, or friends.

I've noticed the acquaintances only invite me to parties/go clubbing with them because they get to see me dressed up. This doesn't actually bother me too much because even in an all girls school I'd get comments on my body and I guess I got used to this. I don't know why but being looked at doesn't feel as threatening as other sexual harassment in the form of something verbal or physical, like touching.

"Friends" started to express their "romantic interest" (read: lust) in me and I would have to reject them multiple times, making it clear that i am only interested in a platonic friendship without benefits of any sort. Usually they would accept the rejection and carry on as being friends, then after a few weeks they would try the same thing again only to get rejected again. When they finally get fed up of the rejections, rather than leaving me because they know they won't get anywhere, they sexually harass me instead.

I've had a former teacher/friend from school try to sleep with me and comment on my body. I'll spare the details but I've also realised at uni that they were grooming me in school, which is a whole other issue.

Some of my male professors very openly admit to sleeping with students and make lots of jokes in lectures either related to this or just sex in general, which I guess is funny sometimes, but with everything else I've been experiencing it just makes me uncomfortable.

I just find that all the guys around me act friendly for the first 3 weeks before they start expressing their lust, and when I reject them/express my discomfort they will carry on, until either I give in (I refuse to do this, I would hate it) or they'll just harass me and I also hate this.

I don't know if this is a normal experience for women because of the past 7 years of being in an all girls school. I also don't feel like I can speak to my female uni friends/flatmates about this because they are very happy in their own situationships/friends with benefits/other casual relationships. no hate to them, they can do what makes them happy!! but it feels like I'm the only one who is upset with the sexual attention and I don't really know what to do.

I always struggled with making friends at school due to my more nerdy disposition, and thought I'd have better luck at uni when I'd be surrounded by like minded nerds. Turns out I still struggle with making friends because the guys around me aren't looking for platonic friends.

Is it just my luck? Or is this what all male/female friendships are like? Anyone else experiencing a similar struggle?

Also it's not that I'm lesbian/ace/lgbtq+, I'm interested in guys but the men I've come across have never actually cared about me hence me wanting to keep these relationships platonic.
Reply 1
hi there, i've always studied at mixed-gender schools so our experiences aren't exactly the same - but i am also studying a STEM course at university and am going through a similar thing. men only want to be friendly with me because they think they'll get a sexual relationship out of it, all the men on my male-dominated course making uncomfortable jokes, etc.
i don't think it's all female/male relationships, in my time in secondary school i was able to make one or two close male friends who didn't only like me for my body. but unfortunately this misogynistic mindset can be a lot more prevalent in university, especially for those of us who study male-dominated subjects like engineering. i don't have much advice for you, but i do want to say it absolutely is not a 'you' thing and you aren't alone in feeling this way. there are men who will be happy with a purely platonic relationship, they are just very difficult to find for many female university students.
i want to wish you good luck, and to reiterate it absolutely is not your fault, or you being dramatic, or anything like that. it's an unfortunate side effect of the patriarchy, and if your uni has any societies for women in STEM, or feminism, or anything like that, it may be worth checking them out to find some like-minded women in the same situation as you
Totally agree with everything @ashleemx said and want to reiterate that it’s not your fault and you shouldn’t feel guilt or pressurised into giving in to something you don’t want to do. Would add that if you feel in danger or threatened dial 999.
Sad to say that though universities are meant to be safe places for all students this isn’t always the case. I’m at Oxford Earth Sciences which has approx 50% gender split in student intake, but faculty is dominated by men and there still exists a misogynistic undertone. Our lovely administrator (effectively second in command of the department) who has experience at both Oxford and Camb is simply referred to as the young, pretty, female by staff. No-one goes round calling the head of dept the bald, middle aged, man! Apparently she had only been in the post a couple of weeks before one of the professors started hitting on her. No wonder she spends all her time hidden in her office.
I also got to hear about how one of the female professors was physically restrained and verbally abused by someone from a different dept. Even though she complained to our dept harassment officer the man was let off without facing a formal inquiry or any disciplinary action.
The only reason I know this is because although such cases are meant to be treated in confidence the harassment officer is a bit of a gossip and openly talked about it in a public place. Still he did provide two useful pieces of information for anyone wanting to make a formal complaint. First gather as much physical evidence as possible, e.g. text messages, emails, testimony of reliable witnesses etc. Don’t rely on repeating a conversation you had in private with someone because it then becomes your word against theirs. Second, some universities and depts are paranoid about negative publicity and will go to any lengths to hush things up.
Find the idea of your professors talking about having sex with their students as totally creepy. At Oxford and a few other universities they have now prohibited staff having a sexual relationship with students, making it grounds for instant dismissal if discovered. You may want to check what your own university policy is about this and harassment in general. Depending upon how proactive you want to be, here’s a few suggestions.
If there are no university notices about harassment on your dept noticeboard, or they’re faded or obscured by other posters, ask the admin staff if they can put up new notices and make sure they’re at eye level. Find out what your university policy is on harassment. If you have a staff student committee, ask your student rep to propose the dept adopts the measure of prohibiting staff student relationships. Even if this is rejected, it puts the subject into focus. Check out womens support groups on campus. Here at Oxford we have a confidential harassment helpline. The calls are not logged or recorded, unless the caller is believed to be in immediate danger, but they do offer on the spot advice. Many of my friends, have adopted a three level system to deal with unwanted attention. First, politely make it clear that you’re not interested. If they persist, then state that you’re unhappy with the attention you’re receiving and you would like it to stop. You can put this in an email/text (see above about recording evidence) and keep any replies you may receive. Third level is to tell the perpetrator you’ll make a formal complaint against them unless they stop harassing you.
You may also want to consider becoming ‘engaged’ over the Christmas vac. After all, Xmas is meant to be a romantic time. In my experience, sporting an engagement ring is one of the quickest ways for boys to lose interest, and I know a couple of girlfriends who have used a fake boyfriend to shake off unwanted attention. You can always say you’ve agreed not to get married until after you’ve completed your degree, and the fake engagement can be easily broken off if you meet a nice boy. They do exist. May sound a bit melodramatic but it seems to work.
Sorry for a bit of a long rant. Really hope you enjoy the course. You may find that the pressure subsides after the first term as the boys move on to look elsewhere.

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