Starting university involves different sorts of worries for all students. However, for non-male students, the typical fears of finding your way around, making new friends and keeping up with all your lectures are usurped by a greater fear. The very real fear of men. Hannah Penny assesses whether safety concerns for women and non-binary students means they should be entitled to a travel bursary.
Undoubtedly, not all men are scary. Many male students and members of the local community are wonderful, they help keep us safe and become our greatest friends.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell these people apart from the rest. Every man on the street late at night or in secluded corners of campus could pose a threat. The question arises – what is the price of patriarchy for women and non-binary students?
over one-third of girls experience verbal harassment at least once a month
According to the trail-blazing campaign, Our Streets Now, 68% of women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15, with cat-calling, groping and unwanted attention starting even earlier than this for many. Over one-third of girls experience verbal harassment at least once a month.
Unfortunately, acts of street harassment and sexual violence are not just whispered rumours to keep people on their toes – they are the very real lived experience of women and non-binary people.
These fears begin to be ingrained from the time we start walking to school in our uniforms. Teachers warn us what short skirts will “lead” to, and men in vans beep their horns and lick their lips, constantly.
The presence of men and the terror they come to be associated with becomes even more threatening when you leave home for university. Navigating new cities in the dark early hours of the morning, tipsy and lightly clothed does not always taste like freedom. Instead, it can feel suffocating.
We can be paranoid about strangers on the street but also about the flatmates we have just met, the bouncers with wandering eyes, the fellow students who tried to take advantage of us in the club.
The men we fear are not only those we do not know. In fact, it is those who we do know who pose the greatest threat. Over 90% of rape and sexual assault survivors know their attackers.
The onus is still overwhelmingly on women and non-binary students to keep themselves safe. We never walk alone; we retreat inside when the sun goes down and keep our heads down when men walk by. We don’t react to cat-callers; we put headphones in and keep our music turned off.
should the government and universities be doing more to financially support women and non-binary students?
We cover up our bodies and we cover our drinks; we feign boyfriends and brothers; we order taxi after taxi and ring friends whilst in them to make sure they go to our destination. We buy special key-rings and safety equipment all to keep safe.
Being a woman is expensive. We have to pay for our safety in a way that men do not. This is all in addition to the pink tax, the grooming gap, and the fact that we still live in a society with a gender pay gap.
This begs the question – should the government and universities be doing more to financially support women and non-binary students? I would say, absolutely. And whilst men are not immune to sexual violence and street harassment, the problem is not pervasive, and the object of their fear is still, for the vast majority, men.
a travel or safety bursary would be a sensible reaction to the realities of being a woman or non-binary student
You are entitled to extra student finance if you are from a lower-income or single-parent household, a parent yourself, disabled, studying in a more-expensive city and dependent on your course. These are all necessary and valid adjustments. Arguably, a travel or safety bursary would be a sensible reaction to the realities of being a women or non-binary student.
This is, of course, the very least the government and universities could be doing to help the student experience. The end-goal is to have these fears abolished through a safer society. The education of consent and equality in addition to greater support for survivors of sexual violence will always be preferred.
However, some compensation to already financially struggling students would not go a miss. It’s a small price to pay in comparison to the lived experience of women and non-binary students. After all, we should not have to budget for our own safety.
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