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Anna Schultz-Girl And Guy Playing Beer Pong
Anna Schultz-Girl And Guy Playing Beer Pong
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Life > Experiences

The Sexism of College Party Culture

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

A typical night of partying begins around 8:00 PM for my friends and me. First, we pick out our outfits for each other, usually selecting the most revealing clothes we can find in each other’s closets. And while we squeal and take turns strutting out of the bathroom, we can’t help but wonder if we’re doing this for ourselves or doing it just for extra insurance that we’ll get into the party. The thing is, the easier we can be objectified, the easier we can get inside. 

When we leave at about 9:30, we have to make sure there aren’t too many men in our group. The party, after all, must maintain their perfect ratio of women to men, making sure that the men there have opportunities to approach as many women as they’d like. Sometimes, when the hosts are desperate, they’ll charge any guy $5 to enter. My girlfriends and I get in for free, but we pay the price of feeling unsafe.

Once inside the party, we gather in a circle, all facing each other so we can look out for one another. We have to watch each other’s drinks – after all, 1 in 13 college students suspect that at least once, their drinks have been spiked with drugs, and 80% of these students were female. But as the party gets more crowded, it becomes more and more difficult to make sure we all stay safe. Every few minutes, someone passing by will touch our waists or our backs to get through. It’s dark so we can’t always see them, but we can feel their touch. And this is normal, nothing to get worked up about unless we want to risk being seen as “uncool” or “looking for attention.” But it’s true that 20-25% of women will be sexually assaulted in college, and these assaults often involve alcohol. We can’t help but be silently worried.

When we head home at midnight, we can’t decide if it was a good night or a bad night. The music may have been good, but we had to make sure we didn’t dance too suggestively when someone was behind us. The drinks may have tasted fine, but they were flavored with paranoia that maybe someone had put something in the giant red dispenser. Our outfits may have looked amazing, but we felt uncomfortable whenever strangers stared us down.

This isn’t every party and this isn’t every night, but it happens more frequently than we’d like to admit. There’s no denying that there are underlying traditions of sexism and heteronormativity in most college parties. All of the events described above are only symptoms of a root issue: college party culture is largely controlled by heterosexual men who are used to getting what they want and frustrated when they don’t get it. 

Looking out for each other is only a Band-Aid solution to a much bigger problem. How do we go about ensuring that women feel free and safe at parties? It’s a tricky question, but there are a number of solutions as long as party hosts are willing and able to make changes. For example, hosts can select themes that give women the option to wear a variety of outfits so they can choose how revealing their clothes will be. They could also offer alcohol from closed containers or secured dispensers. However, it’s going to take a long time for women to get used to the idea of the average college party actually being safe. After a couple decades of hearing warnings from our mothers and news stories on TV, it will take a lot for us to let our guards down. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should give up on making efforts to create a more safe and inclusive party scene at most colleges. If we act now, future students can enjoy what we couldn’t. When they get ready at 8:00 PM, they can wear what makes them feel most comfortable. When they leave at 9:30, they can be with whoever they want. While they’re at the party, they can dance like no one’s watching. 

Maybe it’s a lot to ask for, but it’s certainly a valid request.

Kendall is a third-year Communication student at UCSB and an editorial intern for Her Campus UCSB. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually either doing yoga, getting coffee, or planning her future travels.