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New campus sexism debate after he-man party

Party culture — Economics students organised a tongue-in-cheek 'Men's Friday Bar' with beer pong, girl bartenders to help the men vomit, and a call to throw girls over your shoulders and take them home 'like the little economics girls they are'. It has set off a debate over sexism at UCPH. Again.

»I am reacting to someone who still thinks it’s okay to be so damned condescending towards women,« says Sidsel Poulsen who is studying political science at the University of Copenhagen. »It showcases girls as people who are easy, and who need to be subjected to men’s needs.«

Sidsel Poulsen is talking about the Facebook invitation for this semester’s first Friday bar for the UCPH economics students at the CSS campus just off the Botanical Gardens:

The party organizers’ text promises a “Friday bar for THE MEN, where boys become men and only the most macho guys can impress economics’ delicious military girls.”

It appears that participants in The Men’s Friday Bar can drink ‘Orders of the Elephant’, a mixture of Gammel Dansk liquor and the Danish Elefantøl beer consumed through a beer bong.

In addition, it states in the caption – or stated before the student board of the CSS campus had it  redacted – that there will be “sweet bartender girls,” who will “hold a bucket so you can vomit, if the elephants get too pink.”

Finally, there are references to the economics students’ fellow psychology and political science students at the same campus: “We expect to see CSS as a war zone so that the pacifists from Political Science seek asylum in Jacques D until all the men throw the psychologist girls over their shoulders and take them home like little economics girls.”

According to Sidsel Poulsen, it’s not the first time she has encountered sexism at CSS:

»I was at a party two weeks ago at CSS where some economics boys sang a drinking song over the same theme about how dirty the economics girls were and how easy it was to score and take them home,« she says.

She says that the party theme is harmful to the community on campus.

»Pointing at one group and trying to make yourself better than the other half of the population. This is an outdated mindset. It may have been written in fun, and in humour, and this is Danish humour, and we can all snigger at it, but I cannot understand how it’s fun for someone to write something that’s so bad about such a large part of our community,« says Sidsel Poulsen.

Divisive debate

After reading the invitation to the Men’s Friday Bar, Sidsel Poulsen sent it on to the Everyday Sexism Project Denmark (ESPD) organization – which records reports on sexism throughout society, problematizing them.

ESPD’s posting on Facebook set off a red-hot debate between the critics of the student event and its advocates. A debate that looked a lot like the debate on sex and culture a few years ago at the Department of Political Science, which led to a renewed vigilance about the theme among students.

Part of the Friday bar discussion at the economics study programme follows the well-known shit storm dialectic, where the two sides express their contempt for the other side’s alleged grievances. Here is an example from the common CSS students’ own Facebook page:

»It is pretty damn easy to provoke outrage these days.« (male political science student whose comment got 66 reactions on Facebook, all positive).

»It is pretty easy to get a conservative to write ‘it is pretty  easy to provoke outrage’« (female political science student, 58 positive reactions).

Male student: »Ouch. That really hit hard … I’m just tired of all this outrage culture«

Female political scientist: »Thank you for elaborating on your original argument. I just didn’t know what you meant because I never heard anyone argue like this before.«

Male political science student: »I feel the same way 🙂 I’ve never experienced anyone getting all outraged from something so meaningless before.«

»It is a problem when so many cannot understand that this is a problem. They write, ha ha, you are all so stupid and call their critics ‘femi-nazis’,« says Sofie Poulsen.

Trolled debate

According to Zen, a member of the board of Everyday Sexism Project Denmark, the posting on the economics party is one of those postings that has been trolled the most on the ESPD facebook page.

They could have said: Hey, tonight, we’ll make fun of the gender stereotypes, so turn up as the most stereotypical man you can imagine. Both you women and men, and those who are in the middle, dress up like Rambo. Then it is clear to everyone that everyone is welcome, but with this – it is harder to decode.

Zen, ESPD

»Occasionally we have a posting, where we have to go in and block 50-100 people. This doesn’t happen often, but this was one of those times,« she says.

»We are interested in knowing if this is a trend. If you do not feel comfortable with it, you can choose not to attend this event, but you cannot make this choice if this is an underlying trend. Then you set up something where not everyone can join the community. But this community is important to the study programme.«

Zen says that she hopes that other students will share their experiences of sexism with ESPD wherever it occurs.

»It’s not about individual people or just this event, but something structural. We are still buried in these gender stereotypes, and we’d like to discuss it. Then you are met with this notion that we are angry or outraged. We’re not saying anything about what you are allowed to do, but just getting people to look critically at what you usually do,« Zen says.

»There is something in this way of expressing yourself that excludes people who are not made to feel welcome. People who do not think that the coolest way to get along is to live up to some very masculine ways of being a man, for example, or people who feel insecure with the method of flirting that is to throw away each other over your shoulder.«

»They could have said: Hey, tonight, we’ll make fun of the gender stereotypes, so turn up as the most stereotypical man you can imagine. Both you women and men, and those who are in the middle, dress up like Rambo. Then it is clear to everyone that everyone is welcome, but with this – it is harder to decode.«

Zen says that the Friday bar event is neither brave nor new:

»You see this way to express manhood everywhere, that is, you drink until you vomit, and you ‘throw a woman over your shoulders’. You can also go on a ‘man’s trip’ to Eastern Europe including a visit to a strip bar. This is not innovative.«

She says that the Friday bar cannot avoid criticism simply by the party theme being written in a humorous fashion. This is a typical excuse, she says, that this is just fun.

»You would have to be critical, in this case, of what the funny part is. Is it the provocation? Then it’s kindergarten level. If you had called on all genders to dress up like Rambo and cultivate the ultimate masculinity, then, you might say, that this was fun for everyone,« says Zen from ESPD.

Thrown off balance

Political science student Sidsel Poulsen says she is aware that the party invitation has been written by someone trying to be funny, but she says the text crosses the line.

»It’s beyond my ‘what you can make fun of’ box. I have talked to my girl friends about it and many are upset about it. It’s just uncomfortable.«

Economics student Thor Noe says he reacted in a similar way:

»When I was invited to the Friday bar, I thought, this cannot be true – they should not be allowed to spread this kind of exclusionary culture. It threw me off balance, even though I have experienced a similar tone in a number of other social contexts on the economics study programme since my own intro session four years ago. Now it just got pushed up to the next level.«

Together with two fellow students, he has written a featured comment about ‘the consequences of the exclusionary culture on the study programme’ to the economics portal altandetlige.dk. Here is an excerpt:

»Apart from the fact that the event damages the economists already blemished reputation, it is important to start a more fundamental debate on how we instead create a culture on our study programme and at our Friday bar where everyone feels welcome. We would like to remind you all that there is ample opportunity to make fun, and even stereotyped, theme parties without talking down to everyone who is not an economist student macho-man.«

Tradition for men’s party at the start of the semester

Although the Friday bar case is obviously political, the students’ political representatives did not want to comment on it, at least not to the University Post.

Freja Thim, Chairman of the Council of Economics Students’ – that is the Student Council here – refuses to be drawn into the debate:

»The Council does not participate in the planning or holding of the Friday bars. Neither do we have an agreed stance on the specific event/debate, and I do not want to comment on the party culture as a private person,« she writes to the University Post.

The party’s organizers don’t want to be mentioned either. The University Post spoke on Wednesday with one of them – a woman – about a possible interview, but she has subsequently not replied to our requests. However, she stated that – in line with what Thor Noe says – there has been a year-long tradition to start the economics semester with a man-themed party and that the party committee consists of four people, two men and two women.

The party invitation has, on the other hand, been commented by the Student Board at CSS campus. They write on a Facebook posting dated two days before the start of the party that they were dissatisfied with the original invitation to the Friday bar and that they have edited it:

»The CSS campus has not participated in the writing process and we strongly reject the content of the text. However, we are the last step in approval of Friday parties’ party descriptions. As an exception, there were less experienced hands involved in reading the event text. We assume responsibility for the fact that this has been put up, and this is why we corrected it when we became aware of the offensive text,« the board writes.

Tired of people being so outraged

The men’s Friday bar does also find public support however. One of them is political science student Caspar Stefani, who also writes blogs on the Berlingske site and is running for parliament for the Conservative Party. It is Stefani, who is referred to in the above Facebook discussion, and he would like to speak to the University Post.

What is it that the critics of the Friday bar have not understood?

If you were to make sure that everyone was involved, you could not have any themes, and you could not do anything. If you do not feel welcome, you can just not show up. I just think people are too busy getting themselves into a state of outrage. This is not just at university, but in general, and I’m tired of it.

Caspar Stefani

»What they have not understood is the irony or humour in it. They are so busy getting outraged by everything. If they cannot see that it’s a Friday bar in deep irony, and these theme parties often are, then it doesn’t take much for you to get offended. And then life will be tough.«

But the people I’ve spoken to who criticize the party do not doubt that it was meant in irony. They just find it problematic that anyone finds it funny.

»When you do it in irony, it’s because it’s good to make fun of how things were in the old days, where we can all agree that there has sexism and a culture of masculinity. It’s a way of distancing yourself from how it was before. Just like the youth sections of political parties have people singing songs about things that they, of course, do not mean today. Yet there is always someone who is ready to become offended. The Socialist People’s Party sings, for example, about burning down Shell petrol stations, and the Conservatives sing about beating up socialists, but we don’t mean it when we sing it.«

»I’m also tired of this mood against the alleged heteronormativity at the university, and that everyone is so busy in submitting this ultra-feminist agenda. It’s too much.«

The critics say that parties like the Men’s Friday bar pushes some students outside the community.

»If you were to make sure that everyone was involved, you could not have any themes, and you could not do anything. If you do not feel welcome, you can just not show up. I just think people are too busy getting themselves into a state of outrage. This is not just at university, but in general, and I’m tired of it,« says Caspar Stefani.

»It was the same at Political Science some years ago. Of course there are those who do not feel comfortable with the assumption that people are either male or female. But we don’t bully people. If you don’t want to participate in a specific thing, you don’t have to be there.«

Irony level 2

The debate over the Men’s Friday Bar is about how to use irony, and the use of irony to deflect criticism. If it does not show anything else, the debate shows that irony seeds confusion.

But it is also an opportunity. The folks doing the economics study programme revue tackled this with … economy.

»We saw a unique satirical advertising opportunity for the revue,« says student Rasmus Lindø Kaslund. »It was suggested by Frederik Gjølby, the sketch boss on the Politrevyen revue, to pretend that this year’s theme was a ‘Men’s Revue’, after which I quickly slapped up a Rambo-inspired poster in Photoshop with some stupid slogans and a woman with a whisk.«

The poster looks like this:

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