'Misogyny was everywhere – no matter whether the man standing in front of me was decked in black tie or a black turtleneck'Evelyn Simak

I had just entered my second year when I realised that student politics was in danger. As a fresher I heard a lot about the Cambridge conservatives: of their cigars and their port, the misogyny of their “boys’ club”, their burning of money in front of homeless men, and their election-rigging. What no-one warned me about, however, was that misogyny was everywhere – no matter whether the man standing in front of me was decked in black tie or a black turtleneck. I had been done a complete disservice. I had expected misogyny, but I was shocked to find it coming from men who called themselves leftists, liberals, and socialists. I found myself standing dumbfounded in front of a man trying to convince me that publicising details of a 19-year-old girl’s sex life was okay, because she was a “future Tory MP”. He had seemed to forget that I too, was not the Tories’ biggest fan. Twenty minutes earlier, I had had to explain to another man that the phrase “the opening of one’s legs” was, in fact, misogynistic. He had tried to defend it as a reference to the “scheming” of men and women, seemingly forgetting the mechanics of intercourse, or at the very least the historical context of the accusation - that women are sleeping their way to the top.

“I had expected misogyny, but I was shocked to find it coming from men who called themselves liberals”

This was not an isolated incident. I, along with all my female friends, would be subject to rumours or accusations simply because we were prominent in student politics. Accused of only having our positions because we had slept with someone, what was extraordinary was that the men in these situations never had their role, status, or achievements pulled into question for having supposedly slept with us. We were always the ones being attacked and diminished. It was positively puritanical – we were being punished for having sex, whether we had actually had it or not. Coming to Cambridge, a city steeped in tradition, I had expected old-fashioned sentiments. What I had not expected was a witch-hunt, centred around the horror that young women could be having casual sex with people in their social circles. It was baffling to all of us - the swashbuckling journos and political wannabes had chosen to forget how relationships worked. Any man within a 5-foot radius became the latest rung on the ladder in our climb to the top. Cambridge is small. Colleges are smaller. Societies, by comparison, are miniscule – our only way, it seemed, to escape this speculation, would be to lock ourselves up in a convent away from any man we could potentially seduce.

My previous year had failed to prepare me for the situation I faced. What I had experienced was far less insidious. Men had shushed me, or waved their hand in my face, or spoken to me like I was a young child. They had attempted to speak over me, failing to realise I could be just as loud and obnoxious. But this was pre-school. It was misogyny, yes, but a kind that every woman had experienced, learnt to deal with, and treated with vague annoyance. But this Michaelmas was different. What was so dangerous about this kind of misogyny was that the men perpetrating it were seemingly unaware that it was misogyny.

“I have little hope that accusations of women sleeping their way to the top will cease”

To them, it was anti-establishment, or anti-Tory, or anti-nepotism critique. But when your criticisms and attacks on these things are framed around historically sexist sentiment, or only levelled at women, when you are friends with men of similar views, your credibility crumbles – you are attacking a woman because she is a woman, not because of anything she has done. When your spin is that sex will be why a woman gets votes in the next election, or a better position on a committee, you are perpetuating the story that women sleep their way to the top; that their achievements are not worthwhile, earned or their own. You discredit every other aspect of that woman’s identity and reduce her to a sexual object. Being a left-wing woman, left-wing men had expected me to sit quietly whilst they launched attacks at right-wing women. But misogyny is an attack on all women, not just those you direct it towards.

No one is actually gaining votes from sex. You would have to be delusional to see having sex with a person as a way to gain votes in a student political election as viable or normal. The men accusing us of these things had a frail grasp on the big picture – we are students, and Cambridge is not special. The same things that happen across the country happen here. We are not a Westminster training ground. We are not Machiavellian masterminds using people to rise through the ranks and leaving them behind along the way. Even if we were, we failed to see any criticisms of this sort levelled at our male counterparts.


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I have little hope that accusations of women sleeping their way to the top will cease – it is one of the oldest lines in the chauvinist’s handbook. But I hope that, for once, people will break one of the oldest rules in Cambridge and touch some grass. We are young adults, forming our opinions and figuring out life. As a population we need to address the issue of sexism or we will carry it forever. Whilst we have time, learn to treat others with compassion, kindness, and respect, as your fellow suffering students. Stop thinly veiling your misogyny as political discussion and critique. Apply those critical thinking skills they apparently tested in our interviews. Misogyny is misogyny whether you agree with a woman or not.