Content note: this article describes sexual assault 

Jarmoluk

When I first joined a drinking society, I did so on the basis that this one was ‘different’. I thought I was making an ‘informed’ choice when I chose to be initiated into what claimed to be a ‘safe, inclusive, pressure-free’ society. I thought that I’d seen the negative side of these societies and that they could be a positive and fun environment to be a part of.  By my third year however, I had realised that there is no such thing.

Despite the fact that the group that I was a part of was itself generally inclusive and positive, the simple fact was that we did not exist in a bubble. Drinking socs are by their nature based around swaps and going out, and as soon as other societies entered the equation, the environment I was in became inherently unsafe and problematic, no matter how much I rationalised it otherwise.

I have come to realise that every time I took part in a swap, it made a statement

By part-way through my second year, I had been preyed on, witnessed shambolic behaviour and even been spiked. The last of these resulted in me blacking out after one male drinking soc member gave several of us who were stupid enough to trust him a ‘cocktail’ he’d made. A member of the same society was later suspected to have spiked one of our members on a date.

Often, I could feel men’s attitudes towards me change once they knew I was in a society, that I was an easy target or one that would give them bragging rights. On one occasion, a man in Cindies started talking to me under the pretext of organising a swap, angling me away from my friends until he had cornered me and had a grip on my arm. He then told me that I was “cute” but I’d “regret it” if I didn’t agree to get with him that night. He wouldn’t let go of me, saying that I had to kiss him before he’d let me go.

No matter how much we wanted to pretend we were set apart from some of the more infamous drinking societies, the situations we were putting ourselves in were in fact identical. After I started to help run my society in third year, I became more uneasy about organising events. I felt responsible for putting other girls in a situation where they could be spiked or ‘taken advantage of’.

I remember going to an inter-university drinking society event and literally feeling like meat in the room. As one of the few women who’d been brought along, I could feel the men’s eyes raking me up and down. At 19, I tried to convince myself that I was mature enough to ignore it, to roll my eyes at it and that I was above their behaviour. At 21, I realised I was indirectly a part of it.

I have come to realise that every time I took part in a swap, it made a statement. That even if I wasn’t the one making classist, racist or sexist comments, I was enabling others who were behaving that way. By making up the numbers on swaps, and sitting through fines that were blatantly derogatory to women,  I allowed the men saying these things to carry on their behaviour, and reinforced that it was acceptable, funny and attractive way to behave. I was giving them an audience.

This is not to say that women should feel responsible for the things that have been done by the male drinking societies of Cambridge or even that women are completely innocent in this regard . However, I have had many male members talk to me about their soc and distance themselves from their activities with phrases like “I don’t really go… I don’t really agree with the stuff they do…It’s just a joke…I had to join…” while also continuing to go to the events and laugh as their friends brag about sleeping with prostitutes.


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The self-absolving attitude seems a common way to ignore the culture of toxic masculinity they are a part of, when it suits them to. To be clear, this sort of public distancing only perpetuates the secrecy of what goes on behind closed doors.

Drinking society culture in Cambridge needs to end. They are an increasingly elitist tool used to create a hierarchy over others, to make men (and women) feel they have a right to behave a certain way towards others, and also to create an unpleasant attitude amongst students generally. By the end of my third year, I’m running out of friends who haven’t had a bad experience with males on a night out and it sickens me to be a part of something that in any way perpetuates that.

But, I don’t think it will ever change. To do the things these people have in the first place requires a certain type of personality, and its not one that Grudgebridge, or half-hearted discussions from the university will be able to change.

If you’re the sort of person who is open to spiking someone or assaulting them, or destroys college property, you’re not exactly going to care if anyone finds out (beyond how it affects your ability to continue doing these things) because you’ve never exactly made an effort to hide it in the first place.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources:

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