Telegraph Freshers’ Week advice for girls: Just don’t be a slag

This week the Telegraph seems to be obsessed with Freshers’ Weeks taking place at universities all over the country. Fair play to them. While it’s easy to mock a self-indulgent nostalgia trip for ageing middle-class journalists, at least it keeps them out of trouble. The more time spent telling worried 18-year-olds “how to dress in Freshers’ Week,” the less time there is to lie to abortion providers or cobble together ill-informed rants about the niqab. Everyone’s a winner!

Unless, that is, you’re a girl (by which we mean grown woman who is off to university). Alas, for the likes of you university’s just as much of a minefield as, say, having reproductive choices or making your own decisions about what to wear. Thankfully, Telegraph Wonder Women have put together a handy guide to keep you out of trouble.

11 things girls should avoid doing during fresher’s week sounds a tad judgemental, doesn’t it? To be fair, it’s not as bad as it seems. Some of the advice — don’t believe other people when they say they’ve not done any work, don’t fret about where you’ll live in your second year — could equally be aimed at male students (although as far as I can see there’s no equivalent piece in Telegraph Men; indeed, in what one might consider an example of rampant misandry, the blokes have to make do with Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet’s views on cycling). Anyhow, all that advice seems fair enough. It’s the other, more girl-specific tips that bother me. Basically, they take up too much space. Points 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 and 11 could all be boiled down to one single phrase:


I don’t know why they just don’t say it. Perhaps they’re worried about not seeming politically correct, but really, who cares? It’s the Telegraph! Just cut the crap and give the ladies that one handy, slut-shaming phrase to carry with them throughout their university careers and beyond. Get them into the habit of feeling ashamed about baring flesh and it’s a useful, culturally appropriate lesson in self-blame they’ll never forget.

Of course, the insidious thing about slut-shaming these days is that it’s never quite that honest. After all, that might annoy people (providing we’re working on the assumption that women consider themselves people). Today’s slut-shamer has to resort to special tactics to get his or her point across. Here, for instance, are some of the ways in which the Telegraph manages to tell young women to not be a slag without ever actually saying it:

  1. Subtly suggest to all women that “the real you” isn’t into sex, booze etc. and just needs reassuring that this is okay,
  2. Insist that whatever seems like fun at the time comes back “to haunt you”
  3. Use dodgy headlines as an excuse to indulge in slut-shaming-that-isn’t (“Wear more clothes” — but only ‘cause otherwise you’ll catch a cold! Ha ha!)
  4. Use plenty of illustrative photos of those girls you do not want to be (aka slags)

Disappointingly there is, hidden in all this, a germ of sensible advice: don’t try to be someone you’re not and don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do. That might include drinking and not wearing much, but then again, it might not. “Who cares if you’re a virgin?” the piece merrily asks. Well, no one should, but you get the impression that the Telegraph does. The point is that the “real you” should not be hung up on ideas of what “girls” should and shouldn’t do, and most certainly shouldn’t have to spend time agonising over which acts could lead to future “hauntings” via photographic evidence. Are men being tormented in this way? No, they’re getting Gary Kemp’s cycling anecdotes. Is this really fair?

If undergraduate culture objectifies women — and I believe, absolutely, that it does — does a list of “don’ts” aimed at female students really form part of the solution? Does that give them to confidence to come to their own conclusions about jelly wrestling? Or does it merely reinforce passivity and fear? If young women are to feel confident about consent surely they also need to feel confident about their own sexual self-expression. Indeed, a failure to engage with active female sexuality is part of what fuels rape culture and victim-blaming.

Anyhow, hopefully that was just a blip and the Telegraph will go back to offering money-saving tips to (one suspects) a young readership less likely than most to need them. In the meantime, I’d say that while I wouldn’t wrestle in jelly myself, I wouldn’t judge anyone who did. It’s a waste of good jelly, sure, but you’re only young once.


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