(Content warning: this article features talk of r*pe, FGM, assault, homophobia and racism.)
Let’s have a conversation about group chats.
Yesterday, a group of 11 boys from Warwick university was exposed for making jokes about rape, racism and FGM, in a private group chat entitled ‘Fuck women disrespect them all’. They have now, according to The Tab, been ‘temporarily suspended’.
Although some of the comments made are truly shocking- I, for one, am not shocked.
I’m not shocked because I went to school with Ben Clements, one of the boys in the chat who, it appears, made the majority of the disgusting comments featured in the article.
Among the extensive list of things Ben said:
“Sometimes it’s fun to go wild and rape 100 girls”
“She’s simply not attractive enough for all of those things to happen to her”(About a girl who had come forward as a victim of sexual assault).
“I cannot wait to have surprise sex with some freshers”.
“Need to be stacked so I can hold the freshers down”.
Ben went to my school, Prior Park College, where he was the head of one of our boy’s houses- Burton house. My brother was in Burton house.
Ben got my bus to school most mornings.
Ben was in my English Literature class.
Ben dated a close friend of mine.
Ben wrote for our student newspaper when myself and my friends were general editors.
In the first edition of our newspaper, The Prior Crier, Ben wrote an article on Lad Culture. In it, he said:
“A recent survey by the National Union of Students revealed that 50% of respondents had identified prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment at their universities… Now don’t get me wrong, I know that not every young male does this. However, I guarantee that if you think about it, at least one person will come to mind that fits the bill of all that I have described.”
The irony of these words now is clear. However, it was clear way before Ben even went to Warwick University- because this isn’t the first group chat where Ben has been exposed for this type of behaviour.
In my final term of sixth form, I was added to a group chat among several members of Burton house. I found numerous messages about myself and other women- they were misogynistic, they used unspeakable racial slurs and homophobic language. They had called their group chat ‘Fender’s a fat c*nt’; with Ben remarking, after a comment about my breasts was made, that ‘fat doesn’t count as boob’. He congratulated others in the group for being ‘Homophobic and racist in two words-Impressive’.
The things I read in this chat were nowhere near as vile as some of the comments made in the Warwick one, and I would never want to compare the comparatively mild comments made against me to the genuine threats made against the girls of Warwick university. What I’m hoping to illustrate is that this type of behaviour; these attitudes, will only magnify the longer we leave them unchallenged.
Boys at school approached me and my friends, asking us not to get Ben in trouble because ‘you’ll ruin his future’. Silent members of these chats; some of them my friends, some of them respected peers, some of whom I went to primary school with- their silence added to a culture of complicity. My school’s meagre attempts at forcing an apology (which, from Ben, I never got), and my own subdued ignominy- which prevented me from outing the limited insight I had- this was affirmation. This was a refusal to rock the boat- because it’s all ‘banter’ and ‘jokes’ until it’s not- until it’s so deeply rooted in the culture that surrounds us; in the private spaces of group chats and locker rooms- that deeply revolting words such as those outed yesterday can be typed; even thought- with blasé passivity. This is pervasive, and it’s dangerous.
As Ben Clements himself so cannily put it- “It’s not particularly difficult to reject lad culture, as a teenage male encountering it on a daily basis I can say with confidence that it is possible not to succumb to the peer pressure of it.” But this isn’t just about not joining in- it’s about calling it out.