We are looking for a new committee!

We are looking for a group of passionate self-identifying women to form our new committee.

If you are enthusiastic about bringing self-identifying women into dialogue, celebrating their achievements, and hosting inspirational and exciting events, then Cambridge Girl Talk is for you.

To apply, please take a look at the job descriptions and send an email to cambridgegirltalk@gmail.com explaining who you are, why you want to be part of Cambridge Girl Talk, and why you think you’re suited to the role. We cannot wait to hear from you!



The role of director is challenging but rewarding. It involves:

  • Organising and chairing regular Girl Talk committee meetings, to keep tabs on progress with upcoming events and blog content
  • Making executive decisions about the direction and running of the project as a whole
  • Ensuring that different teams on the committee – blog, events, social media and administrative – are working in sync, ideally through a committee group chat and Facebook group
  • Supporting other committee members in their roles
  • Ensuring that Girl Talk has a stall at the Freshers’ Fair and ordering merchandise
  • Organising informal committee socials to boost team morale and, particularly at the start of the year, making all committee members feel welcome and valued as members of Girl Talk
  • Listening to any concerns that committee members may have and being prepared to help if anyone is struggling with their tasks for personal reasons

Secretary and publicity

The role of secretary/publicity is:

  • Helping with the technicalities of organising events such as booking rooms and sorting equipment
  • Reaching out to new sponsors and maintaining good relationships with existing ones
  • Taking care of the girl talk bank account and reimbursements
  • Coordinating projects by updating trello boards
  • Maintaining and expanding the Girl Talk Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, working with the Blog team to ensure all blog posts are well publicized

Events Coordinator (x 2)

The events coordinators will need to be organised, creative and enthusiastic about making Girl Talk as exciting as it can be! The role is:

  • To be the driving force behind each of the events held by Girl Talk throughout the year, and planning a variety of events with help from the team (from socials to panel discussions and keynote speeches)
  • Sourcing speakers
  • Working with publicity to publicize the event
  • Being in charge of logistics on the day

Blog editor

The editor will be in charge of our successful blog. The role involves:

  • Coming up with fortnightly commissions centred around a creative theme and ensuring content is a diverse and interesting range of personal essays, art, argument or creative writing.
  • Collaborating closely with the artist in residence and interested contributors to create engaging posts for our readers

Sub-editor / Columnist

This combined role requires someone with both creativity and a good eye for detail. It is a role that is more flexible and independent than much of the student press, that the columnist can really make their own. It involves:

  • ( As sub-editor) Supporting the editor in commissioning and selecting articles, but also in the nitty gritty process of editing and uploading the articles.
  • (As columnist) Having lots to say and a clear journalistic voice.
  • Being committed to writing weekly articles centred around a theme or pertaining to the blog’s fortnightly theme.
  1.  Please submit some examples of your writing when applying for this role.

Artist in Residence

This role involves:

  • Designing publicity material (facebook cover photos for events, term-card, and any additional material)
  • Contributing illustrations/artwork to the blog and social media
  • Undertaking other design work that the committee decides (e.g. merchandise, website)

N.b. Please submit some examples of your artwork if applying for this role.

A Warm Welcome to AWOMENfest

Raniyah Qureshi

If you asked me five years ago, I would have told you that I didn’t identify as a feminist, let alone that I had decided to set up a feminist arts festival. The strains of feminism that I had encountered up until 2013 had not been diverse, and didn’t really account for experiences that weren’t white, secular, cis, and heterosexual. To put it bluntly the feminism I had previously encountered simply hadn’t been intersectional. As someone who isn’t white and could be described as religious (although how you define what that means is fairly complex) it took a while to see myself in the feminist movement. Thankfully and blissfully, after much digging and research and through endless conversations with many patient individuals, I have finally decided what I want my feminism to look like. I’m so hopeful that open discussion, communication and kindness can get us to a point where slowly everyone engages in intersectional conversations, and intersectional feminism becomes commonplace – where the words become ‘intersectional feminism’ become unnecessary, because they’re implicit in every interaction.

I don’t think anyone is fully ‘woke’ because I think every individual has certain privileges, and views the world with themselves at the centre, but I do think it’s something that everyone should aim to be. This is where AWOMENfest comes in. We want to push everyone, gently and lovingly, to try and understand experiences beyond their own. A play on the Hebrew ‘amen’ (so be it) AWOMENfest focusses on the diverse narratives that compose what ‘womanhood’ (if such a term is useful in 2018) really looks like. AWOMENfest is a weekend feminist arts festival taking place from the 23rd — 25th March at DIY Space for London. Our incredibly magical and supportive team, including Alina Khakoo, curator of AWOMENfest (and co-founder of Cambridge Girl Talk) and Indigo Theatre Productions are helping to bring what was once a daydream and a fantasy of mine to life. We’re creating a loving and safe environment, where we can celebrate the diversity of feminism, and show that even the most radical aspects of feminism are accessible to all. We want all individuals attending the festival, whether they identify as male, or female or as non-binary to feel uplifted and communally celebrate all things radical softness!


Our four sessions across the weekend will explore the themes of vulnerability, solidarity, spirituality and desirability. AWOMENfest is a multi-disciplinary affair: we’re showcasing the artwork of renowned individuals such as Alice Skinner, Fee Greening and Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee, alongside performances by the incredible Emma Jean-Thackray, Transgress Productions, and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from ‘forgiveness in feminism’ to presentations of The Women in Porn project. Our whole team fiercely believes that through art, individuals who don’t necessarily care about or haven’t engaged in ideas concerning BME mental health, or the nuances of drag performance, can come and have a great time, and slowly contemplate ideas that they may not have encountered or wished to think about before. We’ve embraced ‘radical softness’ to demonstrate our commitment to being open and inclusive.

The way we view it ‘radical softness’ highlights that feminism is a merging of the political and the personal. ‘Radical softness’ involves embracing the kindness within feminism and using emotional vulnerability as a means of resilience and fortitude. Feminism has given me so much, it’s given me networks and communities of support, I’ve met individuals who not only have the most amazing stories to tell, but have channelled their vulnerabilities, their heartbreaks and their struggles into the most beautiful and overwhelming pieces of art. AWOMENfest holds onto this feeling and tries to encapsulate it in a single weekend. By focussing on ‘radical softness’ we’re showing that all the upsets, and the difficulties of a collection of diverse experiences can be made into something beautiful.

We really hope to see as many Girl Talk readers there. For more information please visit www.awomenfest.com, and buy your tickets, so together we can push back against the kyriarchy, and raise funds for the My Body Back Project:(http://www.mybodybackproject.com/). 

The Wasted Hours

Phoebe Cramer

The middle of the day has become non-existent.

1 – 4 pm are The Wasted Hours. Sandwiched between mornings of fresh motivation and evenings of panic-driven productivity, the middle of the day dissolves into nothingness. I cannot work. I cannot do the other things that need doing and are decisively Not Work. I cannot even really socialise. It’s not procrastination because of a complete lack of intent. It is simply a time of pure, irrational unproductivity.

It is both frustrating and strangely satisfying to know that you are wasting time – a precious commodity in Cambridge – but below that there’s an underlying feeling of melancholy, a familiar sort of gloom. These are the moments in the day when I am at my lowest. Every single day – without fail. I’m usually tucked away in my room after braving a morning at Sidgwick, (although not at the moment, due to the strike) and though I’m lucky to not feel lonely here, it is an inexplicable sensation of isolation. Just in the middle of the day, between 1-4 pm.

It is tiredness. And resignation. And the realisation that this is an insanely relentless place. It is an overload of work and jobs that need doing, and the ease of not doing them. For me, it is grief. And longing. Missing home and missing things in Cambridge that feel slightly out of reach. Not insecurity, but a quiet examination of myself: my attitude, my creativity, my body, my relationships.

It is a difficult thing to articulate, this simple feeling of middle ground that comes with these hours. Do other people do this? Waste time in the same way? Feelings of insecurity and mediocrity are far from rare in Cambridge, and provide most of the ‘jokey’ bonding between me and my treasured ‘gal pals’ here. In Britain, typically the only socially acceptable answer to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Fine, thanks’, but in Cambridge I have come to realise it’s not too honest to just say, ‘Exhausted’. It seems to do the same job. Both answers just mean average, the usual – we signed up for this exhaustion so cannot really complain.

It only takes some basic self-examination to realise that wasting this time is just another expression of insecurity – anxiety that feels better left alone. It’s simple, casual self-sabotage as I lose hours in the days that could otherwise be utilised. It’s the ‘I-Haven’t-Revised-For-The-Exam’ excuse that most of us have told ourselves when we are conscious of the possibility of working hard and still failing. Failing with the knowledge that you could, actually, have worked harder is more comforting.

Wasted hours makes my incomplete to-do list less harsh in the evenings: it’s okay that this and that didn’t get done, I wasted those hours, but if I hadn’t I definitely could have achieved all this. Definitely.

This week I wrote down some of the things that I did within these hours:

  • Rearranged the posters on my wall. Then arranged them back again.
  • Ate two Twix bars, one quickly and one slowly, to see which way was better. (This is subjective, but the satisfaction of a quick crunch may outweigh longevity).
  • Tidied my room, other than washing my plates. My room was already very tidy, the plates needed washing.
  • Looked up cinema listings are my local cinema back home despite being physically a two-hour train journey away from the cinema.
  • Realised that after having pitched this article, I should probably write it. Added it to the to-do list instead of starting it.
  • Felt my heart rate increase as I thought about how much work I need to do. Decreased my heart rate by deciding to think about something else. (In this case, the Pixar film Ratatouille).
  • Who knew my old primary school’s website could be so interesting?
  • Googled, studied and worried over the side effects of taking the Pill despite having never experienced any in the slightest.
  • Drew a highly artistic Twix wrapper on my forearm and genuinely debated whether getting this as my next tattoo would be arty or ridiculous. (Currently undecided).
  • Discovered ‘Bullet Journaling’ blogs. Spent a long time reading these. Made my own bullet journaling blog. I do not have a bullet journal.

I would not particularly recommend writing down the things you do when you waste time – unless you can spare an afternoon of existentialism.

Of course, wasting time is also pretty therapeutic. It is different to self-care, it’s not scheduled self-reflection or tea or face masks. But it is a period when time just slips by, and ultimately that is a uniquely relaxing feeling. Stress comes, goes and fades. Using this time would probably help me face that, and everything that needs doing. But as I continue to waste time and yet somehow tick along, it is reassuring to know that not every single hour of the day has to have a purpose.

featured image via instagram | @sophiaviggiano

On ‘Inkwell: A Night of Art and Poetry’

Elizabeth Huang

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes: “For my belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” As we were planning and preparing Inkwell, the art and poetry night we are putting on at the Heong Gallery this Sunday (25 February, 6-9pm, free entry, I think you should come!), we didn’t talk about the common life, or rooms of our own, or putting on bodies but, nonetheless, we have circled back and found ourselves face to face with the same ideas.

Amelia Bodies
photo via instagram | _ameliawang_

Inkwell is vey much about making room, opening up an intimate space in the public context, in which the sometimes messy and often imperfect products of lives lived in a gendered world can be presented on their own terms. We want to showcase the work of those disadvantaged by the gender paradigm, and are featuring a range of women, non-binary and trans artists and poets. Kate Collins of Mark My Words put it just right when she said, “The first question that is asked when you go and see a play is ‘was it good?’…Why should we have to decide that? Who says what ‘good’ is?” ‘Good’ is in some ways, a means of marginalising voices which we do not recognise or understand. Perhaps, you will come to Inkwell and think some of the work strange or naïve or technically unpolished. We invite you to lay down those thoughts briefly to consider also the person, the body, the subject who has created it. We have asked all of our contributors to provide a short biography and reflection on their own creative practice to assist you in this. Though art itself may speak to us, it can do so only in language which we already know – the artists or poets’ own accounts remind us not to speak over, or ventriloquise unwantedly, their voices. During the evening, words and voices will also be embodied by their authors reading aloud: another opportunity to take a moment to listen.


       Inkwell comes from our desire to bring people into a welcoming space in which such conversations can be had. We talked a lot initially about calling-in, rather than calling-out, an opportunity to celebrate and collaborate – inviting people into spaces that might even be unfamiliar to them (cis male friends, take note), as respectful observers but also as participants in a multi-way dialogue. The image of the well is one of a communal space – the focal centre of a community and a literally fluid space. The inkwell is the spiritually the same – it is a source of vital and creative forces and a space for radical self-making. Our poets and artists explore, in their individual ways, the liquid self and the ways in which it ebbs and flows and crashes against the experienced world. These are big words, for what is really a little show, but they are words we have thought about carefully, and which we offer to you sincerely.



Come then, on Sunday night – wend your way to Downing’s Heong Gallery for Inkwell. We have art and poetry (and crafty things!) – you have eyes and ears and a certain curiosity. Not even a century ago, Virginia Woolf found herself barred from the libraries and lawns of Oxbridge. Not even a century later, we are here.


all drawings by Kitya Mark for Inkwell 


A Love Letter to FNTM FEST

Ellie Cole 

I’m not a writer. (Other than the essays that I- note to self- should be writing for my degree.) And though I’m not what people may consider to be the epitome of ‘shy and retiring’, I’m not usually one to share my thoughts publicly via ye olde written word. In short, I apologise for my lack of eloquence and flair.

FNTM is, very simply, a festival created by people who may experience disadvantage because of their gender identity or presentation.

Now would probably be the point at which I should shower you with statistics or case studies to demonstrate the existence of a gender paradigm, but I think that a short trip down google lane will do that just fine. We have sought to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible with regard to gender. It’s an incredibly important and deeply personal thing, and as such the way that we address, and regard gender is equally important.

FNTM Arts Fest began 6 months ago when a group of friends were sitting in a flat and discussed how frustrating it is too feel as though you’re on the back foot and not really understanding why. Or rather, completely understanding that it was to do with our gender, but not really knowing what to do about it. We were a bit tired of complaining about the abundance of talented actors around competing for the comparatively few roles that were accessible to women, let alone non-binary and trans people. Then there are the issues faced by theatre technicians, and the often hostile and ‘macho’ environment that can be found in that sphere as well. So we thought ‘f*ck it – lets put on our own show’. Except we then realised that one show is great, but what about all the other arts out there? There is such a phenomenal abundance of talent on offer; why not show that off as well? Why stop at theatre when gendered discrimination occurs across the arts, everywhere, constantly? So, we branched out, included dance, poetry, comedy, new writing, panels, workshops and artwork. It then took convincing people to take on coordinating these events, and FNTM was born.



So why have we only opened up our roles to those who identify as women, non- binary or trans? Gender affords certain people certain privileges, and so the reason for this collaboration with these self- identifying groups is that these are the people who genuinely feel disenfranchised within creative spaces that they love – be it theatre, dance, art, poetry etc. A question that we’ve seen arise during the creation of FNTM is ‘Why are non-binary people often ‘grouped’ with women? Why not male and non-binary?’ I’m not going to pretend that I have detailed and excessive knowledge in this area, but from speaking to people about it and reading what I can, the simple answer is that these are both groups are disadvantaged owing to the simple fact that they identify in these ways. An interesting and very important follow up point is also often raised – ‘By consistently pairing self- identifying women and non-binary groups, are we equating their identities?’ Again, I’m going to give a short answer: no. And nor should we. But often this is the impression that is given and is something that we have tried to dispel. Equally, we are not identifying women and trans men or trans men and non-binary people, we merely seek to welcome and celebrate another group that may experience these disadvantages.

I’m not sure that I can do justice to the love, dedication and creativity of everyone involved in bringing this festival to life. In all honesty, I thought that it was going to be nothing more than a pipe dream. But that quickly changed as more and more people came onboard and poured nothing but energy, excitement and enthusiasm into their roles.  (Look at that alliteration- Maybe I am a writer after all…)

So here we are the day after our first event, and we’ve got so much to offer. This is a festival built from scratch by talented, driven and creative people saying ‘Yes, we need this and I want to help create this’. And as such, it is basically one big celebration, and we invite anyone and everyone to come and celebrate with us.

‘SKINS’ by Kitya Mark, co- curator of ‘Inkwell: a Night of Art and Poetry’ (25 Feb,  part of FNTM Fest)


FNTM is our way of attempting a solution. FNTM is an expression of ourselves. FNTM is not the entire sum of our collective creativity, but we hope it goes some way in showing it.

FNTM Arts Fest opened on February 17 with ‘MARK MY WORDS’, a night of new writing described by Kate Collins to Cambridge Girl Talk as a chance to give new writers the opportunity to have their work ‘explored and discussed’ with judges Becky Prestwich (Royal Exchange Theatre, BBC), Afshan D’souza Lodhi (Z-Arts, Dog Horn Publishing) and Serafina Cusack (Theatre 503, The Bread and Roses Theatre). In a time where ‘the most recognised UK theatres have been pretty dismal when it comes to programming plays by female writers, and even worse when it comes to programming work by non-binary and trans writers’ MARK MY WORDS hopes to provide an accessible space to showcase work that is ‘touching and dark, lighthearted and sharp’, but most of all ‘important to the people who write them.’

Who’s That Girl? In conversation with Ore Ogunbiyi

In an interview with Abigail Smith, Girl Talk speaks to Ore Ogunbiyi, president of ACS, about her new podcast Lightbulb Moments, about speaking up as a black woman in Cambridge, and about creating that perfect insta.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Ore Ogunbiyi, I am a final year HSPS Student at Jesus. I’m also president of the African Caribbean Society (ACS), which is my baby, my pride and joy. I’m really into everything African politics and everything race politics.

You’ve recently launched your new podcast, Lightbulb moments — why did you start it?

I find that especially in Cambridge, but elsewhere too, I have lots of incredible, abstract conversations. And I always come to the end of these conversations and my mind’s boggling, and I want everyone to hear that, and everyone to have that feeling of being mind-blown. I thought about how I was going to bring people into these conversations, how am I going to share something I love. These conversations are too important for them to die the second I have them.


lightbulb logo.png
Lightbulb Moments: Conversations Millenials Should Be Having

Did you have any worries when you started the podcasts?

I had quite a few! I was concerned I would run out of content, so I made myself a list of 30 topics before I started. But I was also concerned that just because these are topics I’m interested in, what’s that to say that other people will be interested. But I realised that the fact I’m having these conversations means there’s always at least someone out there who’s going to want to listen.

I was also concerned that my topics would be very skewed to things just concerning my identity; about me being black, about me being Nigerian, about me being a woman. But for me, overcoming that was realising that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of people who won’t have an insight into what my life is like as a black, Nigerian woman, who is living in the UK but also living in Nigeria. When I recently wrote my article about being black in Cambridge, a lot of people who hadn’t had that experience were still interested in it.

I was going to ask you about this! Your article went viral: what was that like? Were there any downsides?

100%. When you’re at somewhere like Cambridge, and you’re a black woman who tries to put themselves out there and engage in activism, you become hyper-visible. I remember coming back to college this term, and wondering if people were looking at me weirdly because now they know that I’m the person who wrote that article about the challenges of my experience. You can’t hide or blend into the background when you’re a black woman here. But then, I reached a point where I realised I didn’t care about what people thought of me: that’s their problem and not mine.

ore article
The Varsity article which went viral

Why is it so important for women, and particularly black women, to have a platform in Cambridge?

It’s so important: especially being Nigerian sometimes it can be seen as ‘Why are you standing up and talking about this? Why are you being so loud? Why are you so angry for?’ But recognising that your opinions are valid; that people care about what you have to say. There might be people waiting for you to say something, people who rely on you speaking up about something. It’s important because there are a lot of other black girls out there who will see people like you speaking up, and you can encourage them. Also, it’s important to purposefully go against the grain, against people who want us to be quiet. If we don’t speak up who will?

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Ore speaking at the ACS Access Conference last year

Are there any issues you wouldn’t want to discuss on your podcast?

Pretty much anything is on the table, because I want to get the conversations going. I did say right in my introduction that I’m not working with any racists, any sexists — I just don’t see the need for it. However sometimes, there are people that have opposing views that I do try and bring up, and explain why I do not agree with them, or why that kind of view is not welcome in this space. But I think anything can be political, and anything can be relevant: we need to step away from this ‘its not that deep’ culture.

Who is your podcast aimed at?

So its full title is ‘Lightbulb Moments — Conversations Millennials should be having’, so I do tend the conversations towards millennials. We try to keep it accessible and relaxed in its approach, but also I try and talk about things that are relevant to our futures, and how we think about our futures. I have a lot more hope in young people; we’re still at a very formative stage, I have a lot of hope in how we can change. That’s also why I have a lot of different guests because everyone’s different experience of a topic is relevant. But also, my mum absolutely loves it and keeps telling all her friends about what she’s learning, which is really cute. So although it’s aimed at young people, it really is for anyone.

Speaking of guests, who would your absolute dream guest be?

The Vice-President of Nigeria, Professor Osinbajo. I’m giving myself two years and by then I have to make it happen. He is one of my favourite people in terms of how we share very similar views in terms of what Nigeria’s future could look like. He’s incredibly clever; he’s not giving up on Nigeria, and he’s one of the people who give me hope about Nigeria. When I was a child he was also a pastor at my church, so I also look up to him spiritually.

Which podcast are you most proud of so far, and which are you most excited still to do?

The one I’m most proud of so far is my most popular one, on Patriarchy and Capitalism. I had a lot of people message me about that episode just because they had not thought about the extent to which patriarchy is embedded in capitalism. Also because my guest was someone who I had contributed to his journey to becoming a feminist, and he acknowledges he’s still learning.

I’m most looking forward to the one I’m actually recording next weekend, which is on corruption. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I went to an Africa summit at LSE and learnt a lot about the way we conceptualise corruption and the way we use it to cripple how we view African countries. Without giving too much away, I think it’s really problematic the way that we see corruption as being endemic in some countries, while in other countries we’ll call it something different. We need to get rid of these tropes that some countries are just destined to be corrupt forever when that’s a lie.

Speaking of the future, what is your plan for yourself?

So I have a little summer job with the BBC, which is exciting, and hopefully, a media outlet will just keep me, because then what if Lightbulb Moments ended up on the radio? That would be incredible. I’ve also applied to do a masters in journalism in New York, which I would really like because broadcast journalism is something I’m really interested in. Just some kind of platform where I could talk about politics, and these kinds of topics. It’s all about deconstructing false narratives and changing the narratives for some of the world’s most oppressed people, who just don’t tend to have a fair say in popular discourse.

ore 2.jpg
The kind of magic you can expect on Ore’s instagram

A final question for our readers: your Instagram is amazing. Can you share your wisdom on creating the perfect insta?

So I kind of get a cheat on the follower count, because I have my uni friends, my friends in Nigeria, my friends from school in England, so I’m kind of living this triple life. In terms of the perfect shot, I would say:
–  Lighting
–  Don’t overdo the hashtags
– Peak times — Sunday afternoon is very underrated, everyone’s hungover from Saturday night.
That’s the secret recipe.

Lightbulb Moments is available for free download here, and the next episode will be available this Saturday. Applications for the ACS committee open soon!

What we Talk About When We Talk About Sexual Assault

CONTENT NOTE: This article contains the discussion of sexual assault and victim blaming.

Bronte Cook  

The #MeToo and ‘Time’s Up’ movements have been a central focus of the media over the last few months, giving a voice to the countless women who until now have remained silent, or have been ignored, about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of men. This constant coverage has at times been difficult, and after some thought, I am finally ready to add my input; because my input is worthwhile, because I am angry and want to share my experience, and because it is cathartic.

To anyone else who has found this constant media coverage difficult to deal with: it seems almost selfish that I am adding to it. But I hope that in writing this I can contribute something valuable to the narrative. I write this not because I want sympathy but because I want everybody to be aware of the effect their offhand conversations can have- there is a concerning attitude towards consent that lies behind them.

During the first term of my final year of university, I was sexually assaulted in my university room by a fellow student. I knew him, but not well, and had returned back to college with him following a night out. I will not go into detail about what happened that night – I don’t want to unnecessarily trigger traumatic memories for anybody reading this, and I don’t want my account scrutinised and dissected in the way they often are in the media. I hope that those reading this will respect my lived experience and take my word for it. Whilst I consented to sex originally, I then withdrew this consent, and he did not stop.

Coming to terms with what occurred that evening has been a long, difficult, and continuous process. Doing so at the same time as near constant media coverage focusing on sexual assault and harassment has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the sense that I have been provided with a sense of solidarity and understanding that I would never have had otherwise. I have had the comforting knowledge that others know what I am talking about, can sympathise, and will believe me. However, it has been a curse, because social media has acted as a frequent reminder of that evening. And, more so, because although everybody seems to be talking about the issue, not everybody is doing so with tact, sensitivity and understanding. This has led to many upsetting and frustrating conversations when talking about reports in the media, or that had been heard about fellow students. I will deal with four of the most upsetting quotes from these conversations that I have, unfortunately, heard far too often.

‘Why didn’t she just leave?’

I have spent many hours asking myself the same question. Why did I not just leave? I was technically free to the whole time, in fact, he was in my room. I could have asked him to leave. It has taken me over a year to formulate reasons of any coherence. So here goes:

I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to offend him. I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to make him feel as though he was in the wrong. I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to believe this was happening to me. I didn’t leave because I didn’t quite believe this was happening to me. I didn’t leave because I was in shock. I didn’t leave because I was confused. I didn’t leave because I felt helpless. I didn’t leave because I felt that, since I had consented to sex in the first place, I didn’t want to disappoint. I didn’t leave because I was scared of his reaction if I tried. I didn’t leave because when I said I wanted to, I was told I shouldn’t. I didn’t leave because when I repeated myself, so did he. I didn’t leave because when someone knocked on the door to check where I was, he put his hand over my mouth. I didn’t leave because when my nose started bleeding, he didn’t stop.

This list could go on.

But ultimately, I didn’t leave because it was made very clear that what was happening was not mine to exercise autonomy over. I was not having sex that evening, he was.

When we ask the question ‘why did she not leave?’ we put the blame, either intentionally or implicitly, on the victim or survivor. We make it their responsibility to control the situation. When I am told by (usually, male) peers ‘I would have just left’, my response is ‘good’. I really mean this too; I hope that if anybody is ever put in that situation, they are in a position that they feel they can leave. I hope it is easy to jump up and say ‘no’ and head for the door. However, I also ask that they respect that it is not always that simple.

Why didn’t she report it at the time?

I can only try and use my experiences to suggest some reasons. I did not report what happened that evening.

I didn’t want to believe it had happened.

At the time, I didn’t think it felt ‘violent’ enough to report.

I didn’t want to deal with having my account scrutinised.

I didn’t trust the welfare infrastructure around me to deal sensitively with the matter.

I didn’t report it because I didn’t want to be a victim. I didn’t report it because I didn’t think that him being punished would actually make me feel any better. I didn’t report it because it took me a long time to admit to myself what it was that had happened to me. I didn’t report it because I didn’t want to admit to him that he had made me feel how he did.

There are all manner of reasons why somebody might choose not to report what has happened to them, ranging from shame and a sense of being in the wrong, to not feeling like what has happened was severe enough, or not wanting to ‘make a fuss’. Personally, it took a number of months before I stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt. I argued with friends who referred to what had happened as sexual assault because I was not ready to accept it, instead falling back on ‘he was really dodgy with consent’, aware, with a horrible and constant feeling of violation, that this meant the same thing. There is no ‘correct’ way to deal with trauma; the fact that somebody did not report an incident should not discredit them.

She has ruined his career/reputation

Has she? Or has he?

Women do not bear the burden of protecting men from taking responsibility for their own actions. Women are taught to be submissive, taught not to question men, not to embarrass men, and not to complain. We are socialized to accommodate men. If I had a pound for every time I was told ‘don’t rise to it’, or ‘he’s just trying to annoy you’ as I was growing up, my overdraft would be much less of a concern right now. It was not his action, whoever he in this circumstance happened to be, but my reaction that was a problem. As far as I am aware, a man’s career should not be considered more important than a woman’s bodily autonomy.

But he’s so nice/friendly/’woke’/’on board with consent’

As well as being misguided and upsetting, this phrase provides insight into a concerning and dangerous attitude towards consent. These are all terms I’ve heard used to describe alleged abusers, either in relation to the man who assaulted me, peers, or women in the media.

It is very difficult to hear somebody who has violated you and made you feel so uncomfortable described as ‘nice’ or ‘friendly’. If we maintain this idea that the average ‘nice’ guy is not capable of acting in this way, we allow men to distance themselves from such behaviour. Men need to be open to challenging their own behaviour, and that of their friends, if we are to move forward. This is not limited to clear-cut cases of assault, but is a call to examine behaviour that is commonplace, often seen as acceptable, but also incredibly questionable. One thing I have noticed about the media coverage over the weeks is that if something is not clearly illegal, people have been quick to condemn the accusation being made public, as though if somebody is made to feel uncomfortable and violated they should keep it to themselves until it borders on the criminal. There is no logic to this at all. Something does not have to be illegal for us to question it and consider whether it is positive, consensual practice. Was it okay to put their hand back on that girl’s thigh after she removed it? When she hesitated and said ‘I don’t know about this’, should he have persisted? If she is nonresponsive and does not seem enthusiastic about the sexual act taking place, should he not have stopped and asked her if she was sure she wanted to continue?

Persistence is too often celebrated, and no is taken to mean ‘keep trying’. Most women will have experienced a man in a club that keeps reappearing throughout the night and snaking his hand around their waist, dancing too close behind them, or repeatedly offering them a drink despite being told no multiple times. It is sad that often ‘I have a boyfriend’ is the only way to get rid of these people. ‘I have a girlfriend’ does not have the same power, I have discovered. Apparently, it is only other men’s relationships they are concerned about infringing upon. If anything, saying ‘I have a girlfriend’ only serves to escalate the sexualisation and flirting. Whilst it may sound like a small inconvenience, being aware that somebody’s attention is on you for the evening, or batting away unwanted touches, can completely ruin an evening, and make somebody feel incredibly anxious and on edge.

I have been told in the last few weeks that it is unpleasant and scary for many men to think that what they have previously been told is acceptable in sexual interactions might now be ‘called’ assault or harassment. Whilst I accept this might be concerning, I think the bigger concern must be that some men have not been aware of how their behaviour was being experienced before. It has always been unpleasant and scary for many women, daily, that so many sexual interactions involve coercion, persistence, and a sense of obligation. If we are taking steps, even small ones, towards changing this and moving towards sexual relationships in which true, enthusiastic and mutual consent is the norm, we should celebrate these steps.

This is not just a case of rooting out the bad apples; we are navigating a bad orchard. By this, I do not mean that every instance of sexual relations between a man and a woman is coercive, negative, or unwanted. I have had healthy, positive and consensual sex with men where I have felt I have been listened to and respected. What I mean, instead, is that the way in which we think about sexual interaction and consent needs to be re-examined. Consent to all manner of sexual interactions must be enthusiastic and continuous; an act taking place for both parties, not just the man. A thin, reluctant consent drawn out from persistence should never be thought of as sufficient.

My 17-year-old sister said to me recently that she thinks every woman has had sex when they didn’t want to. Not necessarily when they didn’t consent, but when they didn’t want to, whether this be through a feeling of obligation, coercion, or force. I am saddened both that this is telling about her own experiences, and that I am inclined to agree with her. If not all women, then most. And if not most, then far, far too many.