Beer mats given to University of Sussex freshers condemned as ‘sexist’

Sabrina Barr
The beer mats came in Brushbox boxes given to students at the University of Sussex: Mumsnet/DukeOfSussex

The University of Sussex has come under fire for providing students with “sexist” beer mats in their welcome packs.

The beer mats were produced by Brushbox, a toothbrush subscription box, to promote dental hygiene.

But the imagery and wording on the beer mats have been heavily criticised online for making implications about oral sex, as the mats ask whether students “spit or swallow” as part of their dental regime and feature a sexualised picture of a woman's mouth.

Photos of the beer mats first started circulating on Mumsnet earlier this week, with some people on the site comparing them to “pornography”.

They were then shared on Twitter by Raquel Rosario Sánchez, a PhD student at the University of Bristol.

“Imagine being a bright and eager female student excited to have been accepted into one of the UK’s leading research universities (@SussexUni) and you find this in your welcome bag,” she tweeted.

“Sexism is sexism even when it’s ‘a joke’. Women deserve better than this.”

“How clever and original to use a woman’s body in a sexualised way to sell an entirely unrelated product. Revolutionary,” another person remarked.

A spokesperson for the University of Sussex Students’ Union has responded to the controversy, expressing their disapproval over the beer mats.

“We were very disappointed to find this promotional material in our Dig-in boxes, and will be reviewing whether to renew our contract with this supplier,” the spokesperson told The Independent.

A spokesperson for the University of Sussex has also commented on the issue, stating: “We can absolutely see why this promotional material in our Students’ Union’s freshers packs has sparked such a strong reaction.

“We’re sure this discussion will continue and that our Students’ Union and other student unions will feed back the reaction to the company responsible.”

Brushbox, the toothbrush subscription service company that supplied the beer mats, has apologised for causing offence with the promotional imagery.

“We now realise it was inappropriate and misguided of us to use this type of image as a way to raise awareness of dental health issues,” a spokesperson said.

“We completely understand that the image could be deemed as derogatory to women and for that we are truly sorry - this was never our intention, and we take full responsibility for any upset it has caused.”

Untameable Shrews, a group that describes itself as a “radical feminist street art movement”, also tweeted about the sexist nature of the beer mats.

A spokesperson for the group told The Independent that the imagery can be perceived as “sexual harassment”, as the references to oral sex can make women feel “vulnerable” and “intimidated”.

“Surely Sussex University knows about the high rates of sexual assaults on campus and the #’MeToo movement,” they said.

“I honestly don’t know how this even made it past the design phase.

“It’s not funny or clever, just completely juvenile."