“The girls here are all sluts man, is it any better at Rhodes?”. I overheard this question on Jammie plaza last year. The unidentified dudebro essentially ruined my lunch and made me vow to continue hiding out in the postgraduate corners of this institution. Against my better judgement, I continued to take tea breaks on those pigeon-infested stairs. One day, I came across a poster promoting UCT’s netball team. It was basically a full-blown shot of several pairs of disembodied legs with the catchphrase “UCT netball team revealed”. Strange I thought, whenever I see a poster that concerns the rugby team their legs are attached to the rest of their bodies. A few days later, walking back to the dingy postgrad labs, I noticed another poster. This one was advertising a College House party. In the bottom right corner it said ‘R 20’ and underneath that ‘Puss ‘n Pint.’
I’m not the only one that continuously bumps into UCT’s culture of casual sexism. The First Year’s introduction to life in a campus residence seems to be a training ground for misogyny. A recent Facebook post that popped up on my timeline spoke of the questionable war cries sang by members of some of the male residences. Apparently, in recent years, the Smuts Hall boys sang that they could go to Fuller House and get some free vagina…And they sang this to the Fuller girls. Also, the Kopano boys had been heard listfully wishing that women’s buttocks were like buns.
Opening up the latest edition of SAX appeal, the editor started his letter with the sentence “Nabeel you’re going to get all the bitches”. It’s satirical social commentary they said. Sian Ferguson, UCT alumnus and current Rhodes student, tweeted “good satire should make the oppressor feel uncomfortable, not the oppressed”. The common denominator in all of the above examples is that a group of people that are often socially, politically and economically marginalised due to their gender are thrown under the bus for the sake of humour.
“When we live in a world where street harassment is just a normal part of life it sets up a culture where even worse things happen behind closed doors.” These were the words attached to a piece of street art whose image made its way around social media a couple of months ago. The same goes for casual sexism. When you create an environment that is accepting of gross objectification of women then you are fuelling a culture that will ignore the violence committed against them. If we’re all just skanks, sluts, hoes and bitches then what happens to us is inconsequential – we had it coming anyway.
I wonder if the unidentified dudebro from the beginning of this article is aware that the language he uses comes straight out of the mouth of a sex offender. Words that demean women because of their sexual past/activities are always the first port of call to rationalise what they’ve done. Policing women’s sexuality allows for a social space where they get blamed for sexual crimes committed against them. If you think our worth or respectability is determined by how much sex we are or aren’t having or the amount of clothing we wear then those will be the first questions that come up when you’re trying to determine whether an act of sexual violence has happened or not.
Being on a campus where judging women’s sexuality is part of everyday conversation means we don’t ask important questions. We don’t ask why we’re not sure of the procedure/policy of reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. We don’t ask why we don’t know the statistics of how many of these incidents occur on campus. We don’t ask why DISCHO, the body in charge of dealing with these cases, is underfunded and understaffed. We don’t ask these questions because we’re too busy blaming women for going about their lives the way they see fit. We don’t ask because we don’t really care. When women are only vaguely human – owners of body parts we mock and objectify – then why should we?
By Jen Thorpe
This week I received correspondence from UCT that a student had been raped off campus. The email stated that the incident had happened around 10am on Saturday (14th April) morning, and that the SAPS had assisted the survivor. This email also positively stated that UCT had offered the student and her family counselling and would support them throughout the process. It was wonderful to read that UCT recognised that families also need support in order to support survivors. They also usefully provided the Campus Protection Unit (CPU) telephone number, and encouraged students to store it on their phones.
However, one line in the email was extremely displeasant to read.
“We wish to alert you to the incident and remind you that it is important to remain vigilant at all times.”
It is this sentence that has encouraged me to write to UCT in response. I have sent through the email to the communications department at UCT, and I would like to give UCT an opportunity to respond to my email before I post its full content here.
I am however disappointed that instead of simply giving empowering information about the availability of CPU services, or reiterating that UCT does not tolerate violence against its women students on or off campus, they instead entered the common victim-blaming discourse that suggests that vigilance could protect against rape, in the rape capital of the world.
*please note, originally the post stated the dates of the incident was 21 April. This has been corrected.
The Young Women’s Leadership Project at the AGI to host the ‘Talking Sexual Pleasure’ campaign from 27 February 2012 to 1 March 2012
The Young Women’s Leadership Project at the African Gender Institute (University of Cape Town) will host a range of events under the campaign, ‘Talking Sexual Pleasure’ happening from Monday 27 February 2012 to Thursday 1 March 2012.
The campaign will be launched on Monday 27 February 2012 between 13:00hrs- 14:00hrs at the Jammie Steps at the University of Cape Town with the distribution of pamphlets outlining key issues of the campaign as well as a programme for the week. Also at the launch of the campaign, ‘the purple woman’ who represents the ‘voice’ of the campaign will be introduced.
On Tuesday 29 February 2012, there will be a panel discussion on ‘Religion and Sexuality’ with Pastor Alan Storey and Dr. Annie Leatt from the UCT Religious Studies department. This thought provoking discussion will look at how different religions (Christianity and Buddhism) look at female sexuality, desire and sexual pleasure. This event will take place between 13:00hrs – 14:00hrs at the Centre for African Studies [CAS] Seminar Room 3.01 (Harry Oppenheimer Building, UCT).
ATTENTION: Due to unforseen circumstances, the documentary screening and discussion which was scheduled for Wednesday 29 February 2012 at the Centre for African Studies Gallery, Oppenheimer Building, University of Cape Town between 17:00hrs and 19:30hrs has been cancelled. The AGI apologises for any inconveniences caused.
The programme comes to a close on Thursday 2 March 2012 with two events; a ‘Men’s Sexuality’ dialogue facilitated by Robert Hamblin (CAS Seminar Room 3.01, Harry Oppenheimer Building, UCT) between 13:00hrs – 14:00hrs and a ‘Sexual Tools Workshop’ facilitated by Whet Emporium (CAS Gallery, Harry Oppenheimer Building, UCT) between 17:00hrs – 20:00hrs. The ‘Men’s Sexuality Dialogue’ is aimed at surfacing what men believe and feel about (women’s and/or their partner’s, their own) sexual pleasure and desire outside the context of individual relationships, the social setting or men only places. The ‘Sexual Tools Workshop’ consists of a Whet Emporium pleasure ware demonstration and facilitated discussion on women’s questions and issues around their experiences of sexual pleasure, intimacy, desire, their bodies and relationships. Please click HERE for a concise outline of the events.