How To Disrupt 16 Practices of Gender-based Violence In College Life

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Every year, we are pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from our partner, Breakthrough – a global human rights organisation working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Their cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilisation, agenda setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.

This year, Breakthrough shares a list of 16 actions that college students can take to disrupt violence against women in college life.

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Many rigid gender norms–cultural rules about how people should behave because of their perceived gender–can cause harm because they perpetuate a culture where gender-based violence is seen as a normal or even inevitable part of the college experience. Some of these practices have become so normalized in college and university life that they can seem impossible to change. But YOU can become an agent of change by unpacking the norms that drive these practices, and thinking outside the box to disrupt and challenge the ways these cultural norms cause harm to students in your community.

Here are 16 examples of gender norms in practice that we’ll bet you’ve come across before. Are some of these prevalent at your university? If you’re interested in disrupting and transforming any of these practices on your campus, Breakthrough’s Action Hotline is a great resource to get you started! We offer free mentorship for students looking to change culture on campuses across the U.S., and help you brainstorm, plan, and implement your idea for action.

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Practice #1 – “Ladies Night!”

You’ve probably seen this in the form of “women drink for free” or “$2 cover for ladies.” – the promise of drunk women in a way that promotes rape culture. Possible disruptive actions? Satirise the ways in which drunk women are used as objects in advertising to call this practice out for what it is. Create media campaigns that show how pervasive–and harmful–this practice is, and model new ways of getting customers and making money that don’t involve rape culture.

Practice #2 – Victim blaming (Among Peers)

Bullying or shaming survivors of violence, often by suggesting that they were responsible for their own victimisation as opposed to placing blame on the person who chose to commit an act of violence. This can increase the incidence and harmful effect of violence. Potential disruptive actions? A “No Blame” campaign – Collect and share examples of victim blaming on campus and offer solutions and healthier frameworks. Respond to victim blaming by flooding social media or apps like YikYak with positive messages calling out this practice. You and your friends dress up as referees – striped shirts and whistles – and throw a flag when you hear or see victim blaming behavior.

Practice #3 – Victim blaming (Institutional/Systemic)

Rules and policies enforced (or not enforced) by administrators and staff place blame on the actions of the victims, and not on the person that chose to commit violence against them. It is asking survivors what they were wearing, how much they drank, or what they could have done differently to avoid violence. Potential disruptive actions? Run a spotlight campaign focused on highlighting what should be included in school policy, and explaining the harms caused by institutional victim blaming. Speak out to local and national media when cases of institutional victim-blaming occur to bring external pressure to bear on the situation.

Practice #4 – “Rating” Women Based on Their Looks and Sexual Availability to Men

This practice can be a formal system among a specific group on campus, or an informal “in-joke” most often amongst men. It sounds like “she’s a ten” or language like “grenade” used to refer to women. Whatever the language, this practice says that a woman’s value is based on her looks and sexuality, creating a culture where men are pressured to have sex with certain women, and women are expected and pressured into sex or are assaulted and raped. Potential disruptive actions? Whistleblowing – reveal the depths of this practice if it has become a tradition. Make it clear that it happens on your campus and will not happen anymore – take inspiration from the Harvard Women’s Soccer team.

Practice #5 – Sexual Scoring

Like so many harmful norms, this one has a long history in language like “notches on your belt or bedpost”. This practice arises out of the idea that masculinity = having lots of heterosexual sex, and coercive and non-consensual behavior often become accepted parts of the game. Potential disruptive actions? Get competitive instead about calling out actions that pressure people to have sex. Keep score on that and share strategies and tips to step up your game.

Practice #6 – Taking/recording Photos/Video Without Consent

Whether through hacking, hidden cameras, or in other ways, taking intimate or degrading photos, videos, Snapchats and more without the person’s knowledge, permission, or consent causes harm whether it is shared or not. Potential disruptive actions? Use stories of people affected by this practice to create understanding of the harms and impacts it causes. Transform conversations around sexual consent to include discussions of intimate photos and videos.

Practice #7 – Non-Consensual Photo/Video Sharing

Often existing alongside the previous practice, the act of sharing or threatening to share intimate photos and videos without their consent (even if they were taken with consent!) as an unacceptable violation that often causes harm, shame, and stigma. Potential disruptive actions? Use storytelling to encourage a sex-positive, non-shaming approach to conversations around intimate photos. Run reactive campaigns when incidents occur that show solidarity with victims.

Practice #8 – “Rush boobs” (And Other Trophies)

An often formalised component of sexual scoring is the collection of “trophies”, sexually objectifying women and creating a culture that pressures men to “get” sex however they can. Trophies and a high score are prioritised over consent and respect. According to Total Frat Move: “Since the dawn of the internet, fraternity members have been convincing girls to write “Rush (Insert Fraternity Here)” across their chests for promotional purposes.” Potential Disruptive actions? Call out and replace this practice by writing “RUSH __” on random objects to showcase the absurdity of the tradition. Flood social media with this on the relevant hashtags.

Practice #9 – The “Friendzone”

Ah – the “friendzone”. The idea that “nice guys” are entitled to the romantic or sexual interest of a woman, and that men are “victims” of women only wanting to be friends with them (the horror!). This is one of the more insidious and seemingly benign components of rape culture and really needs to go. Potential disruptive actions? Create a multimedia campaign using examples of the “friendzone” from pop culture– TV shows, lyrics, films, or blogs. Talk about the inherent sexism and use this idea to elevate discussions around consent and autonomy. Designate a space on campus to be an actual “friend zone” – where people of all genders can just be friends without the pressure of sex, or a space where friends can be honest with each other about their expectations of their relationship. Or maybe a space to keep anyone who complains about being in…….the friendzone.

Practice #10 – Shaming Women’s Sexuality (“Slut-shaming”)

This age-old practice of using loaded language to shame women for their sexuality or their appearance is a prime example of the double-standard for women when it comes to sex (see “sexual scoring” above). Potential disruptive actions? Take the shame out of sexuality through sex-positive storytelling. Offer new ways to talk about the moments that are often linked to slut-shaming (AKA “the walk of shame” becomes the “stride of pride”).

Practice #11 – Rape Culture Banners (“Drop Your Daughters Off Here, Dads”)

Every fall, massive banners displayed across Fraternity houses meant to intimidate new students – particularly first year women – are unfurled (trust us, you can google it). These banners often contain threatening and offensive messages that trivialize sexual assault. Potential disruptive actions? Take inspiration from Will & Bill who started Banner Up! At Indiana University in response to rape culture banners at their school. Get dads involved since these banners often implicate them as well.

Practice #12 – Control of Access to Alcohol

On many campuses, men (and most often, fraternities) have control over other students’ access to alcohol. Students, and especially underage students, have limited access to alcohol, which creates greater opportunity to isolate, coerce, force alcohol on, and sexually assault others. Potential disruptive actions? Flip the script – put women or other groups in charge of access to alcohol for a change. Work with chapters at other schools to challenge problematic policies and rules at a national level.

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Practice #13 – Homophobia and Transphobia

Dehumanising LGBT folk through discrimination, violence, and the use of homophobic and transphobic language is a problem in and of itself. It also is used to regulate and police other people’s behaviors and reinforces inequity and violence. Potential disruptive actions? Build empathy culture: create systems of peer accountability for homophobic and transphobic behavior. If you are not LGBT yourself, center the experiences of LGBT students in your work on your own campus and build strong alliances.

Practice #14 – “The Perfect Victim

The practice of discrediting victims based on their sexual history, appearance, gender, race, or any other facet of their identity is common and is a part of victim blaming. Promoting the idea of a “perfect victim” makes it easier to disbelieve, blame, and silence all survivors of sexual violence and/or relationship abuse. Potential disruptive actions? Offer new, real narratives from survivors in your own community. Run campaigns that seek to broaden campus-wide understanding of who can be a victim.

Practice #15 – Colluding with Those Who Commit Violence

Protecting students and others who perpetrate violence because of their perceived value to the school is all too common on campus and in communities everywhere, and it normalises and increases the amount of violence committed. Potential disruptive actions? Create accountability culture: work with students to understand that it is not in the best interest of the community to protect those who commit violence, use student and local media to draw attention to cover ups, work with alumni, parents, and others to hold the administration accountable for transparency.

Practice #16 – “Standards”

Peer-led committees or boards enforce a code of conduct within student organisations, in a system that is meant to protect the reputation of an organisation. Potential disruptive actions? Change your standards: it’s a peer enforced system. Challenge shaming within your community. Check yourselves.

If you’re inspired to take action to disrupt any of these practices–or want to take a closer look at the norms that drive a culture of gender-based violence in your community–take advantage of Breakthrough’s Action Hotline today!

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