Social Norms

Gendered social norms lie beneath many of the surface practices that visibly shape campus rape culture. These social norms impact all genders and how they perceive what is 'normal' within relationships between different genders. These social norms are often underpinned by certain interpretations of cultural or religious beliefs and grounded in how power is understood.

1. Gender norms

Men and women students both enter university with inherited gendered social norms, but this socialisation is often reinforced especially within residences. These norms often perpetuate gendered power dynamics and can intersect with other patterns of race, culture, age and class.

“…(I)t’s about power. He, the male has the power. How will he look as a man if a female, his wife, has the power over him? How would he look in front of his friends or in his household? So, this is about tradition and it’s about power and how males understand themselves in the situation between a male and female.”

“…(A) lot of it is a core belief in a lot of these social norms, like the grinding in spaces so they (men) have a right to our bodies if it’s in this particular environment , (clubs) as well as the spiking and the initiations. So lastly, is the silent suffering, which is completely a social norm that I think is important to acknowledge, because a lot of the time when women don’t come forward, it’s for the reason that they feel ashamed or guilty, or they don’t want to cause distress, or be awkward about it…that’s a norm that everyone wants everything to be light and airy and not discuss the harsh realities of life.”

“(S)he said it was really confusing, because he’s a person that knows the idea of consent and being open and receptive to your partner and he clearly has a strong will to fight back against gender-based violence in South Africa, but his sexual activity doesn’t mirror that …she assumed he’d be a little more gentle, (and) in every (sexual) situation, ask ‘is this okay’ or just (notice) if she’s trying to pull away…she was in an intimate moment with him and she said she wanted to take a break, but she didn’t want to ruin the mood, ruin the moment…and that’s how the self-doubt shows itself.”

“…I don’t blame him cos he’s never been in a position where he’s felt vulnerable because of another gender. He wouldn’t know what to look for, what to feel… it’s so normalized…I remember my grandmother saying it was just normal back then, she didn’t think anything of it and she knew it wasn’t right, but she was like ‘oh what can I do?’ Normality just blinding you from seeing the true gravity of the horrible situation.”

2. Relationships

Gendered social norms affect the construction of masculinities as well as of femininities and the relationships between genders. It also affects those of diverse sexual orientations or gender identities who often feel excluded or at risk.

“So, at the rugby game they were announcing the top 5 finalists for the Miss Varsity cup…, it’s really symbolic because in almost every sphere of society women are meant to be beautiful…they’re very much used for the male gaze and like I think that very much leads into male entitlement. I’m glad I got the shot of the SU sign saying a hundred because it just showcases the continuous traditions of making a woman only feel validated if she’s beautiful.”

“I spoke to an ex-resident of (a specific male res). He identifies as homosexual, and he said a lot of the time he just felt excluded and ostracized within that community…”

“I took this picture at a wine festival in Stellenbosch and I just found the way these two people are sitting kinda just showcases all of the gender norms. The woman is meant to be submissive, sitting down legs crossed and almost shrinking herself. And the guy is dominant, standing straight forward, and the woman’s body language almost seems uncomfortable”

“One other thing that came out of my voice notes was intersectionality. So, race, class, gender, sexuality and then specifically in Stellenbosch – language….and how males kind of form their identity around this Afrikaans culture.”

“…(S)he grew up in a community where men’s names meant more than women’s … she constantly needs to attach herself with her father…her brother, and probably one day with her husband, to be seen as valuable.”

“…I think our heads as women are very important because we are socialized to believe certain things so when she gets dressed, she tries to make sure it’s nothing too revealing because she wants her mother to be proud of her…she’s been conditioned to believe that one version of herself is more respectable than another.”

3. Sexualisation

One specific gendered social norm that influences campus rape culture significantly is the sexualisation of women, creating internalised female shame in relation to unwanted sexual encounters, and a sense of male entitlement to women’s bodies.

“This morning I was walking past (a co-ed) residence and I saw a piece of men’s underwear laying there…when it’s men’s underwear it’s funny, when it’s women’s underwear it’s completely sexualised.”

“(F)ault has always been placed on women’s bodies…portrayed as this seductive sexual being who lures you away from God and what is right…women’s sexuality is demonised, specifically on campus.”

“Hookup culture makes things blurry, (there is) no one agreed view of what is rape culture among women… it’s a grey concept to a lot of women… we see the influence of the spaces and what consent means in those different spaces.”

4. Harmful beliefs

A number of underlying beliefs emerged that fuel these harmful gendered social norms and as a result, can normalise practices which make women feel inferior, uncomfortable or fearful. They also create patterns of what is acceptable that are internalised by all genders. These were seen to be shaped by factors such as religious beliefs and cultural assumptions.

“…(T)he stereotype we grew up with, the Prince that saves the Princess … that women are the weaker sex and men are the ones to save them. …so men make the first move… holding the door open…these underlying assumptions play such a huge role in campus rape culture at Stellenbosch.”

“…(A) driver that came up was gender roles and how culture, specifically Afrikaans culture in the Stellenbosch community has an effect on males thinking, so a woman is seen ‘less than’.”

“…(C)hurches play such a big role in our culture, the values cultivated within these spaces translate to what we take back to campus, and how we interact.”

“…(E)veryone has their culture, everyone has their sense of beliefs and everyone has a different upbringing and all of that then becomes one culture that is bred within the Stellenbosch community.”

“…(A)s a non-binary individual, being gay, and being bi-racial…they recall being asked by a male leader if their gender choice being non-binary still makes them a person, ugh wow!”

“I was thinking more about the relationship between religion and campus rape culture… so my friend was so shocked that this could’ve happened to her because on paper this guy seemed as if he had good Christian values.”

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