16 Practices of Gender-based Violence in College Life – and How to Start Disrupting Them

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.

1. Ladies Night!

  • WHAT:
    • You’ve probably seen this in the form of “women drink for free” or “$2 cover for ladies.”
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Alcohol as a culturally acceptable tool or weapon to get sex–the ultimate goal.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Greater incidence of sexual violence, particularly as a result of ignoring a person’s inability to give consent when incapacitated due to excess alcohol.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • Satirize the ways in which drunk women are used as objects in advertising.
    • Create media campaigns that show how pervasive–and harmful–this practice is.

2. Victim blaming amongst peers

  • WHAT:
    • Bullying or shaming survivors of violence, often by suggesting that they were responsible for their own victimization as opposed to placing blame on the person who chose to commit an act of violence.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • It is the victim’s responsibility to prevent violence against them. The belief in rape myths, such as the gendered (and incorrect) assumption that only women can be victims, only certain types of men can be perpetrators.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Victims feel silenced and therefore do not report. They do not receive the support they may need, which can compound their trauma. People who commit violence are not held accountable for their choices, which in turn leads to more violence.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

3. Institutional victim blaming

  • WHAT:
    • Rules and policies enforced by administrators and staff place the blame for gender-based violence on the actions of the victims, and not on the person that chose to commit violence against them.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Holding victims to impossible standards in order to be taken seriously and treated with dignity. Belief in the myth that only some women can be victims, only certain types of men can be perpetrators–often along racial or socio-economic lines.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Victims are re-traumatized when they seek help and do not receive support if they choose to report. People who commit violence are not held accountable for their choices, which in turn leads to more violence.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • 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.

4. Rating women

  • WHAT:
    • The practice of rating or ranking women based on their looks and sexuality/sexual availability, sometimes by student groups.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Defining women’s worth in terms of their desirability to men. The constant objectification of women’s bodies.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • The marginalization of women who don’t fit into mainstream ideas of beauty, which is particularly harmful for women of color, trans women, and women with disabilities. The continuous dehumanization and devaluation of women can also profoundly affect a woman’s sense of self-worth.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

5. Sexual Scoring

  • WHAT:
    • Practices that arise out of the idea that masculinity is about having lots of heterosexual sex. Like so many harmful norms, this one has a long history in language like “notches on your belt or bedpost”.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Men setting their value and worth on how much sex they are having–and peers policing each other to make sure they are having “enough” sex.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • It normalizes a culture where men are expected to do whatever they can to get sex, and coercive and non-consensual behavior become accepted parts of the game.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • Get competitive about calling out actions that pressure people to have sex. Keep score and share strategies and tips to step up your game.

6. Taking/recording non-consensual photo/video

  • WHAT:
    • Taking intimate or degrading photos, videos, snapchats and more without the person’s knowledge, permission, or consent.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • The need to prove “scoring” by treating sexual partners as objects or trophies and denying their autonomy. It is also not widely considered a form of gender-based violence.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Humiliation and trauma for the victim and the normalization of taking photos and videos without consent.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • Use stories of this practice to create understanding of the harms and impacts that arise as a result.
    • Transform conversations around consent to include discussions of intimate photos and videos.

7. Non-consensual photo/video sharing

  • WHAT:
    • The act of sharing or threatening to share intimate photos and videos of a person without their consent.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • The idea that it is acceptable to shame LGBT folk, women, or anyone who doesn’t conform to normative ideas about sex and relationships, for their sexuality and participation in sex culture.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Humiliation and trauma for the victim, who is scared to report or seek support for fear of being blamed and shamed.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • 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.

8. "Rush boobs"/trophies

  • WHAT:
    • 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.”
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Proving and regulating masculinity and dominance through sex and competition by objectifying women’s bodies.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Normalizes the idea that women are trophies and objects and that masculinity is equated with sex and conquest. Some women feel pressured into sharing photos in order to maintain social standing.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • Disrupt 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.

9. "The Friendzone"

  • WHAT:
    • The idea that “nice guys” are entitled to the romantic or sexual interest of a woman.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • The heteronormative and sexist assumption that sex or sexual attraction is the ultimate goal or basis of any friendship between a man and a woman.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Coercive or non-consensual behavior that may lead to violence. Survivors of violence in this context silenced for fear of victim-blaming.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • 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.

10. Shaming women’s sexuality

  • WHAT:
    • Also known as slut-shaming, the practice of using loaded language to shame women for their sexuality or their appearance.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Policing women’s behavior to conform to rigid gender norms around being a “lady”
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Women feel responsible when violence is perpetrated against them as they have internalized the misogyny that they are complicit in their own victimization.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • 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”).

11. Rape culture banners

  • WHAT:
    • Massive banners displayed across Fraternity houses meant to intimidate new students–particularly first year women– and their parents. These banners sometimes contain threatening and offensive messages that trivialize sexual assault.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Equating masculinity with dominance, and asserting this dominance early without fear of any repercussions.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Creates a culture where it is clear that there is no accountability for certain groups of students. Establishes a social hierarchy that often leads to survivors feeling silenced.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

12. Control of access to alcohol

  • WHAT:
    • On many campuses, men (most often, in the context of fraternity or athletic parties) control the access to alcohol. Many sorority houses have rules at the national level that prevent them from serving alcohol.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Outdated and rigid gender norms around drinking, and how men and women should behave around alcohol.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • In cases where there are mixed drinks, it becomes easier for someone to spike a drink with with excess alcohol, or drugs. It is also easier to do this on a larger scale as there is less control for guests and other partygoers.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

13. Homophobia and transphobia

  • WHAT:
    • Dehumanizing LGBT folk through discrimination, violence, and the use of homophobic and transphobic language to regulate and police other people’s behaviors.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Enforcing the gender binary and using slurs, violence, or threats of violence to demean anyone who doesn’t conform to rigid gender norms.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • The oppression of LGBT students and preventing students from enjoying their right to an education with dignity, equality, and respect.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

14. The Perfect Victim

  • WHAT:
    • The practice of discrediting victims based on their sexual history, appearance, gender, race or any other facet of their identity.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Holding victims to impossible standards in order to be taken seriously and treated with dignity. Belief in the myth that only some women can be victims, only certain types of men can be perpetrators–often along racial or socio-economic lines.
  • HARMS CAUSED:
    • Victims are re-traumatized when they seek help and do not receive support if they choose to report. People who commit violence are not held accountable for their choices, which in turn leads to more violence.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

15. Colluding with those who commit violence

  • WHAT:
    • Protecting students who perpetrate violence because of their perceived value to the school.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Certain students are more “valuable” to the school either because of their potential for alumni donations based on their socio-economic class, or their reputation as an athlete or scholar.
  • HARMS CAUSED:
    • Students who perpetrate violence are prioritized over their victims, leads to a culture where victims don’t report and therefore sexual violence continues due to a lack of accountability.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:
    • Create accountability culture: work with students to understand that it is not in the best interest of the community to protect perpetrators, use student and local media to draw attention to cover ups, work with alumni to hold the administration accountable for transparency.

16. Standards

  • WHAT:
    • Peer-led committees or boards that enforce a code of conduct within student organizations, in a system that is meant to protect the reputation of an organization.
  • DRIVEN BY NORMS INCLUDING:
    • Heteronormativity and homogeneity: all members of the group must conform to the dominant ideas of what is seen as acceptable, often appearance-based.
  • RESULTS IN HARMS INCLUDING:
    • Students are shamed for not conforming to rigid norms, and are ostracized from their community. If they have violated standards before becoming the victim of violence, they are sometimes punished instead of supported.
  • IDEAS FOR DISRUPTION:

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!

This piece was originally written for the 2016 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

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