Groningen student Milou Deelen uploaded a video to Facebook to draw attention to 'slut shaming' at student association Vindicat. Does the same thing happen in Nijmegen? Are female members of associations here also referred to as 'whores' and 'sluts'?
All three have long hair and big, happy eyes. All three are members of the same sorority and can regularly be found at the buildings of the Argus or Carolus Magnus student associations. And yes, they have been called ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ before by groups of men, the insults sometimes hurled at them directly. And they’re not afraid to talk about it. “I was dancing at Carolus when suddenly five guys came and stood around me,” says Anne, age twenty and the oldest of the three. “They started chanting: ‘Whore!’ ‘Whore!’ ‘Whore!'”
After the initial shock, Anne approached the instigator. She looked him dead in the eye and asked him why he would do that. But he ignored her and kept shouting, “Whore, whore, whore!” So she turned and walked away.
During the hazing process, male and female members are pitted against each other
It usually happens late in the evening, after the drinks have been flowing for a while and the mood is loose and lively. It’s more common at Carolus Magnus than at Argus and tends to require one important condition: backup from other fraternity members. During the hazing process, male and female members are pitted against each other. Men are ‘pigs’ and women are ‘whores’. Pitting the sexes against each other creates solidarity, according to the trio.
But those words also get tossed around over the course of the year, at get-togethers and in bars. This despite the fact that very few female members refer to the men as pigs. Milou Deelen, a student in Groningen, was humiliated after being called ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ by members of her student association. So she decided to express herself on Facebook. “My sexuality belongs to me; it’s not material for your jokes.” Deelen’s video quickly made its way into the sorority app. While the three students find it incredibly sad that Deelen received negative feedback on social media, they don’t share her indignation for ‘slut shaming’. “The thing you have to understand,” says Sophie, “is that they don’t mean it like that. They don’t really mean what they’re shouting.” Evelien sees the humour in it. “I don’t take it personally if someone calls me a whore. If someone were to say that on the street, I’d be a bit shocked, but at a get-together like that it’s not meant to be taken seriously.”
There was one time when they stood up to this ‘slut shaming’. A first-year student from another sorority was celebrating a special occasion when members of a fraternity sang ‘whore’ instead of ‘hooray’. The woman in question was very upset.
The fraternity was held accountable a few days later and issued a sincere apology: they never intended to hurt her feelings. According to the three students, this is the only time a female sorority member took comments like these so seriously. Anne was upset when the five men stood in a circle around her and called her a whore, and she’s avoided the instigator ever since. But the incident doesn’t keep her up at night. Evelien’s advice is to just let it go. “It’s such a minor thing. It pales in comparison to the relationships you build in a student association, including with the guys who say things like this.”
Macho behaviour is real, according to Robert, a member of Carolus Magnus. Although it does differ per fraternity. “In a fraternity, you talk about who’s hot and who’s not, but that’s normal. Exploring your sexuality is part of being a student.” According to him, members of study associations sleep with each other as well. “Although I do think it’s more common at social associations like these, where people tend to throw more parties and get drunk more often. As a result, you’re more likely to push your boundaries.”
He agrees that fraternity members do refer to women as ‘whores’ at fraternity events. “But it’s more like: we’re cool guys and you’re whores. It’s a running gag at the association to refer to women as whores.”
‘You always find out who’s slept with who’
According to Robert, it has nothing to do with sexuality. Incidentally, women who sleep around aren’t called ‘whores’, but ‘sluts’, says Robert, and that’s a hard secret to keep. “You always find out who’s slept with who.” The three members of the female sorority agree. “Everyone knows everyone here, so you can’t just sleep with anybody,” says Evelien. She does, however, suspect that fraternity and sorority members are more sexually active than the average student. “We go out a lot, meet a lot of people and drink quite a lot of alcohol.”
When Anne heard, through the grapevine, that she was ‘easy’, the comment bothered her. Once you’re labelled as ‘easy’ – or worse, as ‘slut’ – the stigma is almost impossible to get rid of. “I also think women who sleep around a lot are slutty. I think it’s something that’s deeply engrained in our culture. Men who have a lot of one-night stands are called players or womanisers, but women are called dirty, cheap and easy.”
The students’ names have been changed for privacy reasons.
“Men who call women whores are just trying to assert their masculinity.”
Gender studies researcher Marijke Naezer thinks it was brave of Milou Deelen to call attention to the ‘slut shaming’ problem in the Groningen student association. “There’s a lot of pressure on women to just ‘get over it’ and keep things fun. The fact that slut shaming isn’t fun at all for a specific group of people is simply overlooked. That makes it incredibly hard to address misunderstandings, especially when they happen in a social context that also has a lot of positive connotations, like a student association. It’s a very human thing to just ignore the bad things.”
Naezer researched sexual standards among Dutch youths and was surprised at just how many words men used to denigrate women. She was also surprised that women are still condemned for being sexually active. Her conclusion: “Women aren’t free to do what they want with their sexuality.”
Social geographer Valerie de Craene from the University of Leuven recognises this assertion. She is conducting research on gender and sexuality in student nightlife in Flanders. Each year, a group of forty of her students goes out to collect information using in-depth interviews, group discussions and participatory observations. De Craene sees a clear gap between men and women when it comes to nightlife. She found that the later it gets, the more dramatic the strategies become to impress the opposite sex, which De Craene refers to as “very heterogeneous”. Alcohol naturally plays an important role. “The more students drink, the more they dare to express their sexuality. Alcohol can be used as an excuse for abnormal behaviour; as a way to excuse uncharacteristically slutty or macho actions.”
According to De Craene, men refer to women as ‘whores’ to showcase their masculinity. “They are sexually objectifying women in order to enhance their own masculinity. While it’s certainly no excuse, we should keep in mind how influential peer pressure is.” De Craene also understands why women don’t stand up for themselves when they’re called ‘whore’ or ‘slut’. “Not only are they constantly being told that this is all in good fun and that they shouldn’t take it so seriously, they won’t win any popularity contests by constantly pointing out how insulting comments like these are.” Nevertheless, she’s convinced that these comments do indeed affect women. “Our research found that many women adapt their behaviour to prevent unwanted comments like these; for example, by being less open to sexual contact or by not drinking too much in order to stay in control. All out of fear of being ostracised.”
This article was published in Dutch in Vox #8