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On Wednesday, UNC’s Men’s Ice Hockey team chose to advertise its upcoming tournament by painting a cartoonish image of a woman in a string bikini with breasts bigger than her head wearing high heels above the text, “Come watch us score.”  As members of FSU, UNC students, and human beings, we were outraged by their extremely offensive presentation of women as sexual objects to be won and we decided to take action.  Early Thursday morning, we painted a neighboring cube to call attention to their problematic design and identify it as part of the larger rape culture under which we live.  Take a look at our response:

Immediately after we put on the finishing coats of paint, people began to react.  We saw many students stop to take photos, talk about the cubes animatedly with their friends, and, as our eye-witness (shout out to Abigail who had a clear view of both cubes from the union) reported, the hockey players who were initially laughing at our cube proceeded to paint over the bikini-clad woman after two adults appeared to emphatically explain why their cube was offensive.

Moments later, FSU received an e-mail from an officer of the men’s ice hockey team apologizing for their actions, offering to come to our next meeting to learn more, and pledging to “do all that [they] can to make it right on behalf of the team.”  We are pleased with the Men’s Ice Hockey team’s prompt response, and we look forward to working with them to raise further awareness about the harms of rape culture and what they can do to work against it.

It is important that we don’t treat their cube as an isolated incident resulting from a temporary lapse in good judgment. Their misguided actions are only a small reflection of a much larger problem.  Members of the UNC community felt that this cube was appropriate and perhaps even funny because we live within a rape culture that objectifies women and glamorizes sexual violence on a regular basis.

Just over a week ago, FSU invited Dr. Matt Ezzell to speak about gender, power, and how the media routinely relies on the unimaginative exploitation of women’s bodies to sell products.  He discussed how these ads and images that we see constantly have extremely dangerous consequences—one in four college-aged women experience sexual assault first-hand, and all women live limited lives due to the threat of sexual violence.  While by no means do images such as the one on the cube cause rape, they are an enabling factor of a larger system known as rape culture.

Rape culture “is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

Marshall University lists the following things as aspects of rape culture:

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
  • Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Gratuitous gendered violence [and objectification] in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

Members of the ice hockey team did not initially realize that their advertisement was remotely offensive, and the misguided comments on our previous post highlight similar ignorance. And we have to ask why. Education about rape culture and patriarchy cannot be limited to a handful of speakers brought in by student groups and a few academic departments.  This analysis needs to be emphasized via multiple avenues at our university and at all institutions of higher education that claim to prioritize diversity and safety.

While it can certainly seem daunting to attempt to change harmful cultural norms, remember that cultures (ours included!) are composed of individuals who can choose to act in ways that either reinforce or challenge sexism.  Although it’s clear that we still have a lot of work ahead of us, hard-working students, faculty, and staff have already made important steps in fighting rape culture and creating a safer and more equal campus community.

Moving forward, we need to unequivocally shift the focus of the conversation from how to deal with the problem of violence against women to working to change the fact that men overwhelmingly perpetrate violence in the first place.* Women don’t need more self-defense classes, more canisters of pepper spray, more advice about not walking home alone at night, or more blame when men perpetrate violence against them despite all of their precautions.  Everyone needs to speak up and refuse to allow actions/advertisements/jokes that promote men’s violence against women. We’re glad that our cube has generated so much buzz about the problem of rape culture—let’s keep the conversations and the actions going!

*Although most men do not commit violence, 95% of sexual violence is committed by men.

For more information and ways to get involved:
Feminist Students United (FSU) is a progressive feminist organization which affirms that no form of oppression can be overcome until all aspects of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism are dismantled. We acknowledge intersecting identities and strive to be mindful of these intersections in all our work. We endeavor to create an environment which is non-hierarchical and supportive in nature, and we work to bring about change in our community through education, outreach, direct action and community organizing.

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