Opinion: Time to support the students calling out sexism at the Kapsejlads
Hiring a stripper may seem like harmless fun. But it is part of a constellation of behaviours that contribute to ‘bro culture’, a set of norms that favour men and create a hostile environment for women, write the three AU researchers Christine Parsons, Ida Vogel and Kamille Smidt Rasmussen in this column.
When a number of students protested the hiring of a stripper at the Kapsejlads last month, the response on social media was swift and one-sided. Those protesting should “grow a thicker skin”, look away or stay home. One commentator prophetically noted that the “real world” will be a hard place for women who are bothered by a harmless striptease. The names of the complainants have since been removed, because, as Stiften writes, “the disclosure had given them problems”.
Hiring a stripper may seem like harmless fun. But it is part of a constellation of behaviours that contribute to ‘bro culture’, a set of norms that favour men and create a hostile environment for women. Bro culture, where women are objectified and everyday sexism tolerated, can directly contribute to women leaving male-dominated workplaces.
Overly sensitive kill joys?
When women complain about sexism, they are often accused of ‘playing the victim card’ for attention, of being ‘kill joys’ with no sense of humour, or of being overly sensitive. Women know that their complaints will be met with eye-rolling at best, and derision or social exclusion at worst. Knowledge of the backlash for complaining contributes to the well-documented underreporting of sexism.
We need to listen to concerns about sexism
In organising a collection of reports of sexism at Danish universities, Prof. Sara Louise Muhr described the fear and reluctance from employees. “Many of them were simply afraid of losing their jobs”, she explained. We cannot establish the true extent of sexism at Danish universities when the risk to the individual is so high. And we cannot challenge culture if students are jeered and silenced for raising concerns about sexism.
University leadership must support students facing sexism
Many of us believe that we have already achieved gender equality in Denmark. As Henriette Laursen of KVINFO eloquently noted, “As Danes we're supposed to be so liberated that you can take a little bit of 'hygge sexism'."
But as our status drops further down the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, from number 14 in 2020 to number 29 in 2021, it’s time to take bro culture seriously.
It is incumbent upon university leadership to offer concrete and public support to the students facing public backlash and sexism. In fact, university guidelines for students lay out a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. Commitment to those guidelines requires more than asking students to use better judgement at future events.
Christine Parsons, Ida Vogel and Kamille Smidt Rasmussen – Linje X
Copyedited by Sarah Jennings