Sexual harassment at UCT: “Most girls like it, and most guys use that as an excuse”

Female students at the University of Cape Town have shared their views and experiences of sexual harassment on campus. And now it’s the guys’ turn. Male students at the university spoke to RA’EESA PATHER about when men cross the line and why they do it.

Haroun VollenhowenHaroun Vollenhowen, 20, second year BBusSci, Athlone

Sexual harassment is invading someone’s privacy, going against their will, and touching them inappropriately or saying inappropriate things to them. You don’t have to touch someone to sexually harass them, you can just say something. In some conversations I’ve heard, certain guys do have a tendency to make jokes that objectify females, like “she touched my leg, she wants it.” When it comes to inferiority or superiority in gender, in my experience it’s the other way around now, because there’s this whole feminism thing and people aren’t quite getting it. I once held the door open for a girl at the library and she was like “fuck off”. I know she’s competent enough to open the door by herself, but I was trying to be polite. In class, there are females who assume leadership roles based on their capabilities. I’m not saying some females are less capable, they just prefer to be led – they lack the character to lead. Either way, it doesn’t affect me.

Tashreeq AbrahamsTashreeq Abrahams, 19, first year, BA, Athlone

Sexual harassment is making someone uncomfortable in any way, whether it’s making sexual innuendos, not respecting their personal space or the physical act of touching someone in a way they aren’t comfortable with. As a natural sense, guys will look at women in a certain way, but my mother made sure that I was raised to be respectful, so it makes me uneasy to hear guys speak about women in demeaning ways. I have sisters, and I know that I would never want someone to speak about them in that way, so I make sure I don’t speak about other women like that. Some guys just feel pressurised to exude that confidence – it’s almost as though they feel that’s what makes a man. A lot of guys my age have a weird way of looking at the world – as if things are owed to them. If they feel as if everything is owed to them, then they’re going to think that everything is there for them, so that’s probably why most of them end up seeing women as objects rather than actual people.

Gundo NelwamondoGundo Nelwamondo, 19, second year, BCom, Rondebosch

Sexual harassment is doing something to someone that makes them feel uncomfortable and not respecting that individual. We’ve taken it to be a permissible thing because it happens frequently, so everyone just says “it’s one of those things” and brushes it aside. I notice it a lot on Jammie Steps, because as guys we make those sexual jokes, and I’ve been involved in that. It’s not a respectful thing. Men have a superiority complex and in some regards we believe we still have power over women, which isn’t right, but it’s in our minds and it’s something that we have to fight against. But we find it permissible, because nothing much is done about it. It’s permissible to all parties. For starters, most of the girls that I come across actually don’t mind, and there’s only a specific select few who do mind. I view those ones as the respectable ones. In terms of the guys, they feel that they are entitled to treat a lady as they please, because they are guys and they wear the pants. Most girls like it, and most guys use that as an excuse.

Michael TreeMichael Tree*, 24, masters in financial management, Sea Point

It’s all about that feeling of being uncomfortable, so if someone acts in a sexual way that makes you uncomfortable then it’s sexual harassment. I haven’t been to Tiger Tiger, so I haven’t really seen students get harassed, but on campus there’s nothing I’ve noticed. In my accounting class last year there were more men than women, and accounting is generally male dominated. I think the media has a big role in sexual harassment. You have guys like Chris Brown, who’s a known wife-beater, and he still plays at Cape Town Stadium and the crowd still comes, so that’s basically everyone voting with their feet and saying it’s okay. You can have campaigns and all that crap, but I don’t think they have a lasting impact. People just need to feel comfortable that they can say no, that they don’t have to go to those concerts, and that it’s not okay to be harassed. To some extent, it’s a confidence and a conditioning issue, so people have been conditioned to think it’s okay, and they don’t have the confidence to say: “Don’t ever do that.”

Apiwe XabaApiwe Xaba, 21, third-year BSci, Mowbray

Sexual harassment can the way you look at someone, or touching them where they don’t want to be touched. Guys know when they’re going too far – no is no, but some just don’t listen. UCT I think is good when it comes to gender equality. We try, but there still people who think that women are lower than men. Change has to start from home. If you are back at home, and the father is the head, then in everything that you do, there’s always that difference between a male and a female. When you come to campus, you’re still going to have that mentality. It must start from a young age.

*Name has been changed.
– Featured image: Via Wikimedia Commons; all other images: By Ra’eesa Pather.