Photograph by Raymond van Mill for illustration.
Two weeks ago, Dumpert featured a video of the ASC/AVSV’s 1,000th Anniversary Dinner Party. A festive occasion, you think, but during the dinner many anti-woman speeches were held, while the dinner of the women was held in an adjoining room. Dumpert’s video, on talk show tables, on the radio, and in all newspapers, talked about sermons in which women are “sperm pails” and men “break women’s necks” to stick their penises in.
In response, a signed letter was written by hundreds of legionnaires – most of them women. In the letter, they wrote, “We’re done with this sexism. We can already hear men thinking: ‘It’s just a joke.’ We think the joke is over.”
It was all over the media about it. However, the active members of the Legion rarely spoke for themselves, because they did not want or dare to do so.
But how do they see what happened? I spoke to Fleur, Lodi, Lotte, and Cato—all four members of the corps—and asked them what they thought of anti-women sermons. I also asked them about their experiences with sexism in The Wire. The interviewees had their names changed because they did not want negative reactions and were unlikely to receive a positive reaction from speaking to the media. The real names are known to the editors.
“I shared my doubts about sexual norms at times. Often the answer was, ‘Don’t let it spoil your evening, it’s not personal.'”
Fleur (22 years old), is now entering her third year of student body in Amsterdam
I attended the anniversary dinner, but I was at the ladies’ dinner. I felt that something had gone terribly wrong, because someone said we had been told “harsh things” about us at the gentlemen’s dinner. I didn’t know exactly what happened. It wasn’t really talked about for the rest of the evening. Many people, myself included, sip a beer around this time and carry on into the evening.
And only after the video was published and the media rushed to it, did I realize exactly what had happened. I also signed the letter. It wasn’t that I was too surprised. At this gentlemen’s dinner, I know they arouse each other, I was expecting derogatory comments about women anyway. The word whore doesn’t surprise me, I’ve heard it before in the assembly, which in itself is very bad of course. But I was so shocked that it was said that they were going to break women’s necks, and ours, to stick their penises in. When I watched the video, A Letter to a Thousand People, I thought: Jesus, this is really bad. I had hoped that a senator, someone who worked for cultural change, would set a good example.
Sexism seems to be a blind spot in the association. I’ve shared my doubts about sexual norms at times. Often the answer was: “Don’t let it spoil your evening, it’s not personal.” But it is personal. Many students need an association, it also brings students a lot and of course it is not only negative. Thus, people tolerate sexual behavior in a certain way.
After dinner, several of the men said, “I did not agree with the speech, so I did not participate in the conversation and remained silent.” But silence is not enough. We need to address sheep behavior, create an association where people stand rather than walk. Why not learn to stand up for yourself and others in green times? I am skeptical about this change. Motivation is present in many people, but talking about it is not radical enough. You have to change the whole system, sexism is very ingrained. Now we have to wait for the next increase, because there is a structural problem. The culture is very crude, and there is a lot of bragging. Sure, it’s easy for the media to hit the wire, sure sexism and patriarchal culture are everywhere, but what happened is reason enough to take a very critical look at this culture.
“I hate that men don’t feel much space to talk about their feelings, and that it’s mostly about ‘how many women have sex’.
Lott (21), is now entering her fourth year as a student body in Utrecht
Sexism appeared in Amsterdam, but I am convinced that it can be so with other fraternities. I found the video on Dumpert almost laughable. I thought, are you really that stupid? They imitate each other like sheep. You can hope that their mother taught them something, but at such a moment it seems that they are getting rid of all their acquaintances.
I have great respect for the letter written by the women. It is a pity that no one has spoken frankly with the media, it is important for such a thing to have a face, but people are afraid to present a certain image of themselves. I find it remarkable how different people have reacted to it in my environment. Some women are shocked by the video, finding it really intense. Others found the message written by the women to be exaggerated, describing what happened as “a small part of the deal.” That does not make sense. As long as we continue to put up with this kind of misogynistic behavior, it will only get worse. Women need to speak up and men, quite simply, shouldn’t display this kind of behaviour. It seems very easy not to do it, but it is clearly easier said than done.
In Utrecht, we broke up with men, so I don’t see that kind of behaviour, but sometimes I hear sick things said about us. Do you know what I find strange? Being that these guys are busy with us, in our evenings it is not about them. Many men act strangely when there are no women around, and this cock behavior is even more pronounced. I hate that guys feel so little space to talk about their feelings, and that it mostly comes down to “how many women they have sex with”.
“It is very difficult to bring about change because the association is built on misogyny. Men should hold each other accountable for each other’s behaviour. It would be helpful if a boy who is highly regarded within the association said: It is not good what you are doing.”
Lodi (23), is the third year in the Amsterdam student body
I was at a men’s dinner that night and found the speeches quite shocking. Precisely because one of these men, the Senator, was responsible for changing the culture and I know him well. I sat next to one of my colleagues and said, “What is this stupid behavior?” I saw a boy shouting “whore” while I was having lunch with him and his mother a few days ago. I believed: this is not you. I didn’t participate in the language and was ashamed to think of the girls in the other room talking about teamwork. My colleague and I went outside to smoke a cigarette. I should have just gone home, but I also thought: I’m sitting there with a few thousand men, what effect would that be if I left as an individual?
During the speeches I wondered why no one did anything. I felt less of my responsibility, because there are people who have more responsibility: seniors, the former Senate, various committees. Then I thought: Why didn’t I do that? I wonder if the guys really mind what they did, or just mind being caught. If it wasn’t filmed and fired, nothing would change. On the other hand, I’m optimistic, because there are also disagreements between guys who found it intense and who are now having conversations about how to do things differently.
It is very difficult to bring about change because the association is built on misogyny. Men should hold each other accountable for each other’s behavior. It would be helpful if a boy so highly regarded within the association said: It is not good what you do. When a girl says it, this boy quickly thinks: Yes, cool. I think men exhibit this behavior out of insecurity and it’s an easy way for other men to think of it as cruel and funny. I’ve often seen men talk lightly about women and say things like “whore,” “whore,” and “bad bitch.” When I say something about it, it’s often: “But you got up and left.”
I look positively at my membership. It sounds cliched, but I have lifelong friends. However, I have reservations about the wire. I reevaluated some friendships. Do I want to be friends with someone who thinks this way? But there are also good people in the corps, like Rector Helen de Vos. She did incredibly well, and I’m so sorry she left because of other people’s mistakes.
“People are usually very nice. Over time, I realized that someone can have a nice conversation with me, but they can have misconceptions about women.”
Kato (26 years old), is the sixth year of the Rotterdam Corps
I was shocked when I saw the video, but I recognized the behavior immediately. I’ve also heard many times “it’s just a joke.” But it’s not funny that men often talk offensively about women and sing anti-women songs. Many people asked who knew these men from those speeches, and what kind they were. Someone said it was “normal” and that he could imagine drifting away. I found it very symbolic, how can you say he let himself get carried away? He wrote the letter himself and stood there. Then no one is to blame at all, because everyone gets carried away. Then the ‘wire’ gets blamed in the media and people say, ‘It’s not fair, because I didn’t do it’. Then I think: But how are we going to solve it if there is no culprit?
When I first became a member, I also thought the misogynistic comments were just “jokes”. People are usually very nice one by one. Over time, I realized that someone can have a nice conversation with me, but they can have misconceptions about women. If you’re not a member yourself, it’s hard to fathom, because it’s often fun too. I had a blast and would catch him again in a heartbeat, but I don’t stand behind what happened. However, I rarely hear that from other members. It seems that the more criticism the corps receives from the outside world, the more members it has: we protect each other, because everyone is against us. I also want to be anonymous on this piece, because all my friends are still members.
In my first year, our association was still not mixed. I was strongly against merging because I liked being with girls only. In the early years, sexism was actually worse. Men said of us, We don’t want to be with those cows, because we’d be fat and ugly. It was said that women do this to men too, but I’ve never heard any woman say a man is a cow or a whore. But in the end I think mixed association is better in the long run because there is more social control when women are involved.