Pretty much every day at Duke, I’ll hear someone refer to a girl as a “dumb bitch,” or worse, “dumb c***.” I’ll see that a beautiful “I need feminism” poster from the recent campaign has been defaced with a sheet of paper bearing the message “make me a sandwich.” I’ll hear some girl on the plaza emphatically declare, “Oh, I’m not a feminist or anything,” as if it’s absurd to believe in something as necessary and important as equality for women.
These remarks really do bother me. I just don’t understand how the racism, sexism and homophobia I see and hear around campus on a daily basis get normalized.
Maybe I do, though. It’s the reason that when I’m at Shooters, I still listen, dance enthusiastically and loudly sing along to songs with lyrics like “They pay me respect they pay me in checks/ And if she look good she pay me in sex/ Bounce that ass (ass) it’s the roundest/ You the best bch, you deserve a crown bch.” That song degrades my gender every time it comes on—but it provides such an effective beat for krumping!
It’s the reason I have to try really, really hard not to refer to my friends and myself as “bches” or “sluts,” even if I’m only doing it jokingly (or sometimes unconsciously). And it’s probably the reason I hear the word “bch” used with such astounding frequency in the first place.
I encounter these sentiments everywhere—in music, in the media, as a way to add sass at the end of a statement. According to popular culture, calling someone a “b**ch” is entirely acceptable. It’s thrown around with reckless abandon—so much that when it makes someone uncomfortable, they might not even want to admit it, for shame that they seem too sensitive, too stupid, too radical, too… well, the same reason that girl on the plaza probably doesn’t want to admit that she’s “a feminist or anything.”
I don’t know. I definitely think it’s dangerous to throw around powerful words like b**ch. Although people may not be serious when they say them, although they may forget their real meaning and fail to openly register the ideas behind them—these ideas do not suddenly go away.
These concepts—the idea that women exist solely as bodies fueled by sex, the objectification of women as bodies to which men are entitled, the sheer power that men have over women, the idea that women are simply inferior as people—are everywhere, just everywhere: in the media, in TV shows, in rap, in comments I hear every day all around campus.
But I’ve almost gotten tired of getting shocked or angry at these pervasive instances. Because if I became angry, if I stopped listening and dancing to rap music at Shooters, if I snapped at everyone who made a joke at the expense of someone’s race, gender or sexuality—I’d be a pretty angry person.
As a solution-oriented individual, I know that anger doesn’t really do anything. Yelling at people doesn’t change their beliefs. In fact, you can do very little to change people’s beliefs. They’ve even done studies; stick a bunch of people with differing opinions in a room, and at the end of the week, they’ll still have the same opinion they had before but reinforced and stronger.
So, to put it simply, when I hear insensitive or offensive comments, I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with them. So I ignore them.
In a way, I’ve formed my own bubble within the Duke bubble. I’ve surrounded myself with friends who, for the most part, are aware and respectful of these things. And every time I’ve heard these hurtful comments, rather than taking the time to be frustrated or angry or even just sad—I’ve ignored them. I’ve walked away and I’ve run back to my friends.
This attitude is a blessing, but also a bit of a curse. Because it makes me realize I’ve been taking the easy way out.
Maybe I’m doing it all wrong.
The only way all the racism, sexism and homophobia on this campus can be dealt with is through active discussion. It has to be discourse that exposes ugly things like ignorance, prejudice and conflict. And it has to be extremely uncomfortable.
Look: I’m ignorant, too. We all are. There’s a lot about people, their backgrounds, the way they identify, their cultures and their beliefs that I don’t understand. But I’m willing to discuss and to learn.
And I hope, in my time here, that I can reach people like the girl on the plaza who described herself as “not a feminist or anything,” and that other people can reach me with their own insights. I hope that I, and all of you, can push ourselves and others to challenge each other, to transcend our comfort zones. Because that’s the only way we can learn. These are the first teeny-tiny baby steps toward change.
Indu Ramesh is a Trinity junior. This is her final column of the semester.