Views on Sex, Sexuality, and Gender in Higher Education: Preliminary Findings from the University of Johannesburg
DATE: Wednesday 27 October 2021
TIME: 14:00 – 15:30
WEBINAR LINK: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85164562696
Views on Sex, Sexuality, and Gender in Higher Education: Preliminary Findings from the University of Johannesburg
DATE: Wednesday 27 October 2021
TIME: 14:00 – 15:30
WEBINAR LINK: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85164562696
By Josien Reijer
This is the second of a series of blog posts showcasing the preliminary data from the Views on Sex, Sexualities and Gender Survey conducted amongst students and staff at the University of Johannesburg. In this blog post we focus on the views of students regarding the inclusion of specific categories/groups of people mentioned in the South African Constitution.
In the survey respondents were presented with the following information:
Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) includes the Bill of Rights, of which section 9 reads:
Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and the benefit of the law. Prohibited grounds of discrimination include race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
Respondents were then asked which statements came closest to their views regarding the inclusion of some of the categories mentioned in the Constitution. The following chart provides an overview of the responses:
From the above it can be seen that an overall majority of the respondents indicated that they believed that the various categories should stay in the Constitution. This was lowest for Marital status were 74.7% (n=1058) said it should remain in the Constitution, whilst 19.3% (n=273) indicated they did not care whether it remained or not and 6% (n=85) felt it should be removed from the Constitution altogether. The majority of respondents agreed (95.4%, n=1351) that it is important that the category disability should stay in the Constitution, 2.9% (m=41) indicated they did not care and 1.7% (n=24) indicated it should be removed from the Constitution.
Student attitudes on statements about LGBTI rights
The survey also contained a number of Likert-type statements where students were asked to report to what degree they agreed with these statements (5-point Likert scale ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree). A number of these statements focussed directly and indirectly on the rights of LGBTIQ+ students.
The above indicates that the majority (90.8%, n=1286) of the students (strongly) agree that ‘gays and lesbians deserve the same rights as straight South Africans’. However, when asked if ‘gay people should be allowed to adopt children,’ the proportion of students who (strongly) agree with this statement decreases to 78.3% (n=1109). While only 4% (n=57) of the students (strongly) disagreed that ‘gays and lesbians deserve the same rights as straight South Africans’ more than double (10.5%, n=149) the number of students (strongly) disagreed that ‘gay people should be allowed to adopt children’. Similar results were seen when discussing same-sex marriage, where 74.2% (n=1051) of the students indicated that they (strongly) disagreed with the statement ‘marriage between same-sex couples should be banned’ and 9.4% (n=133) strongly (agreed).
Education about LGBTIQ rights
The graph indicates that around 3 out of 4 of the students (strongly) agree that people in South Africa should be educated about gay and lesbian rights. Support for community-based education was higher (77.9%, n=1103) than for learner-based education at schools (72.0%, n=1019).
The majority of the students who took part in the survey indicated that they believe that it is important that the various categories of people included in the South African Constitution should continue to be protected under the Constitution. In addition, we also saw that the majority of the students believe that LGBTIQ rights are important. It is interesting to note, that while the majority agree that ‘gays and lesbians deserve the same rights as straight South Africans’ this support decreases somewhat when asked if ‘gay people should be allowed to adopt children’.
By Josien Reijer
This is the first of a series of blog posts showcasing the preliminary data from the Views on Sex, Sexualities and Gender Survey conducted amongst students and staff at the University of Johannesburg. In this first post, the demographic data collected amongst students who completed the survey will be outlined.
The survey was completed a total of 1632 times. After data cleaning, the total sample of staff and students was 1557. Of these, 1416 were students and 141 were staff members. This blog post focuses solely on the student data.
The oldest student who completed the survey was born in 1960 and the youngest was born in 2004. The mean age of the students who completed the survey was 22.4 years and the median age was 21 years.
Level of education
The majority (78.4%, n=1110) of the students who completed the survey were undergraduate students and less than a quarter (21.6%, n=306) were postgraduate students.
One in ten students (10.9%, n=154) described themselves and their family as being ‘Poor’ or ‘Very poor’. 45% (n=639) say that they and their family are ‘just getting along’. Hardly any students (less than 0.5%, n=7) say they and their family are ‘wealthy’ and 43.5% (n=616) is ‘very’ or ‘reasonably comfortable’.
The majority (86.3%, n=1222) of the students who completed the survey indicated that their population group is ‘Black African’. The remaining 13.7% was divided respectively between ‘White’ (5.8%, n=82), ‘Indian/Asian’ (4.0%, n=57), ‘Coloured’ (3.5%, n=49) and ‘other’ (0.4%, n=6).
The majority of the students (80.0%, n=1132) considered themselves as religious/spiritual. Students who indicated that they considered themselves religious/spiritual were also asked how religious/spiritual they considered themselves to be on a scale ranging from 1 (Not religious/spiritual at all) to 10 (Very religious/spiritual).
The mean score given was 7.05 and the median 7.0.
Students from all eight faculties participated. The College of Business and Economics had the largest group of students (38.6%, n=546) participating in the survey, followed by the Faculty of Humanities (16.7%, n=237). The smallest representation comes from the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (4.7%, n=48). The differences in faculty numbers are largely representative of the distribution of students in different faculties.
Nearly two thirds (62.1%, n=880) of the respondents were female. This is an overrepresentation of female students where the UJ student body is 53.8 (n=27211) female.
The majority (95.8%, n=1357) of the respondents identified as woman (58.7%, n=831) or man (37.1%, n=526).
Nearly 3 in four (73%, n=1033) of the students who took part in the survey reported that they identified as straight (heterosexual). 8.2% (n=116) reported they identified as bisexual, 4.9% (n=69) reported they were questioning/unsure, 4.2% (n=60) identified as gay, 3.2% (n=46) identified as a-sexual, 2.4% (n=34) identified as pansexual, 2.1% (n=30) identified as lesbian, 1.6% (n=22) identified as queer and 0.4% (n=6) reported an additional sexual identity category that was not listed.
Gender expression by sex
74.4% (n=399) of the male respondents reported that they presented themselves as ‘strongly, and exclusively masculine’ or ‘mostly masculine’. In comparison, 63.1% (n=555) of the female respondents reported that they dressed ‘strongly, and exclusively feminine’ or ‘mostly feminine’. While 30% (n=264) of the female students reported they presented themselves as ‘a mixture of both masculine and feminine’, this was true for only 15.5% (n=83) of the male students.
This presentation was the first of a series of blog posts describing the preliminary results of the data from the Views on Sex, Sexualities and Gender Survey conducted amongst students and staff at the University of Johannesburg. The next blog post zooms in on the views of students on section 9 of the South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
By Celene, Bambanani, Tshepo and Letitia
On the 1st to the 2nd of June 2021, FruSTRAIGHTing the norm hosted its first virtual winter school called ‘Introduction to Sexuality Studies’. The winter school saw students from faculties of various national universities, as well as gender and sexuality practitioners, gather to engage with topics related to sexuality. The winter school was facilitated by experts on topics related to sexuality, gender, and sex. The speakers included an African lens in their presentations which was valuable, especially when considering how issues around sexuality are still viewed as a taboo in African societies and are therefore often challenged and silenced.
Dr Letitia Smuts opened the two-day workshop with a session that conceptualised key aspects of sexuality and the study of sexualities, focusing on ‘unlearning what we know’ in order to start thinking beyond normative conceptualisations of sexualities and binaries. Mr Tshepo Maake provided a historical overview of homosexuality in South Africa, and the role that the apartheid government played in silencing the experiences and lives of homosexual individuals. He also shed some light on the resistance by various individuals and organisations within the LGBTQ+ community.
An overview of intersectionality theories was facilitated by Letitia and this presentation highlighted the importance of considering multiple intersecting identities and power when studying issues around gender and sexualities. The presentation further shed some light on women’s experiences regarding sexuality and sexual pleasure and the importance of sexual agency when looking at the issues that women face (you can read further on this topic here).
The FruSTRAIGTing the norm team was also delighted to have Prof Anthony Brown from the UJ Department of Educational Psychology present a guest lecture on Queer Studies in South Africa. Prof Brown unpacked what the term ‘queer’ means and introduced critical Queer theories. Prof Brown reminded us how gendered and sexual identities are fluid – and what the dilemma is of putting people in boxes.
Tshepo ended off Day Two of the workshop with two sessions that placed a critical lens on heteronormativity, namely ‘Disrupting the Norm: Interrogating Hegemonic Social Discourses on Gender, Sex and Sexuality’ and ‘Heteronormativity in Context’. In the latter session, he reflected on his MA work conducted among black homosexual mineworkers and their experiences in a male-dominated workspace (if you want to read more about Tshepo’s study, click here).
All of the presentations opened up exciting discussions and engagements on these issues among the participants. The speakers allowed everyone to share their experiences and ask questions in a safe, non-discriminatory, and inclusive environment.
Celene and Bambanani reflect on the workshop:
The personal touch of individual stories throughout the winter school kept us engaged and yearning for more! This was the perfect mix between fun and education! The winter school was like no other- bold, straight to the point, enticing, educational, and so inspiring! The ability to deal with such serious concepts, which are often shunned within society, in an accepting environment was pleasant. The recommended readings and concept ideas after each section was highly appreciated to better assist us with developing our own research. The sexuality winter school was a success, and its value cannot be underestimated. It should be an annual event which hosts students who are interested in topics around sexuality, as this event was a great learning experience for us and needs to reach as many students as possible.
Letitia and Tshepo’s reflections on the workshop:
We were delighted to host this winter school, as more conversations should be had around sexualities and how to disrupt norms! We especially noticed the importance of bringing theory into practice. Academics should be concerned with reaching out to practitioners in order to learn from them, while also sharing their research to individuals who work on the ground. As mentioned in the concluding remarks of the winter school: “Our aims as a society, and in academia, should be to encourage inclusion, to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to recognise and celebrate difference & inclusivity” (read the entire closing statement here).
The feedback from the workshop participants was also overwhelmingly positive – with most participants pointing out how the winter school challenged their normative views on gender and sexuality. They also provided some excellent suggestions to make this an annual event. And for that – we thank everyone who participated and provided their insights!
By Josien Reijer
The short answer: sex is about your body, gender is about who you feel yourself to be, and sexual orientation is about whom you’re attracted to (sexually).
No. Are things ever? So, here is the long(er) answer:
Sex is the term we use to refer to a person’s sexual anatomy (his or her sexual body parts). Or to put it more bluntly:
Sex is used to describe what you are assigned at birth, based on what’s in between your legs (a penis = male, or a vagina = female).
However, this, too, is an oversimplification. Sex is defined not just by external genitalia but also by internal sex organs, chromosomes and hormones. Allowing for three sex variations:
Gender refers to behaviour, personality, dress, etc. that the dominant society traditionally attributes to, or associates with, biological sex. It also refers to the roles and expectations of men and women in a given society, roles that change over time, place, and life stage. It is a social rather than a biological construct.
Gender is the sociocultural division of people traditionally based on an assumed difference between the sexes. As a system, gender conveys social meaning that is typically encoded as femininity and masculinity.
Broadly speaking, there are three gender variations:
Some transgender people might have surgery, take hormones or change the way they look or dress to bring their body into alignment with how they identify, but not all transgender people can or want to do this. Being transgender is not dependant on your physical appearance or medical procedures. Hence, the importance of not reducing a person to their genitals (whether they have a penis or vagina).
Pronouns become important when talking about someone’s gender identity. Some may identify as ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’. If someone asks you to call them by a particular pronoun, it’s important to respect their wishes.
Sexuality is the part of you expressed through your sexual activities and romantic/intimate relationships. It comprises your feelings, behaviours and your sexual identity. For example, a woman who has sex with men (behaviour) to whom she is sexually attracted (attraction) to, and who identifies as straight (identity) would be a heterosexual woman.
A person’s sexuality can be:
Your sexual identity is how you choose to describe or label (or not label!) your sexuality. Similarly, to pronouns, it’s important to refer to a person’s sexuality by their chosen label (just ask them if you’re not sure, so you’re not assuming).
Written by Tshepo Maake
I am currently a PhD student at UJ’s Department of Sociology and have been lecturing at UNISA for almost 2 years. Before joining UNISA, I was a tutor at UJ from 2017 until late 2019, while also studying towards my Honours and Masters degrees. The experience of tutoring while studying was incredible and truly empowering. Interacting with fellow postgraduate students and standing in front of undergraduate students was a great way to learn. I met fun and interesting people throughout my academic career who have contributed significantly to my growth and confidence.
As a young sociology student at the University of Pretoria back in 2012, I got exposed to a different context from my rural home. During this time, I was actively engaging in issues related to gender and sexuality, and I developed a real interest in sexuality studies. I pursued this passion in my Honours and Masters studies, where I dealt with issues relating to religiously sanctioned homophobia. I interrogated the heteronormative nature of the male-dominated mining industry. It has always bothered me that sexual diversity, in some communities, in South Africa, is often used as a weapon against sexual minorities instead of being acknowledged as a difference that should be celebrated. I am unsettled by the current reality of homophobic violence in some parts of the country and deeply concerned that some people will never get to live freely due to heteronormative discourses that seek to erase LGBTIQ+ identities. Despite our progressive constitution, the heteronormative discourse is still dominant in South Africa. I find this deeply problematic hence my interest in research that challenges heteronormativity and can impact policy and change mindsets.
My PhD research seeks to understand black homosexual identity construction and negotiation from the perspectives of black homosexual men who work in two male-dominated workplaces, namely: the SAPS and SANDF. The study is concerned with breaking heteronormative barriers and challenging the notion that homosexual men have no place in these male-dominated workplaces that primarily endorse a masculinist occupational culture. It is a study dedicated to breaking heteronormative silence and making visible homosexual identities in male-dominated workplaces. It is an honour for me to be a part of the project, FruSTRAIGHTing the norm, since its aims are aligned with my deep desire to understands people’s perspectives on heteronormativity and come up with possible solutions to underlying issues of the concept.
Registration is now closed!!
Are you interested in pursuing a study on sexualities or you are already pursuing one? Or would you like to further your knowledge on this topic? Then our sexuality studies workshop is something for you! This workshop will introduce you to the basic theories of sexuality studies – both internationally and locally – with an emphasis on the African experience.
Register now for this FREE 2-day online workshop if you are interested in furthering your knowledge about sexualities, gender, intersectionality, heteronormativity, and so much more…
The workshop is limited to 50 students! So please apply on time.
Applications for this workshop are now closed!
For further information or queries, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to having you participate in this workshop!
This work is based on research supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Written by Letitia Smuts
Described by one of my Master’s students as:
‘Destroyer of patriarchy, sexism and homophobia, the Khaleesi of Womxn magic, and the restorer of peace’.
I have been a lecturer in sociology for about 14 years, and I love educating students and learning from them as well. But to me, being in academia is more than that. With the research skills I have acquired over the years, I hope to live up to the (very optimistic) description above – be it in finding ways to change policy or by producing knowledge that might ultimately get a conversation started towards social change.
My past research has primarily been on issues related to sexuality, gender, intersectionality, and stigma. I completed my MA cum laude at the University of Johannesburg with a dissertation titled: Lesbian Identities in South Africa: Black and White Experiences in Johannesburg. Subsequently, I published a paper that reflected on the findings of my MA studies: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21528586.2011.621231
I graduated with a PhD at the Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands with a thesis titled: ‘Getting it Straight’: (Hetero)Sexual Identities, Heteronormativity and Gender in Johannesburg, South Africa. The PhD journey further fuelled my interest in topics related to heteronormativity, thus why this project – FruSTRAIGHTing the norm – was born. The team comprises colleagues and postgraduate students who have a similar passion for the topic. Together, we aim to conduct research on topics related to heteronormative and gender normative perceptions and how to address them effectively.
Written by Bambanani Gwedla
Growing up, I always had a passion and desire for helping others and using my knowledge to be of service to others. Enrolling and completing a BA degree in Social sciences at the University of Johannesburg fueled this long childhood dream of mine. More than that, it opened my eyes to different ways of understanding the challenges that our society faces and different ways of relating to people.
From early on in my university career, I would get particularly excited whenever I attended a module with a gender component. I felt particularly strongly affiliated with topics discussed in these lectures. Within the social sciences, I soon found my area of interest: gender and feminist studies.
During my Honours degree in Industrial Sociology, I delved deeper into gender and feminist studies in my honours research project. In this project, I looked at the attitudes that students have towards family planning, and by the time I had completed my research project, I was more than convinced that gender was the area I wanted to focus on! My research interest in gender continues in my Master’s research dissertation, where I will explore another area of gender. I will be looking at gender within spaces and how gender and space work together. More specifically I am interested in gender norms and gender dynamics and whether these have changed or have been impacted by the move to the virtual learning space as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In short, being part of the fruSTRAIGHTingthenorm team was an opportunity I could not miss! The project both aligned with my career aspirations as well as my ambition to help improve the world. The fruSTRAIGHTingthenorm project is one way in which I challenge the issues that our society faces and have made a norm regarding gender, sexuality and sex. I also see it as a learning opportunity for myself as I gain knowledge from experts in the field of heteronormativity, gender and sexuality and work towards fruSTRAIGHTingthenorms regarding heteronormativity in South Africa.
Written by Celene Coleman
I am honoured to be a part of this team researching and challenging heteronormativity in South Africa, early in my career. I obtained my Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology, BA honours in Sociology and am currently working on my MA in Sociology (RD), all at the University of Johannesburg. In my undergraduate studies my research focused on the perceptions of female bus drivers. During my honours I explored how social media is used to gain an understanding of current affairs. My MA research focusses on students’ perceptions of menstruation at the University of Johannesburg.
During my honours year, I had the privilege to worked closely with Dr Smuts as her intern. Through her expertise and research I was introduced to the world of heteronormativity and sexuality. I soon gained a keen interest into the field of sexuality and feminist studies. Studying heteronormativity aligns with my interests of researching areas which I feel are undergoing change, or are in need of change within society.
I am very excited to be working with such a diverse team and the broad array of knowledge I will be able to gain from the interaction. I look forward to growing as a researcher and young academic and am confident that the lessons I will learn throughout this research will help me grow in my sociological career.
By Letitia Smuts
What is heteronormativity?
Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality (the physical attraction between a man and a woman) is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. This creates a hierarchal norm that privileges heterosexuality and constructs any type of sexuality that falls outside of this norm as deviant. More so, it is the idea that there are only two sexes and genders, which comes with certain restrictive expectations on how to look and behave.
This project is interested in ways to deconstruct the norm, smash gender binaries, and rewrite the normative sexual script.
When does something become the norm?
When the majority says so. When a group of individuals take ownership of the script and force it on all people.
Why is it problematic to talk about norms and ‘the normal’?
Because it excludes any individuals that do not fall within said norm. The thing about exclusion is that it purposively (and often violently) prohibits certain people from being themselves in different social spaces, loving who they want to love, and expressing said love in public for all to see.
Why is it important to frustrate and disrupt the norm?
Because if we want a transformed and progressive society, where everyone’s gendered and sexual preferences are celebrated – rather than ridiculed – we need to actively build towards such a society.
Is it possible?
We think so. And, we will continue raising pertinent issues that challenge heteronormative and gender normative views to make this a better South Africa for all.
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common” – Dorothy Parker
If you want to hear more on this topic, please check out Dr Smuts’ presentation titled: ‘Heteronormativity: What is it & why should we care?’ presented on 24 March 2021 at the UJ Wednesday Seminar.