Serenades fail to woo

First years feel alienated and sexually objectified by this year’s serenades

Serenades being performed at RUJamming on 9 February in the Great Hall. Picture: Emma Jackson

By Kyla Hazell

The tradition of serenades is due to be reviewed following complaints from first years, claiming that it contradicts the University’s official stance on issues such as sexism and homophobia.
Though not a compulsory event, first years are encouraged to participate in the dawn caterwauling in the name of residence solidarity and good old-fashioned fun. Many, however, opted out this year, feeling that the lyrics and dance moves of certain serenades were sexist, degrading and disempowering for women.
“As a woman I feel that the option of choice has been denied throughout history,” said one first year who prefers to remain anonymous. “This is particularly relevant in male-female interaction. Therefore, one should have the option not to participate due to the content of the songs and the way in which they are presented.”
Another first year, who thought serenades first introduced men and women to each other as sexual objects, said she participated for fear that it might be awkward not to. “There is a certain amount of pressure, even from other girls,” she said. “I’m sure a lot more girls feel the way I do, but don’t think they have a right to speak up about it”.
The issue has been brought to the attention of Dean of Students Dr Vivian de Klerk, for whom the next step will be to convene a meeting of all relevant parties, both students and staff, to discuss the way forward.
“I am becoming increasingly concerned about the impression I have that, in some residences, serenades are starting to verge on initiation and seem overtly sexual, which makes many students uncomfortable,” she said.
Although new rules were implemented this year with regard to dress, lyrics and dance moves, some felt uncomfortable with being questioned about their “porn-star name” or having to attach the title of their favourite movie to the phrase “in my pants”.
Thomas Pringle sub-warden Benita Bobo felt that certain residences took the serenading too far despite the new rules in place. “It seems girls are encouraged to be sexy while guys arrive half naked and pelvic thrusting. It’s supposed to be fun and exciting, but we need to be stricter on dress code and lyrics,” she said.
According to Dr de Klerk this task is one that needs to be monitored by house committees. “If students want self-governance, then they must take the responsibility that comes along with it,” she said.
Serenades are supposed to build a sense of unity amongst students in residences, said Dr de Klerk. However, many feel excluded from the practice by virtue of their religion, sexual orientation or personal values.
“I didn’t take part in serenades last year. It is against my religion to dance and sing as I practice and follow Islam. Also, I find it indecent to come out in inappropriate pyjamas that hardly cover your body to dance in front of strange guys,” said Second Year student Nabeela Sader. “My religion has taught me to be modest and to guard my modesty.”
Dr de Klerk recently posted a letter from an anonymous first year’s account of serenades to her Facebook wall.
The account explains the particular student’s feelings of disillusionment upon arriving at an institution that supposedly rejects any form of sexism, homophobia or chauvinism. The student wrote that this ideal is contradicted by the residences’ expectation to “shake my booty” at early hours in the morning in front of a group of unknown men and to later be denied coffee should she fail to do so with sufficient enthusiasm.
“And so I feel compromised, and betrayed. I aim to know that this is not intended to make me feel this way. But, if we arrive as unmoulded clay, and in the first week, the leaders who have already spent time at Rhodes – ‘where leaders learn’ – tell us, as young women, that it is appropriate to feel validated when a man shouts for you, what does that teach me to become?” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by others. “Serenades don’t need to be sexual and provocative,” one first year said. “The problem with sexism or any other form of discrimination is that if you let the little things slide, the bigger problems start to build up.”
Though these complaints have been noted and are to be dealt with by the university, the Dean of Students Office will keep in mind that other students, such as  BJourn student Ruwa Nhamoinesu, still find serenades enjoyable. “Serenades were great and really fun. I enjoyed being woken up early to get serenaded and singing in return,” Nhamoinesu said.
“I hope we can rescue the good and get rid of the bad without banning everything in a knee-jerk reaction,” Dr de Klerk said. “We are aware of the problem and are taking this matter very seriously, but no hasty decisions will be made. We have a full year to think about what ought to be done.”

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