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March 22, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The First Year’s Progress: A response

This article is to address the issues raised by the comic printed in the Orientation Issue of Salient. The comic depicts a first year female student’s progress through her first year at university. And the main concerns have been sparked by the third panel of the column, captioned “Contraception: Narrowly avoids impregnation by rugby team during Orientation”. The image shows the first year student, wearing a short strapless dress, holding the door shut, with a look of fear on her face, as a rugby team violently attempts to burst through.

To be honest, I think there has been enough space taken up in Salient discussing whether or not the cartoon should have been published and what the intention of the cartoonist may or may not have been. Let me just say: I think the concerns raised by many students regarding the affect this may have on many students are completely valid; but I understand how the issues may not have been felt by the cartoonist or by Salient. Those of us who believe that one of the greatest issues in regards to the attitude of our society toward sexual violence is that many do not understand the extent of its effect on the survivor, should also understand that unfortunately, people may not realise the effect of such a cartoon if it does not touch them personally. The whole cartoon bases its comedy on stereotypes and unfortunately, the stereotypes of a rugby team attempting to rape a young girl in a short skirt are stereotypes not unfamiliar in our society, however incorrect, offensive and upsetting they may be toward females, survivors of sexual violence, rugby players or the general public. The two real problems here are with the general attitude of society toward this very serious issue and the effect that the cartoon may have had on some of its readers.

This article will discuss how the cartoon may be interpreted, with an attempt to clarify why readers may see it as upsetting and offensive and highlight the support services available to survivors of sexual violence in our community.

There are issues with this cartoon because:

  1. Although the subject should be taken seriously, the overall tone is comic. The panels are light-hearted, such as the student wearing a knockoff Louis Vuitton bag. Therefore we can assume that the panel depicting the student fending off rape is also attempting to be a joke.
  2. The way that the woman is depicted shows her wearing a short skirt and she is having to hold the door shut herself, suggesting that it is her personal responsibility to avoid being subjected to sexual violence.
  3. That this is shown as just one part of “the daily grind of a first year” suggests that such attacks are an everyday occurrence, and that if you are a girl wearing a short skirt, you should probably be prepared to physically fend off violent attacks by a pack of males.

Sexual violence is a serious issue in our society. It does happen, and as this comic shows, when it does, it is often not taken seriously. Our laws to do not allow for how difficult it is for someone to prove that they were attacked or that the attack was forced upon them, nor do they allow for the emotional and psychological harm that may be a result of such an attack. This means that many survivors of sexual violence find that friends and authorities do not take their personal stories seriously, or do not believe them at all. Survivors are often subjected to long and painful enquiries or led to believe that the event was at least in some part their own fault. All these subsequent problems can lead to more psychological difficulties for survivors as well as discouraging many from reporting the event in the first place.

When such a damaging event is included in a comic it can bring back painful memories for survivors, causing them to relive traumatic experiences. It also reinforces to them the ridicule that they may be have been exposed to in the event itself or afterward, when trying to seek help. It shows how unseriously the issue is taken by society and that there is probably no point in reporting such an event, because who can you tell, when all your friends laughed at the comic in the student magazine?

If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual or psychological violence, there are a number of support services available to you in Wellington.

You could talk to:

  • A friend or family member
  • The RA in your hostel
  • The VUW Counselling Service: (Kelburn/Te Aro: 04 463 5310, Karori: 04 463 9537, Pipitea: 04 463 7474,
  • WINZ (if you have a case worker)
  • The Police
  • Women’s refuge (0800 REFUGE)
  • Rape Crisis (04 473 5357)
  • Family Planning (04 384 4349)
  • Your Doctor
  • Sexual Health Clinic (0800 188 881)
  • Student Health (04 463 5308)

And if you are just looking for some friendly faces and a safe environment to hang out with or in, on campus there is the Women’s Group and the Women’s Space.

As many of those who have written to Salient have expressed, the good thing about the printing of this cartoon is that it has raised awareness of the issue of sexual violence and has provoked discussion on the topic. Of course, in a perfect world, we should be able to have discussion before a negative event occurs itself. Rather than focusing our attention on whether this cartoon reflects the vindictive intentions of the cartoonist or any individual, let’s put our energy into considering the ignorance and lack of sensitivity in our community as a whole and how we can work toward a safer environment.


About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

Comments (34)

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  1. Gerald says:

    well, if anyone was looking for meaningful social commentary, the last place they’d want to look is a grant buist cartoon.

    watch him blog about this comment.

  2. Hey-den says:

    Rape rape you can’t escape

  3. Lynzi says:

    Great article.

    “Rather than focusing our attention on whether this cartoon reflects the vindictive intentions of the cartoonist or any individual, let’s put our energy into considering the ignorance and lack of sensitivity in our community as a whole and how we can work toward a safer environment”

    Absolutely :-)

  4. Joey says:

    Good to know that some subjects are off limits to comedy because they are NOT FUNNY. Because if you make a joke even periphally involving a subject, obviously you cannot take it seriously.

    Also good to know that victims of sexual violence are such delicate, willting flowers that they need to be sheltered, coddled and protected from nasty society. That’s not a patronising attitude at all. Nor is it damaging to suggest that being a victim of sexual violence is something you can never ever escape from. It’s also irresponsible to suggest that laughing at one’s own tragedies can possibly help one to overcome them.

    Sarcastic? Me?

  5. Gerald says:

    Shit comment? You?

  6. Negaton says:

    Dear Joey,

    You are an ill informed, obnoxious and frighteningly ignorant person.



  7. Max says:

    Very good article.

  8. Mr Natural says:

    Geez talk about an overreaction imagine the response if they had published some Robert Crumb cartoons like they used to put into Salient back in the 70s…

    I do agree that sexual assault is a serious subject so yes good on you for highlighting this, but the howls of outrage over the cartoon were a bit over the top.

    Out in the real world (i.e. off campus) this cartoon wouldn’t have gotten a single eye brow raised.

  9. If someone had just said that this panel could possibly be seen as insensitive by rape victims, then fine, that would have been a valid comment.

    Instead we get this endless McCarthyist witch-hunt, a lot of which makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the cartoon is implying that it’s a woman’s responsibility to avoid sexual violence, but even so, what’s wrong with suggesting this? Is the writer of this article seriously suggesting that a woman shouldn’t apply common sense to avoid a situation in which sexual violence might arise? Because seriously, that’s far more damaging than any single cartoon panel.

    And the suggestion that someone is less likely to report a rape because of a single cartoon panel is ludicrious, and quite frankly insults the intelligence of the victim. So is the idea that this cartoon is going to normalise the rape experience for teenagers.

    Yes, there is useful information in this article, but did the other half of the article really need to pursue this over-the-top vendetta?

  10. Greg says:

    So, Fiona, lemme play devil’s advocate here: as someone who’s studied and written widely about the propensity for young women to conform to certain ideals regarding gender performance—manufactured by an insaitable media, gauging the self-esteems of western women worldwide—why have you decided to exercise that energy and thought on a single comic panel?

    Please, explain to me how this panel in anyway legitimises and, wow, marginalises a deviant sexual culture? As far as I can tell—and I only have eyes—the comic observes what is irrefutable fact: some young women are, indeed, preyed upon by men for sex. It is a trend the glamorisation of alcohol consumption, and reduction of people to little more than sex toys with skin, has continued to finance.

    Why then haven’t you taken this opportunity to implore members of both genders to actively question and critique the way university-aged students engage in alcohol/sexual practices? Or maybe you thought it more important to be “seen” to be doing “something”?

  11. Max says:

    Fiona did not “exercise [her] energy and thought on a single comic panel” at all. Did you read the last paragraph of the article?

    And I don’t think the point is that one comic is the problem – it is an example of the problem.

    And as for David – you are an idiot. No part of this article was a vendetta. I suggest you re-read it.

  12. Greg says:

    Nobody cares, World’s Tallest Building. The vendetta against “the cartoonist” has been embarassing, and Fiona has done nothing to help the situation.

  13. Kim Dobson says:

    Thanks Salient for responding to my complaint and publishing this piece.

    The cartoon to me was absolutely disgraceful, it dismisses gang rape and rape and the seriousness of this issue.

    If this cartoon was of a black person pushing shut a door and it stated “Sam narrowly avoided being beaten senseless by a group of skinheads on his way back from town” people would find this notion disasterous. These issues seem to be seen differently by members of society when it comes to issues surrounding women (such as in this case the attempted gang rape of women).

    In society people are simply allowed to dismiss the sexual violence that happens to women as a joke. I believe this is inappropriate of a university magazine which should be fighting these sorts of stereotypes and misinterpretations in society, instead of supporting them.

    Thanks again Salient for this article and I would just like to point out for those victims that have suffered rape or sexual abuse ACC also offers support through counselling as well as an Independence Allowance for those who cannot work for a duration of time after the incident under section 27 of the IPRC Act. The rape/sexual abuse is only covered if the incident happens in New Zealand and there is a mental injury (anxiety, ptsd, depression etc) that has arisen from the incident. ACC has more details on their website otherwise the specific number to reach their special Sensitive Claims Unit is 0800 735 566.


  14. Rack Papist says:

    Basically this is one of those optical illusion pictures. Is it two candle sticks or is it a vase. It’s neither, it’s both.
    Maybe if you realised that life wasn’t one clear image and tried to see it from the other persons view you may reach some synthesis and be better informed about the world around you.

    Both sides sound like bigots at the moment.

  15. Liam Nub says:

    hey Kim can you sing loose lips for us

  16. David Thomsen says:

    Dear Max. If you’re going to call me an idiot, please make it for something worth my time. Thank you.

  17. mapplethorpe says:


  18. David Thomsen says:

    I really hate internet arguments – they bring out the worst in me. And although it is a complete waste of my time to argue that the term ‘vendetta’ can be applied to the article, I can’t resist demonstrating why someone who called me an idiot is an idiot.

    Let’s compare some of the things the writer of this article says with the rest of what they say.

    “This article is to address the issues raised by the comic…”

    If it’s about the issues raised by the comic, why is most of the article devoted to the comic itself, including a numbered list of criticisms of the comic? It would make sense if each point in the list was analysed in depth to achieve some greater understanding of the ‘issues’, but things like what the heck point two is supposed to be about aren’t dealt with at all.

    The one point that’s explored is whether or not the cartoon reflects a lack of sensitivity in our society. This would have been a great point to include some other examples of lack of sensitivy in the media. None are included, suggesting either that the writer couldn’t be bothered doing their research, was unable to source any other examples, or is in fact using the subject of this essay as a pretense to disingenuously attack ‘the cartoonist’. Any of those are pretty bad for something you refer to as a ‘very good article’.

    “To be honest, I think there has been enough space taken up in Salient discussing whether or not the cartoon should have been published and what the intention of the cartoonist may or may not have been.”

    Shortly afterwards, we are supposed to ‘assume’ what the comic is ‘attempting’ to be. Um… Isn’t that taking up space discussing what the intention of the cartoonist may or may not have been? Isn’t that what we just said we weren’t going to do?

    “Rather than focusing our attention on whether this cartoon reflects the vindictive intentions of the cartoonist or any individual, let’s put our energy into considering the ignorance and lack of sensitivity in our community as a whole and how we can work toward a safer environment.”

    Yes. Let’s not talk about the cartoon. Let’s talk about how we can work toward a safer environment. To that end, let’s devote about half of the article to talking about this comic panel that we have stated several times that we’re not going to talk about, and absolutely nothing to important subjects such as, for example, rape prevention. It’s nice to know that when someone gets attacked because no one gave them any good advice, they’ll have a large support network to go to.

    In fact, to suggest that a woman should block the door when she’s being attack by a group of men is somehow a bad thing. Like, we don’t want women to prevent themselves from being raped. I guess that would give the large support network something to do, though.

    Are you really so unimaginative as to take the writer of this article at their word that they’re not interested in attacking the cartoonist, when every piece of evidence points to the contrary? Are you, Max? Because I find that sad.

  19. Alpha says:

    I don’t like being portrayed as a pack rapist when I’m nothing of the sort.

    But Kim makes very good points, particularly the one about the skinheads. That opened my eyes a bit.

    But still. Not a rapist.

  20. David Thomsen says:

    Oh, and one last thing… did you notice that I never referred to the writer of this article by name? But in spite of that, you knew exactly who I was referring to? Please don’t try to argue that this isn’t a vendetta because ‘the cartoonist’ is never mentioned by name. And don’t call me an idiot again unless you want the shit ripped out of you a second time. Thank you.

  21. s says:

    David seems like that guy at the party who goes up to everyone and asks what they do then makes a pithy comment and starts to brag about how awesome his life is.

  22. s says:

    the all blacks

  23. Kim Dobson says:

    “Is the writer of this article seriously suggesting that a woman shouldn’t apply common sense to avoid a situation in which sexual violence might arise? Because seriously, that’s far more damaging than any single cartoon panel”

    I find you comment that women should apply common-sense principles to their everyday actions is problematic
    Lets think about common ideas in society that lead to victim blaming:
    -female victim was drunk
    -female victim walked home by herself
    -female victim was dressed in revealing clothing

    Why should women have to modify their behaviour, their dress code etc?

    Sometimes women NEED to go shopping at night by myself, sometimes women want to wear a short skirt, women should be able to do this without fear and prescribing to riduculous “common sense” notions that do not apply to men as well.

    I think that is what Max was getting at when she called you an idiot, David. I think you simply need to think about whether you would like to have restrictions applied to your rights as a free citizen in society?

    I know as a woman I find it disasterous that I can’t even walk to the supermarket or home from the library alone in the dark without feeling frightened. C. Wright Mills
    (1959) talks about how individual solutions to these private problems, perhaps like the Campus Angels service run by VUWSA although they solve the problem for a few they still do not address the actual issue.

    I don’t believe that women should have to subscribe to “common sense” principles and monitor their behaviour to stop themselves from beling raped, perpetrators should monitor their behaviour. Common sense notions also restrict womens fundamental Human Rights through restricting their freedom of movement.

    Through publishing pieces like the cartoon the media continues to support the notion that victims are responsible for rape.

  24. Greg says:

    “Through publishing pieces like the cartoon the media continues to support the notion that victims are responsible for rape.”

    Argh, it does not, you’re beyond stupid.

  25. Kerry says:

    David, you are under a misapprehension – the cartoon was not objected to because of the identity of the cartoonist, but because of the content of the panel under discussion.

    I had to explain to both Kim and Linzi who “Grant Buist” is, as neither of them had heard of him before. I came into this discussion in the middle of the week the cartoon was published, and was reluctant to comment initially, because of all the issues you know very well about.

    Grant’s response has been to deny the very real offense he has caused to people who don’t know him from a bar of soap, and to assume he is part of some personal ‘witch-hunt’ co-ordinated by one person. If only feminists in Wellington were actually that co-ordinated.

    Separately, women have contacted me, or Kim, or Linzi, or someone else entirely, and said they were threatened by the images, that it brought up unpleasant memories of actual rapes that have occurred in their lives, that it made them remember and experience again the sense of being unable to fight back, the lack of validation for their very real disability.
    Some of those women will never write a letter to the editor of Salient, or comment on a forum like this, because their fear is so disabling.

    To all the guys who have contributed to this discussion:

    if you have never been raped, or been a rapist, you probably have no idea of the power constructs enmeshed in those experiences.
    One rapist can change a woman’s point-of-view about society for ever, with no days off for good behaviour.
    When society fails to support survivors of rape, these people (and I include male survivors of rape here too) can feel constantly on their guard against further attack. This (hypervigilance) is one of the diagnostic symptoms for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most common psychological outcome to afflict rape survivors.

    There is so much research material published to back this up that I will not make a list here, merely suggest that as university students, if you want to find out what the boundaries of the arguments are, you have a choice of psychology, criminology, sociology, and finally gender and women’s studies reading lists available to you in the library.
    Become informed, and then at least you won’t sound like a self-serving tit when you next encounter a debate like this.

  26. smackdown says:

    i think you’ll find the answer is the patriarchy

  27. Jemma says:

    Spot on Fiona. Well said.

  28. Joey says:

    This is hilarious. This opinion piece & these comments won’t actually do anything about NZ’s shocking sexual violence statistics. All they’ll do is help the people who write them feel self-righteous.

    Yes, that does include me, but I’m actually aware that my own self-righteousness doesn’t actually affect anyone except myself. Gerald and Negaton, you’ve fallen into your own private traps.

  29. Joey says:

    Btw, those who took exception to my sarcasm should check out this blog post by Amanda Palmer, who was censored for expressing her own views about her own sexual assault in a humourous way:

  30. smackdown says:

    shut up doofs let’s talk about the beatles

  31. smackdown says:

    joey how’s chandler ahahaha owned

  32. Emma says:

    Well, this article has been a great IQ test if nothing else… seriously, why bother commenting if you’re speaking such crap as “Argh, it does not, you’re beyond stupid”, “shut up doofs let’s talk about the beatles”, and “David seems like that guy at the party who goes up to everyone and asks what they do then makes a pithy comment and starts to brag about how awesome his life is” – come on guys, you’re just proving that not nearly enough people do take this issue seriously!!!

  33. Alpha says:

    Or, you know, it’s the internet.

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