The campus recently hosted an interactive theater program about bystander intervention on campus by a Rutgers student group that travels around the country to teach about sexual assault on college campuses. Prior to the event, the performers learned popular Ramapo slang in order to relate to the audience, and it worked seamlessly, since the use of satire broke the metaphorical ice that allowed the audience to loosen up.
In one particular scene during a skit in the program, a male actor described the girls coming to his party as “Ramahoes.” Now, I was not surprised that they chose to use that particular slang term, but I was surprised about one thing: the audience's reaction to the use of the term. The audience was composed of a diverse student population, but those who laughed the loudest were mostly freshmen.
Any person can perform a simple Google search and find that "Ramaho" T-shirts, hashtags, and even an Urban Dictionary entry dating all the way back to 2008, exist. According to the Urban Dictionary entry, a Ramaho is “an attractive and potentially promiscuous student from Ramapo College.” The entry further describes the term with the example: “She puts out in the first five minutes … definitely a Ramaho.”
"Ramaho" is not a new term on our campus. It has been used for years. In fact, last year when I told my middle-aged, Ramapo alumni neighbors that I had chosen to attend Ramapo, they snickered and told me to “watch out for the Ramahoes,” as if to imply that there are overly-promiscuous women on campus that pose a threat to the safety of the community.
The fact of the matter is that promiscuous women pose no threat to college students. The real threat is a culture of violence against women, which is hard to ignore, considering that one in five female students are sexually assaulted during their time at college. This statistic, often debunked and labelled as inflated, was recently confirmed in a new poll, according to the Washington Post.
Being sold alongside "Ramaho" T-shirts are "Ramabro" shirts.
“The male equivalent [of Ramaho] is Ramabro, which implies jovial and friendly,” explained Vanessa Mirasola, a sophomore student. “The female version is inherently sexual and sexually degrading.”
The word "Ramaho" itself is a spin on the word “ho,” a shortened form of the word “whore” which means prostitute or immoral individual and is generally used derogatorily toward women that are known to be sexually promiscuous. The pun “Ramaho,” therefore, devalues women and undermines the fundamental right of a woman to have agency over her body.
If we constantly refer to our female-identified peers as sexually immoral and promiscuous through the T-shirts we wear and the words we use, what kind of message are we sending to those who are survivors of sexual assault? Constantly referring to women as “asking for it” only perpetuates the notion that sexual assault is the fault of the victim, when in reality, sexual assault is only ever caused by perpetrators that feel they can claim ownership over someone else’s body.
"For people who aren't well-informed on sexual assault, I think the shirt subconsciously reinforces the idea that women sleep around or that they are 'asking for it' when it comes to sexual assault," said James Perlas, the men's outreach coordinator at the Women's Center.
Due to two highly publicized instances of sexual assault on campus within the past year, it is clear that sexual assault is a problem on our campus.
In recognizing this problem, it is of course imperative that we demand more support from our administration and the policies regarding procedures for instances of sexual assault. The “Ramapo: Advance” plan provides for some of those institutional changes, but we are certainly lacking when it comes to creating an on-campus culture that supports survivors of sexual assault. Policy only does so much and we, as students, play a large role in perpetuating a culture in which sexual violence is normalized.
We often tend to believe that our actions do not affect others — that the shirts we wear and the words we use to describe ourselves and others do not have a larger impact. But we do not live in personal bubbles where our actions do not have consequences. The reality of the situation is that we live in a community with a problem, and we all need to be held accountable for that problem and any way in which the problem can be worsened.
By phasing out the use of the word “Ramaho,” we can begin to create a campus culture that values women and the choices they make. When we recognize women as more than sexual objects, we can view the issue of violence against women in a new light.