Understanding ‘The Panty Shanty’: Off-Campus House Signs as Cultural Texts on Gender and Sexuality

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Students at a large, prestigious, public university in the Midwestern region of the USA have a long-standing tradition of naming their rented houses off campus and communicating those names to the student body through displaying prominent and eye-catching house signs. Examples of signs names and visual characteristics are: ‘Betty Ford Clinic’ (featuring an image of a martini glass); ‘Morning Wood’ (referencing male sexual arousal and depicting a tent with a man's legs sticking out); ‘Time Well Wasted’ (written in pink over a beach scene and a martini glass); ‘Fox Den’ (images of a fox tail and a well-known sorority symbol); ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ (a play on words); and ‘Down on U’ (the sign references a sexual act for a house located on University Avenue). Through a socio-feminist and social constructionist perspective, the researchers use content analysis to explore how these house signs serve as cultural texts on gender and sexuality norms in the American undergraduate college setting. Based on our data, house signs reinforce dominant forms of gender ideologies, including hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity, both of which are associated with upholding and promoting institutionalized patriarchy (Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept.Gender & Society, 19, 829–859). These house signs are also shown through the data to promote a campus culture of heteronormativity where partying, drinking, and casual sex are standards for social belonging, and where high rates of sexual assault persist. As opposed to viewing house signs as simply manifestations of student wit and harmless humor, the researchers critically evaluate if and how these visual displays serve as a mechanism through which gender and sexuality-related inequalities are perpetuated within a higher education institutional setting. Implications for students and their college campuses are discussed. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]



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