For anyone familiar enough with the University of Ottawa – “Canada’s University” – you may know that the school’s official recruitment tagline is “It Starts Here / Ça part d’ici.” Meant to inspire the next generation it is an unfortunate tagline that, this week, lends itself all-too-well to a recent epidemic of incidents that illustrate an underlying rape culture across Canadian campuses.
Just over a month ago, Elle Beaver’s own Shelagh wrote about this startling reality following the disturbing revelation of the McMaster University Engineering Faculty’s Redsuits songbook. The contents of the book were appalling, but sadly this was just one more in a string of incidents that have seen many Canadian universities calling out their student bodies’ for making light of violent attitudes toward sexual assault, rape, and the degradation of women.
This culture, Shelagh argues, starts on campuses and very little is being done to combat this.
So it was rather more enraging than shocking (sadly) to learn over the weekend that Anne-Marie Roy, a female student and head of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), was the target of an extremely graphic and sexually violent Facebook conversation between a group of her male colleagues. A private Facebook message, the conversation was sent to Anne-Marie Roy via anonymous email close to a month ago and it was Roy that made it public. Last Friday, the blog, The Belle Jar, leaked a screenshot-by-screenshot translation of the conversation, which included such lowlights as (Warning: graphic and violent language):
“Bart Tremblay: Let me tell you something right now: the “tri-fluvienne” [nickname for someone from Trois-Rivières, Québec] president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat [Marquis]‘s desk”
“Alex Larochelle: Someone punish her with their shaft
Alexandre Giroux: Well Christ, if you fuck Anne Marie I will definitely buy you a beer”
“Michel Fournier-Simard: Dude she has chlamydia. And she told francophone students that she was from Trois-Rivières but she moved to Southern Ontario when she was five years old. It’s a super political strategy.
Alex Larochelle: Hahaha I heard she has syphilis
Alexandre Giroux: Well look hahhahahah”
By Monday, four of the men involved in the conversation – who held student office – had resigned from their positions and University of Ottawa President, Allan Rock had gone on the record to say, “The comments demonstrate attitudes about women and sexual aggression that have no place on campus, or anywhere else in Canadian society.” Then, only hours later, it was confirmed that the Ottawa U men’s hockey team had been suspended after “allegations of serious misconduct” surfaced concerning multiple players because of an alleged “gang sexual assault” on a single female victim during a recent tournament in Thunder Bay. While both the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police refuse to release any details around the alleged assault, they have made it public that a third-party reported the assault, weeks after it happened.
If these incidents illustrate anything, it is that now more than ever we need to recognize that violence and sexist language (and behaviour) on campuses cannot be considered as isolated incidents.
From publicly shouted frosh week chants (which, btw, at Ottawa U are led by the VP Socials in that conversation), to privately kept songbooks and conversations, to serial attackers and rapists on Canada’s campuses – we need a paradigm shift.
To the boys in the conversation (because we too can infantilize you), it is less a matter of whether or not your conversation happened in private and more a matter that it happened AT ALL. When you call someone a ‘bitch’ or an ‘asshole’ in a private conversation because you disagree with that individual’s character then that message goes public, you recoil and apologize. When you graphically describe acts of sexual assault and violence towards a woman in a conversation – public or private – you are a deeply fucked up human being. Nay; perhaps more simply you are just another product of a society where rape culture, sexism, and misogyny are normalized. A society where images of rape fantasies are conjured simply as a means of punishment for being a woman and where the term itself is synonymous with everyday benign tasks like taking tests and making awkward faces in photos. Remember “rape face” everyone? OMG, HI-larious, right? As a dear friend told me, whether it’s an ‘inside joke,’ ‘locker room talk’ or ‘boys being boys’ (and sometimes ‘girls being girls’, too), people are loath to call it what it really is: verbal/written gender violence by another name.
As Anne-Marie Roy so bravely put it in her official response, we deserve better. “It is not enough to simply not engage in within this type of behaviour, we all have a role in actively challenging sexism and misogyny whenever possible.” As women, we deserve better from our peers, our friends, our brothers, our fathers.
It ends here.
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