In the last few weeks, three Canadian universities have made headlines within days of one another and not the way that development officers like to see. Students at St. Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, NS chanted a truly unfortunate chant at a university sanctioned event. Students from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business said the same chant during some Frosh activities. Then, the Engineering students at Memorial used an unfortunate term on their mugs for their pub crawl. Student leaders at SMU and UBC have resigned. All three schools have noted that investigations will take place and awareness campaigns or sensitivity training workshops are forthcoming.
As a feminist social scientist I was not surprised that the students felt it was acceptable to engage in the chants. We live in a hypersexualized world where social justice activists, rape crisis workers, and academics working in Women’s Studies or other fields continually explain that rape culture thrives. During the last sixteen years, I have dedicated my career in Political Science and Women’s Studies to teaching courses related to gender and difference in an academic setting. I work with undergraduate students and I see and hear things on campus. While the chants are offensive–these are not isolated events, we need to ask why students feel compelled to participate in the chants. I have seen posters on campuses for different student events, like a sailing club’s pub crawl event called: “outrigger and gold digger” pub crawl. One only has to walk around a university to find some very interesting posters for events usually held off campus.
Thanks to the chants we are talking more about Rape Culture. But, what is Rape Culture? Rape Culture is the end product of the hypersexulization of women and men and excuses harassments, chants, and acts of violence against women and men. Rape culture causes people to think that joking about having non-consensual sex with a minor is not rape–but a light hearted moment. Rape Culture allowed the sexualized violence of Steubenville to take place, where at first the town appeared to defend the young men involved and attacked the victim. And, I argue that this hypersexualized culture makes posting questionable photos on Facebook acceptable, but a photo of a nursing mother objectionable. Rape culture also educates boys and men that girls and women are always sexually available to them. We need to have more conversations about consent and sexualized violence. We also need to discuss what make up the components of healthy sexuality.
What is telling about these episodes is the varied reactions. For instance, the comments online on newspaper sites or other platforms. My students chide me and say, “Don’t look at the comments.” I try to not do so, but then occasionally I wonder what people are saying. The comments are at times instructive and then illuminating about the sheer depth of rape culture. Why do I say this? Well, when people post that they should be able to joke about sexual assault and that it’s just a joke, I take issue with that. There are certain things that we should not joke about and instead understand that violence against women is not a joking matter. I have a great sense of humor, but there are some issues that deserve serious conversations. Let’s continue the learning and the conversation.