A few days away from International Women's Day, two events were rattling the University of Ottawa community. On one hand, the President of the Student Federation was targeted with sexually degrading remarks in a social media conversation among five representatives of the student body: Bart Tremblay, Patrick Marquis, Alexandre Giroux, Alex Larochelle, and Michel Fournier-Simard.
On the other hand, the University suspended its men's hockey program due to a possible sexual assault committed against a young woman by several players on the team.
Certain people advised us to choose our words wisely, while others asked us to keep quiet, as what we have to say might defame certain individuals. Nonetheless, we decided to make ourselves heard about these events, which are absolutely unacceptable and deserve to be addressed. Fear is a tactic repeatedly used to stop the denunciation of violence against women and to keep women oppressed. This fear forced on women by the patriarchal social order encourages women to remain silent and allows society to mask men's violence.
Far From Isolated Incidents
Viewed individually, these incidents may appear to be the doing of a few men, but, actually, they are endemic, considering that one in three women is targeted by sexual violence in her lifetime. Even though this violence may seem to be isolated, it lies within a continuum of men's violence experienced by women on a daily basis. This violence allows men to maintain their superiority in keeping women in fear and silence. It so happens that, when we put them all together, the number of aggressors ends up being quite high.
Moreover, we are outraged by the way in which the aggressors place themselves as victims in these situations. The threats of pressing charges against the President of the Student Federation and the hockey players' feeling of injustice with regard to the University's decision demonstrate how violence against women continues to be trivialized in society. As an example, the participants in the Student Federation initially refused to take responsibility for their degrading and humiliating remarks.
In addition, the media response to these situations did not at all address these men's role of domination in relation to women. It so happens that certain sources demonstrated a lack of understanding of the nature of the men's behaviour, invoking their privileged social position. The fact that it involves men who are young, white, university students seems to influences the perception of members of society, who describe them as victims rather than aggressors. Due to the privileged social position that these men enjoy, many choose not to see them as aggressors to avoid fundamentally questioning men's domination in Western society.
We ask ourselves, however, whether the media's words would have been the same if these men had come from another culture. Instead of questioning the workings of our patriarchal society, as well as its granting of privileges in favour of men, it seems easier to point the finger at the violence against women committed in other cultures. In this way, raising the fact that these young men come from "good families" is an example among many of the denial of their actions by the media and by society.
A Collective Reflection among Men
Firstly, it is fundamental that these men accept responsibility for and the consequences of their actions and their words. Even speech that men consider harmless and which they express in a humoristic context perpetuate sexist attitudes and maintain women in a situation of constant oppression. We put forth, as well, that those having kept quiet about these situations contribute nonetheless to the victimization of women.
Far from being isolated, these incidents are a reflection of the sexist attitudes still present in society, forming the basis of patriarchy. Considering that it is men that commit and trivialize violence against women, they must take concrete actions to eradicate it. Beyond discussions of oppressions in university classrooms, men must actively join women's efforts to break the cycle of inferiorization by recognizing their collective responsibility for men's violence. Denouncing and intervening in any situation where a man or a group of men assault or suggest assaulting a woman would constitute a step towards equality in fact.
Individually and collectively, we ask men to reflect on the ways in which they can question the exercising dynamics of power against women and contribute to the denunciation of men's superiority and domination. Forming part of a privileged class that dominates and exploits women, men must take part in the deconstruction of degrading and condescending attitudes against them. To do this, men must first agree give up certain powers and privileges. If the price to pay seems high to them, that which women pay on a daily basis is much more so.
Isabelle Côté, Social Work Student, University of Montreal
Eren Buyukbicer, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Aude Martel, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
John Flynn, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Karina Quesnel, Sociology Student, University of Ottawa
Myriam Bélanger, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
David-Israel Falardeau, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Brigitte Floyd, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Elyse Gagnon, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Émilie Jolin, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Jessica Kozlowski, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Josée Lambert, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Mélanie Parent, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Alexandra Pontbriand, Criminology Student, University of Ottawa
Véronique Savard, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
Stacey Wharton, Social Work Student, University of Ottawa
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