I was warned before I even picked up the article entitled “The Matriarchy”, that I would not be impressed by its content. As a fairly vocal feminist, my friends know that my blood can be easily boiled (so to speak) by anything with remotely sexist undertones. I attend a single sex school, one that boasts the slogan: “girls can do anything”. I am lucky to be the daughter of an independent and strong woman, and have two dynamic younger sisters. Unsurprisingly, “girl power” is in my nature.
Given my background, the reality that the rest of the world does not share my vehement passion for gender equality and equal opportunities for all can come as a shock. Despite the best efforts of many, present day developed society is not one of complete gender parity. Sexism can still be seen in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives, and glass ceilings remain unbroken in many areas of Canadian life, including federal politics. With that in mind, to read an article in the student paper of a Toronto all boys’ school that appeared to be diametrically opposed to my core feminist principles was, to say the least, disheartening.
For this post, I’ve been asked to write about what makes my blood boil: what angers me, what motivates me, what gets me “fired up and ready to blog”. In doing so, I’m going to concentrate on an issue that I believe is relevant to all Canadians, regardless of party affiliation or political beliefs. My blog today will examine how the normalization of sexual assault as well as increasing complacency with the cultural status quo is harming women.
The article I read began with a warning that it is meant to be satirical. As someone who generally appreciates satire, I kept an open mind. Opening with clever points, dripping with delicious irony — points that could be interpreted as supporting aspects of feminism (equal emotional expression for men and women, equality in the military), this student paper article seems more clever than offensive. But, then, the subject matter takes a turn and I find myself re-reading this particular section over and over again: “In the 21st century, presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to a man if a woman calls him a rapist: you’re a rapist unless proven otherwise… and apparently, women can do everything men can do, except rape”. The premise of this comment was that this is another way in which men are disadvantaged.
While it is important to note that sexual assault is a crime that affects men too, I think we need to take a step back and look at the facts. In Canada, according to the Justice Institute of British Columbia, one of every 17 Canadian women is raped. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), in the United States, 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. At this point, I’m angry. It’s not that I can’t take a joke; it’s rather that I know when things have gone too far, when the line has been crossed. If we are so complacent in our society about making jokes regarding something as serious and emotionally destructive as rape, perhaps the most harrowing violation that can befall a person, is it really any surprise that cases like Lizzy Seeberg are the norm and not the exception? While Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend hoax” has been largely covered by the media with an outpouring of sympathy from the school, Ms. Seeberg’s alleged rape by a member of the Notre Dame football team, and subsequent suicide, have seen little media attention or police investigation.
Every day, young women are instructed by a largely male-controlled society about how to act and to dress. “Slut-shaming”, or making someone feel inferior for their sexual behavior, is a common part of our culture. Reported comments by Toronto Police officer Constable Michael Sanguinetti (“women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid sexual assault) are just a classic example of how women are often made to feel like the culprit and not the victim (completely contrary to what this student article suggests).
It is perceptions of women like this that leave their mark on culture, and find their way into the workplace. One is left to ask why Hillary Clinton, one of the most powerful women in the world, is criticized in the media not for her policy but for her lack of makeup or her hairstyles, and why debate regarding her attractiveness often supersedes discussion of her work. Our government tells women they can do anything; it is only when subjects raised in this article (such as rape, abortion, contraception) come into play socially that women realize it isn’t so easy.
While provincial leadership in Canada may not show a gender imbalance in politics at the moment, we must only look to the House of Commons and see that a mere 25% of MPs are women.
I don’t mind being asked to think differently, to be challenged with wit and satire, but at a certain point enough is enough. I see it as an affront to the 1 in 4 North American women that will be raped in their lifetime, their families, and our justice system, that this subject can be so freely joked about.
I’m proud to be a member of a party that supports gender equality, at home and abroad. I’m proud that my party has had the highest number of women in the Senate and the House of Commons throughout Parliamentary history. I am proud to live in Canada, a nation that for the most part is equal. That being said, it’s going to have to be a lot more than just the law that changes in order to ensure that women enter public life without feeling like they are compromised. It’s going to take all of us showing some conviction and respect.