By Emily Senger
What was intended as a joke about feminism in the University of Western Ontario students’ newspaper has outraged students who said they are left feeling violated by an article that supports a rapist culture.
The contentious article was a part of the Gazette’s annual spoof issue published for April Fool’s Day. The story describes an out-of-control “Take Back the Nightie” march, in which one of the protesters–a member of the UWO feminist group–is violated by London police chief Murray Failkner’s lubed-up nightstick, to which she replies “I love it when a man in uniform takes control.”
Gazette editor-in-chief Ian Van Der Hurk admitted that the nightstick recipient, dubbed “Jennifer Ostrich” in the story, was intended to satirize UWO Women’s Issues Network member Jenna Owsiank, who has written letters to the Gazette criticizing their sexist content and has also criticized the Gazette in the Grapevine, a monthly UWO student-run magazine.
“I support freedom of speech and I even support their right to publish the majority of these articles, but I don’t support an individual [being] violently raped in order to silence her,” said UWO fourth-year literary and cultural theory student Laurel Mitchell, who has organized a campaign calling for the immediate resignation of the Gazette editor-in-chief.
The protest group is urging anyone offended by the article, entitled “LABIA MAJORA CARNAGE,” to write letters to the UWO Students’ Council president, the university president, the UWO equality services, the Gazette, the London police chief and local media.
Despite the demands, Van Der Hurk said he plans to retain his post until his term is up at the end of May.
“I’m not going to [resign],” said Van Der Hurk. “We can admit that we were wrong and that this isn’t how it was supposed to be interpreted and we’re sorry for that.”
According to Van Der Hurk, the article does not condone rape or sexual abuse and was meant to satirize both feminists and the false idea that “women want it anyways.”
Since the spoof printed, the Gazette published two editorials in response. The first, published Tues., Apr. 4, told students who were offended to: “Get over yourself” since the spoof was meant as satire and not truth. The more recent editorial, published Tues., Apr. 10, stood by its original editorial, but also apologized to people who took the spoof article other than the way it was intended.
Van Den Hurk added that the spoof was not put online because the Gazette did not want specific articles taken out of context.
The UWO Students’ Council (USC), which funds the Gazette and acts as publisher, holds the power to fire Van Der Hurk, but USC president Fab Dolan said they likely won’t use it. Since the article was satire, there was nothing legally wrong with what the Gazette printed.
“[Firing Van Der Hurk] would be me acting on moral grounds and it wouldn’t be professional,” said Dolan, noting that though the USC is publisher, they have never censored anything in the Gazette and do not see the paper before it goes to print.
“If I were ever in a position to be a censor it would bring into question the checks and balances on the things that I do,” said Dolan.
Dolan said the USC plans to work with Gazette staff and students-at-large to study ways to make it a better and more accountable paper, including a possible revamp of the editor removal process.
The matter was discussed at the USC’s council meeting the evening of Wed., Apr. 11, but results of that meeting were not available before press time.
The editorial apology isn’t good enough for WIN members, including third-year women’s studies major Kathryn Mitrow, who feels she also appeared in the article as “Katie Conservative.”
“The WIN is constantly complaining when they publish things like this,” said Mitrow. “This is probably the worst in my three years at Western. The Gazette [often] has jokes abut feminists, homosexuals and violence against women.”
Mitrow said if she had her way, the Gazette would be suspended for a year.
“I want these individuals to know we don’t live in a consequence-free society,” she said.