The chant that gained infamy at Saint Mary’s University has made major headlines, and while this has drawn attention to the essential issue of sexual assault on campus, we need to recognize that this “rape culture” we’re hearing about is nothing new.
Splashy headlines about rape draw major webpage traffic, so the media cashes in whenever a scandalous issue involving sexual assault comes to light. I am disappointed in our culture’s attitude towards sex when we need to hear orientation leaders for first-year students literally shouting “no consent” for us to focus on the issue. It shows we must be deaf to an insidious problem when we need something this shocking to wake us up.
As a co-founder of the Consent Awareness & Sexual Education Club on campus, I was interviewed by a reporter from a major media outlet who wanted to know about rape culture at the University of Calgary. He said he knew about our club for quite some time, but wanted to wait for the “right time” to do a story about us. That is, he wanted to wait until something scandalous like the Saint Mary’s University chants happened before our message was relevant. Were there any chants here? Did we start our club as a reaction to a controversial campaign slogan? Had any of us been sexually assaulted? He didn’t seem to realize that many men and women got involved in this club because it was simply a good idea.
According to a Statistics Canada report of Sexual Assault in Canada from 2004–2007, students experience a higher rate of sexual assault due to their wide range of social activities and interactions with large numbers of individuals on a regular basis. Instead of our underlying concerns, this reporter wanted to focus on the sensationalized drama of victimized students, threatened, angry and terrified.
To be sure, we should be angry, and the Saint Mary’s University chant is frightening. But rape culture isn’t always flashy and attention-grabbing, just like rape itself is often not the stereotypical scenario of a man jumping out of the bushes and attacking a woman.
In the majority of sexual assault cases, the perpetrator is not a stranger, but known to the victim. This is called acquaintance sexual assault and it makes reporting the crime even more intimidating when the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s family or peer group.
Rape culture is not loud and in your face, but subtle and close to home, normalized and internalized by both men and women. It is when your mother sits you down when you are a young girl and tells you what to do if a man ever attacks you. Rape culture is your step-dad buying you an electronic rape whistle before you even hit puberty. Rape culture is getting catcalls once you get there. Rape culture is always watching the bartender mix your drink. Rape culture is so ingrained in our society that, when the latest scandal dies down, pinpointing and describing these everyday experiences is difficult without being dismissed as too uptight or perhaps a “feminazi” — by both men and women alike. In fact, according to the Statistics Canada report cited earlier, 58 per cent of sexual assault victims did not report their experience to the police because they did not feel it was important enough. What we really need to end is not simply rape chants, but trivialization of women’s everyday experiences: the microaggressions, the jokes, the calls for women to calm down and not take things so seriously.
Eradicating rape culture requires an overhaul of our values and a willingness to explore problematic aspects of mainstream gender constructs. Masculinity means many things to many people. Is it an entitled “G — Grab that ass?” or “She’s asking for it?” or perhaps a dismissive, “Lighten up, it’s just a joke!” Or is it the ability to see and hear experiences that are not your own and try to understand them even when it is difficult? Only through the process of critical reflection can true cultural change occur and mutual respect and consent in our sexual relationships become the norm.