International Women’s Day. #PressforProgress. #MeToo. Do these terms ring a bell? On Tuesday March 13th, in JAC’s Agora, people were preparing to shed their hearts’ contents out and open up a conversation, but a conversation about what exactly?
As I entered the Agora and saw eight chairs in a semi-circle, I remembered what my humanities class once taught me: the power of sitting in a circle to converse. This made me think that it was definitely going to be a conversation, not a presentation. An organic discussion about a heavy subject.
It reminded me why I got out of my comfort zone: the Bandersnatch’s man cave. As a woman, I should probably not use this word. Especially if I am attending a conversation to speak up about male dominancy.
Anyways, excuse my ambiguity and let me bring you back to the subject at hand. On March 13th, the Women’s Studies & Gender Relations (WSGR) Certificate Community hosted a celebration for International Women’s Day. Eight panelists, who were mostly students or members of JAC’s faculty, including Eileen Kerwin-Jones, the WSGR coordinator, sat on the chairs I mentioned earlier. Also, acknowledgment was given to the land on which JAC resides, which is traditional Alongonquin-Mowhawk territory.
Two professional theatre students, Laurianne Flynn and Theodore Vlachos hit the stage soon after a brief introduction. The performers were dressed in black and danced along to an emotionally charged piano instrumental. They drank during their dance, and Vlachos seemed to only oblige Flynn to excessively drink. At the end, Vlachos stripped off Flynn’s top, she turned around, half-naked with the words “ME TOO” painted on her belly. Rape culture is omnipresent, where the female victim is held responsible and the male perpetrator is merely excused, and often celebrated and glorified.
Each panelist then introduced themselves. The JAC faculty members were John Halpin, director general at JAC, Anne Smith, a health educator and nurse, and Julie Chevalier, a phycologist and chair of sexual assault resource team. The students were Noam Zackon from Queer Hub, an ALC student, as well as Nosisa Gildea, a liberal arts student, Jeremy Lewis, a theatre student, and Erika Smeets, a science student, all from JACtivists. When they explained the reason of their presence at such an event, answers obviously varied. Some witnessed first hand sexual assault and sexism while others were committed to making a difference within the community and inspiring others to speak up.
The student panelists then took the lead as they defined some key terms such as sexual assault, consent and rape culture. Their action might seem bizarre as these words are part of our common vocabulary, but you will be surprised to discover that many people undermine the meaning behind them. The word that grabbed my attention was consent. As the student defined it, it is not just a “yes” because “if you consent to one thing, it does not mean that everything is consented to”. Some partners in a relationship think that sex is a mandatory act between two people in love, but a partner is always entitled to say “no”.
This led the stage to introduce the normalization of rape culture especially in rap songs such as “Future” by My Collection. In his song, he says: “Girl you are my possession…..Even if I hit you, you are part of my collection,” as he poses surrounded by naked women.
Rape culture is pervasive especially when it is blamed on the female’s outfit and it is excused because the male was “drunk”. It happens in marriage and it is also relevant in adverstising. Marketing techniques use sex to sell, especially in terms of objectifying the female’s body and we can see that in Nike’s runner ads.
The students shared stories from anonymous students at JAC to shed the light on the fact that rape culture is within our community and by making a difference within us, we can move to greater and greater progress.
Some members of the audience were then asked to read quotes and one of them read, “Women who behave rarely make history”, insisting women and also anyone who experienced or witnessed rape to speak up. Student Jeremy Lewis later stood up to perform his slam poem “hungry” that touches upon the fact that when young men get together and joke around. “They sometimes push the line and say something that is a part of rape culture… it becomes almost accepted”, as he explained later on.
#PressforProgress ended with questions directed to the JAC faculty and students on the actions that they can do to shift rape culture into a culture of consent. Answers were diverse. Mr. Halpin highlighted the importance of “having these kinds of conversations” and by promoting “bystander intervention” and taking action. Anne Smith was thankful for this organic conversation and encouraged everyone to seek help and give support to those in need. Julie Chevalier promoted the Harassament and Awareness Committee at JAC and said that she will teach her 7 year old son about sexual harassment, in a manner that respects his age because “it is never too early to start teaching”. Erika Smeets said she would be committed to continue conversations that others may not want to have and Noam Zackon insisted checking up on the people they love and treasure.
International Women’s Day, #PressforProgress. #MeToo. Do these words ring a bell?
Sports & News Editor
Originally published in Bandersnatch Vol. 47 Issue 10 on March 14, 2018