“It Happened on My Campus”/”Bitches and Drinks”

Originally posted September 6, 2013 on http://lucialorenzi.wordpress.com/

Just two days ago, I published an article  (which was also republished on Rabble.ca) detailing my concerns about having heard misogynist lyrics being played loudly on campus during frosh week at UBC. The song, which was played at a booth run by an off-campus nightclub, right near the Student Union Building, described—repetitively—being here “for the bitches and the drinks.” I expressed my frustration at having to be exposed to such misogyny in this environment, especially when we know that sexual assaults (especially those facilitated by drugs and alcohol) and sexual harassment run rampant on so many post-secondary campuses.

UBC Campus- not as idyllic as it looks. Image from wikimedia.commons

Shortly after I posted my article on my blog, national news services began sharing coverage of an egregious frosh-week incident at Saint Mary’s University, which involved 80 student orientation volunteers leading a chant that promoted underage sex and rape. Every major newspaper and television station in Canada has carried the story, featuring interviews with SMU students, SMU frosh leaders, the SMU president, women’s centre and sexual assault centre staff, and concerned community members. While there have been a predictable number of individuals who have dismissed the incident as a mere moment of “juvenile ignorance,” or, as former SMU student union president Jared Perry put it, something that just happened “in the heat of the moment,” many have been quick to condemn the behaviour. SMU president Colin Dodds, in an interview with CTV Atlantic, expressed his shock at the situation, even apologizing to the family of Rehtaeh Parsons (the Halifax teenager who took her own life after being sexually assaulted and viciously taunted) for the likely impact it would have on them.

Despite my anger at the situation in Halifax, I also felt somewhat relieved. While my article about hearing misogynist music was referenced in a GlobalBC article about SMU and rape culture on campuses, what happened at SMU wasn’t happening on my campus. I mean, if the worst thing that happened at my campus at frosh week was an off-campus nightclub blasting a song about “bitches and drinks”, rather than student representatives of a university actively cheering about underage sex and sexual assault, then it couldn’t possibly get worse, right? Right?

Wrong.

Late this evening (September 6), my university’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, published an article revealing that the exact same thing had happened during Sauder FROSH, the “long-running three-day orientation organized by the Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS)” (Rosenfeld, Ubyssey). Not only was I appalled to know that the same chant apparently had a long history of being used at frosh events here at UBC, but even more appalled to hear the reactions of the FROSH co-chair and other students. Co-chair Jacqueline Chen reported to The Ubyssey that previous complaints had been articulated about the chant, but that its use during frosh week had not been prohibited. Rather, Chen says, “We let the groups know: if it happens during the group, it has to stay in the group” (Rosenfeld).

Beyond the disgust and shock that I feel towards the fact that this chant is clearly widespread among university campuses (and who knows which other university frosh weeks have also used it), I am quite literally sickened by the attitudes towards this chant. Rather than the seeming-remorse and regret expressed by SMUSA president Jared Perry, UBC students who participated in the chant do not seem particularly concerned with the fact that it was brought to light. Indeed, unlike what we heard at SMU, the UBC students interviewed seem perfectly aware of the troubling and offensive nature of the chant, but opted to keep it under wraps, or argued that it was fine since it was only chanted in less-public areas.

I am going to make it very clear why this is a problem: using secrecy to legitimize violence and sexism is precisely the tactic used by abusers and assailants themselves. Suggesting that things are “okay” so long as they are not brought into the public eye is exactly how domestic abuse continues to be perpetrated and excused. Informing people to “keep a secret” is one of the top tactics used by abusers to silence their victims.

It is reprehensible that the same rhetoric and the same dynamics of power are being used in this context.

It is shocking that at UBC, a place when students will be excused from classes on September 18th to attend events at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—which focus on the legacy of horrific abuses, including the physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools—that callous and casual attitudes towards sexual violence are being openly flouted.

As a survivor of sexual assaults, including one that occurred on the UBC campus, I am tired of this.

As someone whose research focuses exclusively on language and its importance to cultures of sexual violence, I am tired of this.

As someone who wants a safe campus community, for my colleagues, for my mentors and supervisors, and for my own students, I am tired of this.

I am tired of living in a world where even the youth that we expect will be educated leaders of the future are engaging—and actively encouraging others to engage—in the mockery and dismissal of violence.

UBC’s motto is “Tuum Est,” which translates to “it is up to you.”

It is up to the UBC students who participated in this chant, to take true responsibility for their behaviour, and to understand why it is not even remotely something to joke about.

It is up to UBC, as a institution, to draw a line in the sand about what kind of behaviour will and will not be tolerated on campus.

It is up to UBC, as a community, to come together to stand against sexual violence. We must empower our students to call each other out when they hear or observe statements or actions that support or condone violence, so that this chant does not get simply pushed back underground, to be repeated again outside of the watchful eye of the university. We must offer support to those who may have been re-traumatized by this kind of behaviour.

For nearly 4 years, I, like many other students, have proudly called UBC my home. It’s time to make it feel safe again.

 

 

Articles Referenced:

Tucker, Erika. “Difference between SMU and chants of froshes past is these students got caught.” GlobalBC. September 6th, 2013. 

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre – PRESS RELEASE: Frosh Week Chant Validates and Perpetuates Rape Culture 

Willick, Frances.  ”SMU rape chant a mistake ‘heat of the moment’.” The Chronicle Herald. September 5th, 2013. 

“SMU president calls sexual assault chant ‘biggest mistake I’ve made.’” CTV Atlantic. September 5th, 2013. 

Rosenfeld, Arno. “‘N is for no consent!’ Sauder first-years led in offensive chant.” The Ubyssey. September 6th, 2013. 

Other Resources and Articles:

UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre

List of Vancouver Sexual Assault Support Centres/Crisis Lines

Draw The Line Ontario (explore your attitudes/responses to various types of sexual violence)

 

 

 

“Bitches and Drinks”: What I overheard at Frosh Week at UBC

Originally posted September 4, 2013 on http://lucialorenzi.wordpress.com/

Yesterday marked the first day of classes for colleges and universities across Canada, and on my campus, like many others, the spirit of excitement was palpable. In spite of the rain, thousands of University of British Columbia students congregated on campus to celebrate “Imagine Day,” a day when undergraduate classes are suspended so that a variety of festivities and welcome events can be held. There were dozens of campus tours being led by guides in brightly-coloured UBC shirts, a frenzy of students gathering their supplies and course materials at the bookstore, and hundreds of people checking out the many booths that lined the streets near the centre of campus.

These booths offer a wonderful way for students to check out services on campus (especially those provided by the Alma Mater Society), to find a variety of clubs and activities that they may be interested in joining, and to familiarize themselves with some of their departmental student unions. As with many universities’ frosh weeks, a fair number of booths are also sponsored by various off-campus corporations and businesses, ranging from cell phone providers to banks.

However, one booth in particular got my attention, and not because I was intending to seek it out.

When I exited the Student Union Building after having run some errands, I heard extremely loud music. Now, loud music coming from a booth is not a particularly unusual or offensive thing in itself: it’s part of building the atmosphere and maintaining the excitement of campus events. However, when I heard Trey Songz’ lyrics ”I’m only here for the bitches and the drinks, the bitches and the drinks,” I suddenly found that my sense of campus spirit faded away rather quickly. I turned the corner to find the source of the music, and, not much to my surprise, it came from a booth run by an off-campus nightclub, one which is generally frequented by undergraduate students. With that song still blaring, I walked away, troubled, and a bit angry, wondering if any other students had felt the same discomfort as I did.

Now, I’m sure that some of my critics might tell me that I am over-reacting, or that my tendencies towards feminist analyses and my work on sexual violence have simply made me sensitive to anything that might be vaguely construed as misogynist. So, too, it is possible that someone might remind me that free speech is a right, or that this music was played not by a campus group, but, rather, an off-campus company who claims no inherent affiliation with the university.

However, want I want to explore is not “whether or not” this song should have been played. Instead I want to talk about why I find it troubling to have heard it so loudly on campus, especially during frosh week.

For starters, we know that sexual violence, ranging from harassment to rape, is still a big problem on university campuses, both in Canada and in the United States.

–  I know individuals who have been the target of sexual violence on campus: one friend in particular reported being verbally harassed and groped during her first week on campus, an altogether unwelcome and unexpected treatment at what she thought would be a place of higher education, not a place of street harassment.
–  A number of American universities have recently been served with Title IX complaints after numerous allegations and incidents of sexual assault were either dismissed or improperly handled.
–  Even faculty are not immune.  In the U.S., Midwestern PhD candidate and blogger GracieABD has written a two-part series of blog posts about having been sexually harassed by a student.
–  According to statistics cited by the Canadian Federation for Students, 4 out of 5 female undergraduates on Canadian campuses are victims of violence in dating relationships.
–  Moreover, many incidents of violence occur within the first 8 weeks of the new school year (CFS). 
–  Undergraduate students in particular, who comprise the largest population on campus (and who are, indeed, the target of Imagine Day’s events) may have moved away from home for the first time, may be isolated without much support, and may be especially vulnerable to alcohol or drug-facilitated assaults at on- or off-campus establishments. UBC alumna Meghan Gardiner’s one-woman show on this very topic, “Dissolve,” has toured Canada for a decade.

“Bitches” and drinks, indeed.

We also know that sexual harassment and institutional sexism are still insidious in many campus cultures, whether overtly or covertly, whether within undergraduate or graduate populations, or amongst staff and faculty. Universities, including UBC, have policies against discrimination and harassment for a reason: university campuses are supposed to be safe spaces.

Look, I’m not here to rain on someone’s parade, or to act as the campus music-police. I realize that there are much more offensive and contentious things that have been displayed publicly by off-campus groups, and I don’t believe that playlists should be “filtered” by the university before they are used for campus events.  I am not interested in preventing off-campus establishments or companies from advertising themselves, nor am interested in suggesting that on their own time, and in privately-owned spaces that they choose to attend, students can’t listen and dance to whatever music they choose. I’m not trying to hold “UBC” responsible for anything. To be clear, I am also not suggesting that songs about “bitches and drinks” are the CAUSE of rape on college campuses.

That being said, I would like my university (an ostensibly PUBLIC space) to be a space where I feel safe, and where I can walk across campus without being reminded LOUDLY that as a young woman, my value to many people is still just as a “bitch” (or a “ho,” or any of those horribly derogatory terms). I want my university to be, as its slogan proclaims, “a place of mind,” where all community members and, especially, campus guests, are mindful of not perpetuating sexism.  When I heard “bitches and drinks” repeatedly for several minutes—at a location right near the Sexual Assault Centre, the Equity Office, and Counselling Services—I started to feel like I wasn’t really on campus at all.

Play whatever you want in your club: people pay to be there willingly with the knowledge that it is a particular kind of environment. But I attend my public university with the not-so-unreasonable expectation that I won’t have to listen to  misogynist lyrics when I’m just trying to walk across the quad.

 

 

Resources & Information 

Canadian Federation of Students Factsheet on Sexual Violence on Campuses

UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre

List of Local Vancouver Sexual Assault Resource/Crisis Centres

Religion in New Feminist Protest: the Case of Pussy Riot

Virgin Mary, Mother of God become a feminist

Become a feminist, become a feminist

(Punk Prayer, http://rock.rapgenius.com/Pussy-riot-punk-prayer-lyrics )

Pussy RiotReligion is complicated territory for women. Theological beliefs of every kind routinely distinguish them from men, rarely to their emotional, physical, economic, or spiritual advantage. And yet that is never the only story. Humanity’s diverse stories of its relations with the divine sometimes promise consolation, identity, and even power to their devotees. The meaning of religion’s promise for women and girls, whether in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, or Christianity, to name only the more prominent faiths, was much debated by 19th century feminists (see Stanton for example) and controversy continues into the 21st century (see Dayes and Tohidi).

Religion, either as opiate or inspiration, has similarly engaged nationalists of many persuasions. In particular, conservatives everywhere have regularly used religion to shore up male power. That recurring patriarchal constellation has alarmed feminists from the 19th century to the present.

In summer 2011 a group of Russian young women formed the Moscow-based feminist punk rock collective, Pussy Riot.  Its very name (in English) rehabilitated a common demeaning reference to women (much like some American rappers had attempted to reclaim ‘N…’ and some young feminists ‘slut’) and associated it firmly with dissent. In December 2011, they staged a protest in defence of political prisoners in Moscow’s Detention Centre No. 1.  In early 2012, they came to global attention when they performed guerrilla theatre at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The subsequent short video (a strategy they had employed for some time in mobilizing anti-regime protest) centred on the parody, “Punk Prayer”, which appealed to the Virgin Mary to intercede against Russian patriarchy as embodied in Patriarch Kirill II of the Orthodox Church and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  In the context of increasing official crackdown against free speech, their condemnation of church and state was courageous.

Pussy Riot’s daring was all the greater because their cathedral performance invoked memories of a state church earlier siding with a corrupt and brutal Tsarist regime, an alliance toppled during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In fact, since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church with its opposition to birth control and abortion has emerged once again as a partner of reactionary governments threatening “to subordinate women’s citizenship rights to the aims of national state-building” (Marsh 82).

By challenging authority within the confines of Christ the Saviour, Pussy Riot explicitly linked and condemned both religious and political authority.  Not unexpectedly, they were quickly punished. In July 2012, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich went on trial for ‘hooliganism’.  While the term suggested a minor offence, all were condemned to penal colonies. While Samutsevich was later placed on probation, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova remain in prison as of July 2013. Despite brutal treatment, they appear unrepentant.

Popular Russian response to Pussy Riot and the trial shows relatively little sympathy, perhaps hardly surprisingly given official control of the media, the resurgence of religious orthodoxy, and commonplace suspicion of independent women. While Russian feminists have not been entirely silenced, the trial provided an object lesson in the costs of dissent. Internationally, the group has received widespread support from artists (including Madonna, Bjork, Yoko Ono, Peter Gabriel, Courtney Love, and Paul McCartney), politicians (including Barack Obama and members of the German Bundestag and the British Parliament), and human rights organizations (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch).  Significantly within the Christian tradition, Pussy Riot was nominated for (although not awarded) the Martin Luther ‘Fearless Speech’ prize.  In 2013, two members of the punk collective toured outside of Russia to win support for their efforts to free their sisters and condemn totalitarianism. Real fears of retribution meant that their names and ages had to be hidden but both youth and commitment were obvious (Penny).

It is tempting to see Pussy Riot as another expression of a feminist resurgence among young women globally. Its members have proudly embraced women’s rights and acknowledged global influences, including Simone De Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin, Sylvia Pankhurst, Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millett, Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy_Riot).  Very importantly, in the context of Russia’s understandable and longstanding distrust of the west, they have also insisted upon their commitment to their homeland. Conservative Russian nationalists such as Putin are not allowed a monopoly on love of country. Pussy Riot’s efforts to negotiate feminism and nationalism are far from unusual. The tension between devotion to liberatory politics and to individual nations has troubled many progressive champions, from India’s Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to Canada’s E. Pauline Johnson and Patricia Monture-Angus.

Religion has played a starring role in the political positioning of Pussy Riot.  When young women invoked the Virgin Mary, they called, at least symbolically, on ancient sources of power to counter the weight of modern misogyny and patriarchal nationalism.  In Christianity, as in many other religions, traces of ancient goddesses, not to mention feminist reinterpretation of canonical texts, continue to call into question the oppression of women by religious and nationalist authorities. The outcome of that recurring contest will help determine women’s claim to full and equal citizenship.

 

Further Reading

Bayes, Jane, and Nayereh Tohidi, eds. Globalization, Gender, and Religion: The politics of Women’s rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts. Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

“Pussy Riot,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy_Riot

Marsh, Rosalind. “Women in Contemporary Russia and the Former Soviet Union.” In Women, Ethnicity and Nationalism: The Politics of Transformation. Eds. Robert E. Miller and Rick Wilford. London: Routledge. 1998. 75-103.

Penny, Laurie. “Laurie Penny meets the Russian punk-protest group.” http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/pussy-riot-people-fear-us-because-were-feministsPussy Riot: “People fear us because we’re feminists” 22 June 2013.

Pozdorovkin, Maxim and Mike Lerner, directors. “Pussy Riot:  A Punk Prayer” (2013).

“Pussy Riot.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy_Riot.

“Pussy Riot Documentary Directors,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2013/jun/13/pussy-riot-documentary-persecuted-orthodox-video

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady.  The Woman’s Bible (1895) http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/wb/

Singapore Feminism: Fertility and Transnational Immigration

Post-World War II Singapore witnessed crucial nation-building decisions. Women were given the right to vote and right to stand for election on July 18th, 1947, two years after the end of the Japanese occupation. In subsequent decades, public policy targeted fertility and immigration, issues that directly affected women. Although today its international image as an Asian tiger has afforded this tiny island-nation notoriety as one of the richest countries in the world (“The World’s Richest Countries”, 2012), progress remains gendered, raced, and classed. Feminist alliances and protest have started to address resulting inequality.

Photo by Wikipedia user someformofhuman

Photo by Wikipedia user someformofhuman

Singapore’s concern with population growth prompted state policies on family planning. The vast majority targeted women. In the 1970s, in the context of the post-WWII ‘baby boom’, the ‘Stop at Two’ campaign was established with public exhortation and disincentives (Wong and Yeoh, 2003). Soon, however, falling fertility was identified as a national problem. Not all Singapore women were equally targeted for attention. In the 1980s, the highly controversial ‘Graduate Mother’s Scheme’ was implemented to get educated women, particularly those with university degrees, to marry (specifically male graduates) and have babies. Conversely, women under age 30 with low levels of formal education were given sterilization incentives of $10,000 after their first or second child and penalized the same amount plus interest for a third child (Wong and Yeoh, 2003). The distinction (essentially a marker of class) between more or less educated women mirrored the division between the more highly educated majority Chinese and the indigenous Malays and minority Indian populations with fewer formal credentials. The remnants of this policy still privilege heterosexual, upper-class, highly educated Chinese. Such essentially eugenic policies produced a backlash, contributing, though we do not know how much, to a significant protest vote in the 1984 General Election.

Nor did such ‘positive eugenics’ produce the desired result. In 2001, the ‘Baby Bonus’ scheme was introduced to encourage all female citizens, regardless of education and income, to reproduce. Such monetary incentives proved insufficient (“Key Demographic Indicators”, 2011). Increased promotion of family-friendly workplaces and a ‘Romancing Singapore’ campaign, launched in 2003 offered new strategies to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have babies. Despite such efforts, the birth rate continued to decrease, hitting an all-time low at 1.2 children per woman citizen in 2011 (“Key Annual Indicators”, 2011). Instead of reproducing, women were choosing the possibility of greater independence and autonomy that so often accompanies fewer offspring.

In the same period, immigration emerged as a related public policy concern for feminists. ‘Liberalized’ immigration created a large pool of immigrant domestics (some 30% of unskilled permanent residents and immigrants, most from the Philippines and Indonesia) (Population in Brief”, 2011). Such caregivers subsidize, as in Canada, the care-giving responsibilities of better-off families and encourage greater fertility. In confronting the entry of vulnerable women into the domestic labour market, Singapore’s feminists faced a potent issue of equality for feminist organizing.

Only recently have Singapore’s feminists championed domestic workers. Considerable media attention on abusive working conditions has prompted them, as in Canada, to connect racism, disadvantaged international domestic workers, and women’s disproportionate responsibility for caregiving. Protest is led by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) – a nationally recognized women’s organization, which since its formation in 1985 has actively rallied for gender equality in education, marriage, employment and reproductive rights. AWARE aligns itself closely with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-governmental organization campaigning for the ‘Day Off campaign’ aimed at encouraging employers to voluntarily give domestic workers a day off a week (“Day Off”, 2011). TWC2 has also joined with the National Committee of UNIFEM Singapore and the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economic (HUMO) to demand government remedy. Their demands have brought occasional redress. On March 6th, 2012, a new law required all employers to give their foreign domestic workers a day off per week starting January 1, 2013 (Tan 2012). Feminists will need to monitor its impact.

Fertility and immigration in Singapore as elsewhere have always been connected to nation-building. They simultaneously raise questions about women’s rights and the relations among different groups of women. Today the feminist movement in this island-nation has begun to address such concerns and join similar protests across the region and the world.

Resources and Further Reading

About the campaign. (n.d.). DAY.OFF Campaign . Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.dayoff.sg

Greenfield, B. (2012, February 22). The World’s Richest Countries – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethgreenfield/2012/02/22/the-worlds-richest-countries/

Lyons, L. (2010). Examining Migrant Worker Organizing in Singapore. Solidarities Beyond Borders (pp. 89 -107). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Population in Brief. (2011, September 28). Population (Themes). Retrieved April 15, 2012, from www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people

Statistics Singapore – Key Annual Indicators. (2012, March 16). Welcome to Statistics Singapore. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/keyind.html

Statistics Singapore – Key Demographic Indicators 1970 -2011. (2012, March 16). Welcome to Statistics Singapore. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people/popnindicators.pdf

Statistics Singapore – Population in Brief. (2012, March 16). Welcome to Statistics Singapore. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people/popinbrief2011.pdf

Tan, Amanda – Weekly day off for maids a must from next year. (2012, March 6). The Straits Times. Retrieved April 18, 2012 from http://www.straitstimes.com/Parliament/Story/STIStory_774234.html

Wong, T., & Yeoh, B. S. (2003). Fertility and the Family: An Overview of Pro-natalist Population Policies in Singapore. Asia MetaCentre Research Paper Series, Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.populationasia.org/Publications/ResearchPaper/AMCRP12.pdf

Women’s Rights – AWARE Singapore. (n.d.). Women’s Rights – AWARE Singapore. Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.aware.org.sg

DAY.OFF Campaign (n.d.). DAY.OFF Campaign . Retrieved April 15, 2012, from http://www.dayoff.sg