Culture & Entertainment

Rape culture in Canada and why you should care

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Rape culture in Canada and why you should care

By: Jennifer Gruden

This week another university was in the headlines for its students' bad behaviour: The University of Ottawa announced the creation of a Task Force on Respect and Equity after two incidents of alleged sexual misconduct. In one incident a student leader, Anne-Marie Roy, was the subject of an explicit sexual chat. Anne-Marie Roy has come forward to say that a rape culture on campus is a part of the problem. So what does she mean by rape culture? Rape culture as a phrase popped up in the 70s, most obviously as the title of a Cambridge Documentary film exploring a non-profit organization addressing concerns of rape victims. It's evolved into a phrase that describes a culture where sexual violence, particularly against women, is seen as understandable in some circumstances and also somewhat inevitable. Examples of rape culture include the idea that a woman invites rape by the way she dresses, or that it's a woman's job to make sure she doesn't put herself in a position to be raped...essentially that the message of the culture is "behave right or you risk being assaulted." While there's no one understanding of exactly what rape culture is when it comes to more subtle messages like the portrayal of women (and their availability) in video games, jokes or stories, one way I find myself thinking about it is to ask whether rape is taken as seriously as other forms of assault. So if it wouldn't be all right to joke about drugging someone in order to rob them, it's not okay to joke about getting a woman drunk in order to have sex with her. (Here's a piece on why one dad lets his son play Grand Theft Auto 5, despite the sexist elements of the game.) It's not an uncontroversial phrase, obviously. Some people take issue with it on the grounds that it makes all men villains and all women victims, and others think it is overly dramatic. Like some of the other catchphrases that have been used in examining behaviour around sex and consent ("date rape" and "no means no" come to mind for this member of Generation X) I think most people agree on the core idea that people should not walk around in fear of being raped, and that rape is a criminal act. But there is disagreement on where fear comes from, and whether there is a place for it in, say, a dark parking lot at night or a frat-type party. Here's what I think you might want to consider about rape culture in Canada, particularly if you're mentoring or parenting some young adults: 1. We want to balance the message to girls and boys As a mom of boys, the key message I want to get across to them is that they are responsible for their words and actions.  If there's a man drunk at the bar is it okay to take him outside and pretend to be his friend and steal his wallet? No? Then it's not okay to assume that a drunk girl is an invitation to push her sexual boundaries. How does this translate practically? It's pretty simple: Make sure she says yes. Preferably yes, please. 2. The stories we tell and the language we use is meaningful to others I think most of us modify our behaviour to one degree or another so that we don't make other people uncomfortable. That means in polite company we don't put our elbows on the table or stick our feet up on the chair across from us in a work meeting. The same is true of jokes around rape or coercive sex. Even if the person telling the joke knows it's just a joke, it can create a bad atmosphere for others in the room. What's your take on the idea of rape culture?
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Rape culture in Canada and why you should care

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