Warning: this article contains graphic language
“Is your remarkably sexist drivel intentional, or just some horrible mistake?”
— Yeardley Smith, actress
One of the big news stories of the week was the murder convictions of four men in New Delhi for the torture, gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in December 2012.
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Her death was brutal: in addition to being raped by multiple men, she was penetrated with an iron rod and parts of her body pulled out through the wound.
Commenting on the crime and verdict on “As it Happens” Tuesday night, an Indian lawyer was quick to point out that India is far from the only place in the world where violence against women is rampant and often goes unreported and unpunished.
And that’s a good point. Rape and other forms of sexual violence — against men, women and children — are not an Indian problem, they’re a global problem.
Such crimes are committed by those who wish to exert physical and sexual control over other people — they are not necessarily rooted in sexual compulsion or a desire for sexual satisfaction (hence the use of an iron rod), but in a desire to see others suffer, to feel a sense of power, to vent rage.
Rapists treat their victims as objects, or at least as mere warm bodies to use, abuse and then discard.
Sexism also objectifies its targets, by reducing the worth of a person to a shallow assessment of physical attributes and behavioural stereotypes. Men and women can be targets, but in our society the more harmful expressions of sexism still target women.
What do you think is a more dangerous stereotype? The notion that a woman is nothing more than housing for breasts and genitals and that they can be used for sex at any time, whether they consent or not; or that every man loves beer, excels at flatulence and is obsessed with golf/hockey/pick your sport?
Neither depiction is fair or deserved.
Which brings us to a trio of displays of blatant sexism at three Canadian universities as students filed back to campus this month. At Saint Mary’s in Nova Scotia and at the University of British Columbia, frosh-week chants condoned the rape of underage girls.
Here at home, a commemorative beer mug distributed at a gathering of engineering students — unbeknownst to Memorial University administration — featured a caricatured pinup girl in a skimpy bathing suit and advised “if she’s thirsty, give her the D.”
The D stands for dick. Let’s not mince words.
The phrase is an Internet meme, thought to have been first used in a 1993 standup comedy routine. I can’t imagine what relevance it has to the study of engineering, other than the fact that there’s a “D” in D-Day, the name of the off-campus party.
But it’s not getting laughs from everybody.
Because, once again, the phrase and the accompanying image reduce women to tits and ass and orifices, nothing more. Intelligence? Who cares? Sense of humour? Not necessary. A generous heart and a creative spirit? Not relevant. Is she breathing? Good enough.
As a woman, I’m as sick of this as I would be if the beer mug had portrayed a man in a similar light.
The other thing I’m sick of? Having this kind of message brushed off as “a bit of fun,” “raunchy humour” or “easy fodder for the political correctness police.”
This is not about being politically correct or not having a sense of humour, so I resent it when that’s used to dismiss an offended reaction.
This is about respect.
Anyone out there want their daughter seen as nothing more than a blow-up doll with a beating heart?
Want your son dismissed as a well-toned airhead with nothing to contribute to society beyond a six-pack and a penis?
It’s about respect for people — men and women, black, white, straight, gay, transgender.
Now, the students who came up with the mug likely had no idea of the hornet’s nest it would stir, or that it would be discussed in the news, and perhaps there was no ill intent.
But surely the social media-savvy young men and women of this era knew better than to think it would never see the light of day or that everyone would get the context they think makes it so humorous.
In this day and age of Twitter and Facebook, there’s no such thing anymore as an in-joke, folks. Everything’s out.
The fact that young women were among those approving the mug is disheartening.
Either they were so intimidated by peer pressure that they felt hesitant to speak up, or else they feel it is acceptable to portray women as mere sex objects.
I recently heard someone say his guy friends often talk about heading to George Street to look for “’94s” — that is, girls born in 1994 who are now 19 years old.
What’s the implication? That, as young women barely old enough to drink, it’s cheaper and easier to ply them with alcohol and press them for sex than, say, a 25-year-old?
This kind of thinking, whether about males or females, is disturbing.
As for the beer mug? Well, you’d expect more from some of our brightest students.
But perhaps they can take a lesson from the fallout: universities are supposed to be places where ideas can be floated, discussed and critiqued. There are no sacred cows.
Not even engineering-bash beer mugs are immune.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.