by Joe Leivdal
I am writing this letter to all the other men at SFU, but especially those who do not understand why the UBC frosh chant was so horrific. I’m writing this letter to all the bros out there.
Bringing up rape culture clearly makes some of us upset. Every time something like the UBC frosh chant occurs there is, for whatever reason, never a shortage of guys like you and I who are ready to spout off their ill-informed opinions. In short, the bro-militia rolls out in defense of rape culture, attacks on women, bigotry, and other atrocities. I don’t just mean those comments which could definitely be called hate speech. I also mean those comments like, “I know rape is bad, but people are making way to big of a deal out of the chant.”
I’m sure you’ve encountered plenty of feminist material (maybe even had a discussion with a real feminist or two!) and I’m doubly sure you have plenty of very well thought out arguments about how people get offended too easily in our hyper-mediated postmodern culture. Or something. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and try a different approach: a good ol’ fashion public shaming.
I used to be a bro too. I used to laugh at rape jokes, I used to sexualize women to their faces, I even once used my voice to say some oppressive things about a women’s group that I felt was threatening my privilege. But now I’m here to tell you to shut up. The frosh chant was a manifestation of rape culture, the frosh chant perpetuates rape. If you joke about rape, or claim that the chant (and related activities) is just good fun, you are perpetuating rape. Period. Rape culture exists, and I’m not really going to explain it to you because there’s already so much information out there about it that you constantly choose to ignore. Even though you constantly demand rational arguments, shutting down emotional responses to your bigotry, you aren’t actually interested in the facts. You choose to deny the evidence that is there in front of you because you don’t want to claim responsibility for yourself. But together, maybe we can turn this into a learning experience.
Did you know that rapists aren’t bogeymen hiding in bushes just waiting for the first person that catches their eye? They’re family members, teachers, friends, and lovers. In short, people who rape are people just like you and I – and if one in three women have experience sexual violence then I guarantee you have shook hands with someone who has coerced, molested, or raped. Maybe you’ve participated in an event like the frosh chant. Maybe you make rape jokes, or use derogatory and sexualizing language to talk about women when you’re with your bros. Maybe you’ve even committed an act of sexual violence. Maybe you don’t even know it. When we participate in activities like the frosh chant – worse, when we then defend them – we contribute to a culture that normalizes rape, trivializes the act, and blames the victim. We contribute to the normalizing of acts that traumatize people for life, and worse. But you haven’t thought of that. You haven’t thought of that because when a woman approaches you on the street, the first thing you think of isn’t her intentions or your safety – as many women do when they are approached by a man. Feeling threatened because of your gender isn’t something you’ve had to worry about. You don’t know how women experience the world, probably because many of them don’t feel comfortable telling you, and you’ve never even thought to ask. That fact is that while you’re using your big words to defend violence you don’t know anything about what it’s like to be half of the population – you only know what it’s like to be a bro.
The fact that you feel so fragile, so uncomfortable with yourself when you are confronted, that you actually need to emotionally defend rape culture really makes me feel sorry for you. It’s truly unfortunate that society puts such unrealistic expectations on masculinity, and teaches us to be violent from an early age. It’s doubly unfortunate that many of us never had a proper male role model in this respect. Men need feminism too – but you probably don’t know what I mean by that. Being a feminist man, doing your responsibility to learn, listen and check yourself, isn’t about winning brownie points. It’s simply about being a decent human being and treating women like decent human beings as well – and I’m telling you to shut up because it’s the decent thing to do.
Regardless, when it really comes down to it, your emotions are yours to deal with. They are your responsibilities. So, the next time you get that squirmy, slimy feeling inside when you find yourself confronted by something like a critique of the UBC frosh chant, do not use your oppressive voice to state your oppressive opinion. All opinions are not made equal, and frankly, yours is not only wrong, it’s offensive, hurtful, and ignorant; you are ignorant. You are not the victim here; you have no right to an audience for your excuses, your trivializing remarks, your statements made in defense, your offensive commentary, your claims of injustice, or your hate speech. Instead of having a temper tantrum, just allow yourself to feel the shame that your feel in that moment of being confronted. Trust me, it’s good for you, you grow from it – and you spare making yourself look like a fool.
Joseph Leivdal is a student of Communication and Humanities at Simon Fraser University. He became concerned with social justice during time spent at Occupy Vancouver, and since has been involved as an organizer in various activist projects in Vancouver. He writes on politics, social movements, and critical theory.