Crisis and Opportunism

crisis opp

via The Georgia StraightAnother thoroughly predictable piece on how society has failed men and why rape culture exists on university campuses.

A “masculinity” researcher has decided that the culture of entitlement and patriarchy that exists at UBC exists because young men do not receive enough guidance from “elders” at this crucial time in their lives.  To give David Hatfield credit, he does briefly make mention of rape culture and calls for sensitivity training (what a terrible platypus of a term. “Sensitivity” indeed. How about some awareness of how structures of power work and what oppression and privilege is and how they are endlessly perpetuated on an elite college campus. )

But he quickly moves on to the notion that the Sauder School of Business should be concerned with eldership:

A beautiful definition I heard for eldership said that an elder is one who treats everyone like their own child or best friend, always acts to find the best possible outcomes for the whole community and acts like they have seen human problems for hundreds of years.  Insufficient eldership in any community is a grave danger.

Hatfield seems to be arguing that the fault for the so-called rapechants lies in young men (he ignores the fact that quite a few women joined merrily in, by all accounts) and specifically, and inadequate supervision during the type of initiations one sees at events like FROSH week. Liminal moments, moments of stepping through a threshold in young people’s lives, like the entrance to university  from high school are the time when young people require the help of elders to achieve the transition to the next stage. All well and good. There’s not much new here.

Then he takes a turn that is not astonishing especially, but woefully ignorant. Check it out:

Formal, grounded, intentional, and community-based rites of passage led by skilled elders and guides are virtually non-existent in Canada at this time.

This is sort of…. what the hell is this? I mean, Jewish people exist, right? First Nations people still practice in Canada? I get that he means “modern western cultures” but…dude. No.


This is highly dangerous, something our ancestors were all too aware of.  As well known mythologist Michael Meade has famously stated: “If the fires that innately burn inside youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of culture, just to feel the warmth.”

Of particular concern is the potent fiery sexual energy of youth, and in particular of male youth.  In my work as a masculinity educator and rites of passage practitioner I see that fire in boys and young men, and they have taught me so much about how much energy, care and commitment is required to build a safe container for that fire to burn with meaning, insight and growth.

As a “masculinity” educator (I’m sorry, that has to go in quotes, it’s too much) he is drawing a parallel between these events at UBC and “the potent fiery sexual energy of youth”? Is it the chanting? I mean, head to a political rally or any leadership convention – it may be sexual energy, I guess, but it’s not confined to youth and certainly not just male youth. Or boys, as some people refer to them.

And it’s never a good idea to leave the impression you’re a dilettante:

Even a quick glance at anthropological literature about rites of passage for youth in traditional societies quickly underscores the foundational importance traditional societies placed on the development of grounded, motivated, skillful and community minded adults. The severity of the lessons matched the life and death importance to the community of renewing itself by turning self-centered children into community- minded, responsible adults.

What’s left unsaid here, of course, is that we don’t live in a traditional society and that one does not have to learn the lessons of survival or die in an effort to feed yourself. It’s always dangerous to use anthropology to make arguments from nature, which it seems like he is doing. The implicit assumption here is that it is smarter, better for everyone and perfectly apropos to adopt/adapt the types of rituals and ceremonies in traditional societies to the modern world. Written out like that, it seems ridiculous.

Perhaps I am being thick. But I don’t see any reference to reaching out to young people *before* they need these rites of initiation. By the time a child is 18 – they know the score. They have probably both experienced and perpetrated sexism and if they are women, there is an excellent chance they have been sexually assaulted or raped.

The issue is not, in my opinion, that an “unfortunate” and “unseemly” chant was re-sung for the nth time at an institution dedicated to the elite and the status quo. The issue is that the culture implicitly supports these attitudes throughout the schooling process, at home and in popular culture.

Until these patriarchal attitudes are pulled into the light early on, called out, analyzed, examined and re-examined and children are modeled the kind of behaviour that doesn’t, for example, think chants like these are edgy or suitable for singing but only on buses, where women who are raped are not questioned as to the length of their skirts, where they were walking, if they’d had anything to drink, ad nauseum, eliminating rape chants, though a good idea, is nothing but a pathetic bandaid.

What I want to see is zero tolerance for this on campus, sexual assault taken seriously and education of men and boys around consent culture – yes means yes, not no means no.

What I most want to see is elementary and secondary education becoming so effective that the children lead their elders in detoxifying this culture. Most adults have no clue beyond a few basic ideas and under stress revert to victim blaming and shaming and worrying about ruined employment opportunities for those perpetrating gang rapes, for example.

It’s shameful and it needs to stop. UBC is only a symptom.

(Also, dingbat, that the Chinese symbol for crisis and opportunity exists is SUCH a cliche and it’s not even correct.)


One thought on “Crisis and Opportunism

  1. I’ve always thought “Sensitivity Training” was very well named – it is about avoiding some behaviour named “insensitive”. The use of the word sensitive indicates that it is the injured party who is the source of the problem. To be sensitive is to feel. When women, people of colour, queers, others who experience systemic oppression are told not to “be offended” or “be too sensitive” we are told that we are creating problems by being permeated by the violence waged against us. The idea behind this training is that certain opinions and behaviours belong in “private” spaces, and should not be expressed in diverse company. This dynamic is what led me to find the Sauder School rape chant and its circumstances even more troubling than the SMU circumstances. The organizers of the frosh activities at UBC explicitly acknowledged that the chants were problematic, and may cause “offence” to “outsiders”. When these “student leaders” inculcated new students into the program with this chant they were explicitly drawing a line between the insiders – this group of connections and friends in this elite business program, where you’re being welcomed into the fold – and the outsiders – the people who don’t get the joke, who are troubled by the idea of rape or sex with underage girls. The kind of instruction the UBC frosh leaders issued simply makes clear to young women (and men) who enter this program that they need to be cool about claims of rape, or even the idea that “non-consensual sex” is really a big deal.

    The author’s focus on the young men who erred, and their emotional health, and the health of their futures demonstrates a familiar dynamic that unfolds in cases like this. While they often bring attention to feminist issues of violence against women, and the denigration of women’s autonomy, they often settle on narratives about rehabilitation, and the need to save young men from the contemporary crisis in masculinity that leads them to such behaviour. In all cases I’ve seen this kind of male saviour project overtakes interest in dealing with the impact of this violent behaviour on women and other vulnerable people involved – Hatfield’s article is a badly executed example of this.

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