With recent headlines such as the Brock Turner trial and the insensitive comments of Canadian Judge Robin Camp during a rape case making the news, the rape culture teach-a-thon came at an appropriate time for the UW community.
“One of the things that struck me when I was getting ready for my contribution to this event was that sexual violence and rape culture is so ordinary. Even now,” said Kathy Acheson, associate dean of arts and co-organizer of the event.
The rape culture teach-a-thon, which took place Sept. 16 at the newly built Hagey Hub, was organized and conducted by the Faculty of Arts. The purpose of the event was to teach the UW community about how sexual violence is normalized in everyday society.
The event consisted of arts professors sharing their knowledge of rape culture within their experience of teaching and researching. Along with discussing rape culture in terms of the law, war, and racism, the talks also varied in unconventional areas, such as rape culture in vampire fiction, tragic humour, and Twitter.
“Telling the truth about rape means we have to tell the truth about rape culture as well,” said philosophy professor Katy Fulfer when challenging rape culture in TV show Game of Thrones. “As a fan, my main complaint about Game of Thrones is it doesn’t ask us to problematize rape or rape culture. Rape fades into the background. It’s not brought forward consciously or deliberately as something that ought to be critiqued.”
English professor Jay Dolmage also spoke about rape culture and popular films about university life by bringing up movie examples like The House Bunny, Spring Breakers, and Monster’s University. Dolmage emphasized that such films reflect the public belief that rape culture is present in university institutions.
“While rape culture is downplayed, actively ignored, disavowed, and suppressed on university campuses, it is overdetermined in film. All Hollywood films about college life are machines of rape culture.”
Aside from how normalized rape culture really is, another standpoint that was emphasized throughout the talks was the fact that rape itself is not primarily about sex.
“It’s an assertion of power, punishment, and entitlement,” said English professor Heather Smyth when discussing rape culture and racism. “Its purpose can be seen in its results. The enforcement of discipline … self-policing with clothing, behaviour … the silencing of dissent, and the shrinking of spaces in which those targeted by rape culture can move.”
English professor Aimee Morrison echoed the same sentiments when discussing rape culture and Twitter. Morrison also provided examples of where rape culture thrives on Twitter, such as #GamerGate, and the online abuse of actress Leslie Jones received for playing a role in the rebooted Ghostbusters film.
“Seemingly out of nowhere, her [Twitter] mentions became nothing but deeply offensive racist image macros, crude personal insults, threats of violence, heaps and heaps and heaps of sexist and rapey invective,” said Morisson.
The talks also emphasized how intersectional rape culture can be for minority women, such as women of colour, and women of the LGBTQ* community.
“According to an Amnesty International report, one in three Aboriginal women are raped in their lifetime, 70 per cent of sexual assault against them is committed by non-natives, and indigenous women are more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than non-indigenous women,” said history professor Susan Roy when discussing rape culture and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Roy also mentioned Canadian statistics that identified cases of 164 missing women and more than 1,000 homicide victims in the Indigenous community from 1980-2012.
Along with educating about the topic, professors also mentioned ways the UW community can take a stance to combat the normalcy of rape culture, such as supporting Bill C-16 to protect transgender people, who are victims of one of the highest rates of sexual violence, or by simply addressing the issue in our everyday conversations.
“If you believe that all persons have value, all people should be able to live their lives free of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, how does your language, the humour you perpetuate or condone … reflect and communicate those values to others?” asked sexuality, marriage, and the family professor Toni Serafini when discussing rape culture and humour. “Free will, we all got it. Who do you want to be? The choice is yours, and the struggle is real.”