Two Canadian universities have made headlines within days of one another and not the way that development officers like to see. Students at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, N.S. chanted a truly unfortunate chant at a university sanctioned event. Students from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business said the same chant during some Frosh activities. The President of SMU has responded and the two student leaders for the new term activities have resigned. Both schools have noted that investigations will take place and awareness campaigns or sensitivity training workshops are forthcoming.
I am not surprised that the students felt it was acceptable to engage in the chants. We live in a hypersexualized world where social justice activists, rape crisis workers, and academics working in Women’s Studies or other fields continually explain that rape culture thrives. During the last 16 years, I have dedicated my career in Political Science and Women’s Studies to teaching courses related to gender and difference in an academic setting.
I work with undergraduate students and I see and hear things on campus. While the chants are offensive, these are not isolated events. We need to ask why students feel compelled to participate in the chants. I have seen posters on campuses for different student events, like a sailing club’s pub crawl event called: “outrigger and gold digger” pub crawl. One only has to walk around a university to find some very interesting posters for events usually held off campus.
Because of the recent events we are talking more about Rape Culture. But, what is Rape Culture? Rape Culture is the end product of the hypersexulization of women and men and excuses harassments, chants, and acts of violence against women and men. Rape Culture causes people to think that joking about having non-consensual sex with a minor is not rape – but a light-hearted moment. Rape Culture allowed Steubenville to take place. And, I argue that this hypersexualized culture makes posting questionable photos on Facebook acceptable, but a photo of a nursing mother objectionable.
Rape Culture also educates boys and men that girls and women are always sexually available to them. We need to have more conversations about consent and other components of healthy sexuality.
People have acted surprised that these chants took place in Canada. I am not. We expect that Canadians are more progressive than Americans and perhaps that is the case with certain ideas or topics; however, with the normalization of Rape Culture we see that Canadian co-eds are not immune. The hypersexualization of girls, boys, women, and men permeates Western culture and the messages are loud and strong.
One only needs to leaf through a mainstream magazine to see the ways in which bodies are depicted. One only needs to watch the so-called summer hit by Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines music video and read the lyrics that refer to women as female dogs and repeatedly states, “I know you want it.” Later in the song, the lyrics speak to tearing a body part in two. I am not suggesting that this song or others is responsible for sexualized violence. Instead my point is that we are bombarded with hypersexualized media that informs or normalizes ideas and practices.
Where do we go from here? I imagine that all weekend many provosts, deans of students, and other university administrators were holding their breath hoping that their campus did not make the news for a chant or other problematic event.
When I was an undergraduate at San Diego State University in California, the fraternity row brothers were notorious for sitting outside with numbered placards. You would walk by and they would assess you. They would then visually display said number as if they were Olympic judges.
This display caused many of us to cross the street and not walk in front of their houses. These chants are part of this hypersexualized culture that we live in and we need to have more conversations about sexuality, consent, and violence. We also have to say no to the hypersexualization of youth.
Janni Aragon is an Assistant Teaching Professor in Political Science at the University of Victoria.