By Nicole Hattie, Halifax
A widespread public outcry has been heard across Nova Scotia following news that 13 male Dalhousie Dentistry students were members of a self‑described "gentlemen's facebook page" used to discuss chauvinistic and misogynistic messages. The men engaged in a poll, which asked who they would like to "hate fuck," and discussed using chloroform to rape women. The results of the poll were posted on Dec. 6 - the 25th anniversary of the Montreal massacre.
The response by some people, like the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente, has been to say that this was a "joke" and should not be taken as a direct attack on women. But many labour, community and women's groups sharply disagree. A protest of approximately 300 students, faculty and other people on Dalhousie's campus rallied against all forms of sexism and harassment, denouncing the university's approach as unacceptable.
Bowing somewhat to public pressure, Dalhousie president Richard Florizone later suspended the men from clinical duties at the Dalhousie clinic, saying the school is looking at many options and is not ruling out expulsions. Despite this, many continue to be outraged.
These violent sexualized acts of hate speech had reportedly been taking place months prior and the university was well aware. However, nothing was done about the issue until it went "viral" in the media. There had also been reports of a male professor showing sexualized videos in class that objectified women as a way in which to "wake the male students up."
It appears the dentistry programme at Dal is basically a sexist "old boys club" for the sons of Nova Scotia's well‑heeled elite.
The university unilaterally decreed a policy of restorative justice, despite objections from some of the women involved. They argued that Dalhousie has to also take into consideration the effect of these events on the broader public. Avalon, the sexual assault centre in Halifax Regional Municipality, called for more than a restorative justice approach to be taken into consideration, stressing that the men involved in the facebook page were still potentially to be given access to sedatives and clinical duties.
As a female student of the Dalhousie social work program, and a person who has worked for a women's centre as an outreach worker for a program that sought to fight back against sexual violence, I am not shocked that this sort of behaviour is alive and well. Furthermore, I am not shocked that the initial response of the president was to cover the school. The University administration had a choice that could have led in a direction that would both facilitate women to have a voice, and to set the precedent that Dalhousie does not and will not tolerate sexualized violence.
The misogyny at Dal comes on top of the federal Harper government continuing to refuse the ongoing call for a cross‑Canada inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and while Nova Scotia is still reeling the from the death of Rehtaeh Parsons. Today's "rape culture," sexual violence, the control and objectification of women's bodies, and oppressive patriarchal family structures, are all reinforced by the austerity budgets and neoliberal policies of the McNeil Liberal government.
Nova Scotia needs to make a sharp break with this direction and guarantee the full equality of all women. Taking meaningful action to end misogyny at Dal, as women's groups have proposed, as well as new policies on gender violence that do not re‑victimize women, enacting Jane Doe policies, expanding funding to gender centers and rape crisis support on campus and addressing transphobia would all be steps in the right direction.
So too would be pay equity, affordable student housing for women, affordable child care, getting more women into dentistry and other male‑dominated programmes, eliminating tuition fees for all students, and replacing loans with grants.
Reprinted from the January issue of People’s Voice Newspaper.
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