What does violence against women look like? Many people on campus may be asking this question in light of recent news exposing the disgusting Frosh Week chants at St. Mary’s University and the University of British Columbia. Does a song, or a joke, or a slogan on a t-shirt constitute violence? In short, the answer is “yes”.
Most definitions of violence concur that an act of violence does not have to be uniquely physical: that emotional and psychological violence is equally destructive.
However, numerous studies have concluded that sexist humour can promote further prejudice against women, and that sexist humour can actually promote men’s attitudes towards rape.
Despite this, responses to sexist jokes are often dismissive. Many simply brush the joke off by saying “Oh, it’s ok, he’s just a douche-bag” or “Come on, it’s funny, stop being so P.C!”, but in the same way racist jokes are violent, sexist jokes are violent too.
While sexist jokes may seem to be rather innocuous to those (men) hearing them, the reality is that these jokes are hurtful. They sting. Sexist jokes promote a culture of acceptance and complacency towards sexual violence and sexism in general. These jokes promote belittling women, othering them, and reducing women’s place in society to that below men.
And this, in 2013.
Ask yourself when was the last time you heard a joke about men? Or a chant about raping young men. Or a t-shirt telling men to go make a sandwich? Probably never.
So why is it ok to accept the same against women? Well, it isn’t.
Violence against women is an issue that the student and labour movements take very seriously. This violence exposes itself on our campus, in the workplace, at the bar, and on the streets.
There are numerous tools available to help confront sexual violence and harassment. In the workplace, the Provincial Government operates the Workplace Initiative to Support Employees on Family Violence (WISE) program, and labour unions are available to help support victims to accommodate them in the workplace.
By law there is the Manitoba Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code of Canada.
On June 1 of this year, the University of Winnipeg introduced a Respectful Working and Learning Environment Policy echoing the Manitoba Human Rights Code’s definitions of harassment. This policy specifically outlines that the university prohibits “...unwelcome sexual remarks or jokes that put down one’s gender”. This policy falls under the University’s non-academic misconduct policy, and the implications can be quite serious: you can get expelled.
Being involved in street-level and community driven movements such as Take Back the Night and Sisters in Spirit are excellent ways to share experiences and to fight against violence against women, including against the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women facing violence in our community.
Lastly, the best tool against this type of violence is yourself. If you’re one of those who laughs-off the joke, or finds a simple excuse in defense of sexism, check yourself – it’s time for an attitude change.
David Jacks is a former UWSA President and is currently a Communications Representative at the Canadian Union of Public Employees.