When the landscape changes, so must we

I wasn't going to read it. There has been so much in the news and on blogs and all over the internets about the Steubenville rape case that I was just not going to read another article that would A) raise my blood pressure to toxic levels again or B) make me physically sick to my stomach. Watching CNN's Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow report on the verdict in this case nearly did me in!

A few days ago, I reacted to a tweet by a local news anchor who had just read Barbara Amiel's Maclean's article, the one I was NOT going to read. I had already seen excerpts from it in a few posts earlier this week and I really did not want to read more of it and get upset again.

But I had to. I had to give context to the tweet I reacted to and a solid reason for my reaction. So I read the article, and as predicted, my blood pressure rose to earth's core erupting levels and as expected, I immediately felt the bile rushing up from the pit of my stomach.

There has been much knee-jerk reaction to Ms. Amiel's article (as witnessed by a quick perusal of the heavily populated comment section) and my tweet was no exception. Upon further reading I decided that instead of the visceral gut reaction that came from reading her article, I needed to take some deep breaths and respond to it more succinctly.

I want to address each of the incidents that Ms. Amiel discusses in her article and why her opinion (ie, why are we making such a big deal out of them?) is an outdated one, rank with flagrant patriarchy and one has no place in our world today. A world that I want to leave better, more transparent, and more RESPECTFUL of all human beings for my own children to grow up in and feel safe in. So here I go, after much thought and consideration, my response to Barbara Amiel's op-ed piece on our "anything goes sexual society."


1. The Steubenville Rape Case.

Ms. Amiel writes about the case and reminisces about her U of T campus days:

"This is a party ending that reminds me of my days living in Whitney Hall residence at the University of Toronto in the early ’60s, kitty-corner to the Zetes fraternity house, which specialized in drunken binges and the noisy smashing of bottles all weekend long. The girls wore more clothes, flip flops had not been popularized and, crucially, no such thing as cellphones and social media existed. But the end result looked much the same from my third-floor window." (Emphasis mine.)

"The end result looked much the same..." and it very likely was the same. A young college girl, excited that the popular frat house boys on campus had invited her to their party. Maybe she drank too much, maybe was taken into a room or a car or behind a shed and quite possibly she was sexually assaulted to some degree. The problem as I see it here, is that in the 1960's, the legal definition of rape and the very likely the cultural perception of rape was very different that it is today. And it had very little to do with how much or how little clothes the girl was wearing or how much "boys will be boys".

We don't live in the 1960's anymore. "Good girls" who watch from their dorm windows, "bad girls" who get too drunk at frat parties, it doesn't matter who you are, consent is consent and too drunk to give it means NO. The "girls should know better" attitude is plain and ugly victim-blaming and "boys being boys" statement is indicative of a much larger problem in our society.

Ms. Amiel's says that"In a normal society, the girl’s mother would have locked her up for a week and all boys present would have been suspended from school and their beloved football team." This statement is so misguided and indicative of the pervasiveness of rape-culture in our world as to make one feel hopeless and/or want to slam their heads onto their desks, present company included.WHAT kind of normal society is she talking about? One where boys can drag around a helpless girl (whether or not she is the master of that helplessness), finger her repeatedly (and YES, that is RAPE), urinate on her helpless body, laugh about it with their buddies who clearly know WHAT RAPE IS (that video is 12:29 minutes that are now burned into my memory forever) and then continue to enjoy their celebrity football star status with a mere slap on the wrist? One where the girl, THE VICTIM OF THIS CRIME, should be locked up for a week? What for? To learn her lesson? So her mother can school her on how to be a "good girl" from now on? Please Ms. Amiel, wake up and smell the 21st Century. The Internet is forever, someone will videotape you doing stupid, (criminal) shit and women and girls of all ages are not going to let the popular boys get away with the same sexual shenanigans of the past. So yes, the landscape has changed here and no longer are we sweeping high school or college frat party antics gone awry under the carpet of "Shush now, you don't want to ruin your reputation and marriageability now do you?".

A young girl was raped, her rapists were caught, tried and are being punished for their crime. Would anyone have done or wanted anything less had Jane Doe been their daughter? I think not.

2. Toronto Mayor Tom Ford's alleged inappropriate sexual comments to Sarah Thomson.

I am pretty certain that we have all been in this situation at some point in our adult lives. A corporate function, an open bar, spouses not in attendance and everyone having a good time. Someone says something inappropriate, a butt gets grabbed, a comment gets made that makes someone uncomfortable, and for the most part, usually there is some awkward laughing-off of the comment or incident or a more sober person takes the offender or offended away from the situation for a cup of coffee and/or an escort to their hotel room.

This time though, Sarah Thomson did not laugh it off. She tweeted about it. Which in our day and age (again, the 21st Century) is a very commonplace thing to do. In hindsight, should she have taken Mayor Ford aside and said, "Hey, I know you've had a bit to drink, but what you just said and did made me feel very uncomfortable."? Maybe. Would it have made a difference? We will never know.

What I find appalling about Ms. Amiel's commentary about this incident is her opinion of sexual harrasment as a whole. A term she says was invented in the 1970s and one "that ought to have been strangled at birth." WHAT? Because women in the workplace or at corporate  or political functions should be subjected to inappropriate touching, suggestive comments, drunk dudes just "being one of the guys" again? No thanks, I choose to thank my lucky stars for Catherine MacKinnon and what she did for the women's movement in "inventing" the words to describe and make illegal this kind of behaviour, mainly towards women.

I remember distinctly a point in my career when I thought I was being groomed for a management role. I was at a regional sales meeting at a gorgeous hotel in the mountains and I was being invited to sit at upper management tables, to meet with the marketing teams from head office and was feeling really good about myself and my future within this company. On the night of our big wrap-up celebration, I was invited to one of my managers hotel suites for some pre-party drinks, with what I assumed was a group of other sales reps. What I walked into was something completely different. I entered a room of about 5-7 men, all in managerial positions (ie, above my pay-grade), all of whom had been drinking already, and who where taking turns getting photos taken with a full sized blow-up sex doll. I was the only woman in the room. I think that a few of them saw how inappropriate this was, but most just continued to laugh it off as I was offered a drink and a photo-op. I declined both and left the room. A few hours later once the outdoor tent celebration was in full sling, I headed out to the porta-potties. I was followed, and once in the tiny pee booth, two people started shaking and trying to tip the unit. I pulled up my pants as quickly as I could and burst out of the door screaming a stream of expletives that I thought were aimed at fellow (drunk) team members. What I was not prepared for was to see that it was in fact my Regional Sales Manager and the Regional Accounts Manager, both of whom where in that suite earlier in the evening, who were the perpetrators. Again, I was angry and offended and just walked it off. In the sober light of the morning, I was taken aside by my immediate manager and told NOT TO SAY A WORD TO ANYONE about what had happened the night before.

Was I sexually harassed by these men? I think so. It wasn't a typical ass grab and sexual innuendo kind of harrassement that we associate with an episode of Mad Men (or perhaps a political event in Toronto), but I do believe that this kind of behaviour created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment for me. I was not sad, nor surprised, to see most of this management team leave the company within the year.

I wish I could go back to that time, be as strong as I am now and have had the courage to say, GUYS, this is NOT OK! I know that they would have probably brushed it off or accused me of not having a sense of humour and not being capable of taking a joke, but I also wonder how many other women felt the same way that I did and no one EVER said anything. Maybe they too were told to keep their mouths shut - with the implied "or else" hanging at the end of that statement.

Ms Amiel says that "The same action that is generally welcome from a person you like is sexual harassment from one you don’t." And she is absolutely correct in this. The key word in the legal definition of sexual harassment is UNWELCOME. If you are a consenting participant in a conversation of a sexual nature, regardless of how offensive or objectionable it is, that is not sexual harassment. I do believe that Ms. Amiel's comments make it very clear what era she grew up in and spent a good part of her career in, another 'Good Ol' Boys' club, where you just accepted that slap on the ass and smiled pretty. Once again, 'tis the dawn of a new era, and if we are all to lean-in a little more these days, we must also lean-ON this kind of behaviour in workplaces and professional settings so as to make them welcoming for all.

3. Professor Tom Flanagan's remarks that private viewing of child pornography is an issue of personal liberty and "doesn't really hurt anyone".

{Deep breath} This is a tough topic for me. I am a mother of two beautiful young children; I was sexually assaulted by both a trusted neighbour and a favourite teacher when I was a child; and without getting into details that would hurt people that I love, the topic of child pornography is a sensitive one for me.

It is very hard to look at this issue from a censorship and personal liberty perspective when the words that proceed those are CHILD and PORNOGRAPHY. The point being made by Ms. Amiel and Mr. Flanagan, is that the viewers of child pornography are not hurting anyone. They are simply viewing "squalid pictures" on their internet connections in the privacy of their own homes.

No, no they are not. These child pornography voyeurs are the end user of a supply and demand system much like any other. The pictures they are looking at are pictures and videos of children, some of them extremely young children, being abused, being sexualized, being used for their tiny little bodies. They are paying for these pictures, they are funding an industry that relies on the exploitation and abuse of our youngest citizens all for the simple "private viewing" of others.  I don't think so.

Ms Amiel says that "You cannot end a disease by arresting the infected." and she may be right. But I know a bit about infectious diseases and I know that the earlier an infection is caught and treated, the less likely it is going to invade further and cause even more damage to the system. How slippery a slope is it to go from viewing child pornography, to taking pictures of kids yourself, to luring them via the internet, to straight up sexual abuse and pedophilia? I don't know that this is a straight line or a natural progression of this particular disease, but I do know that I don't want to wait around and let the infected ride out their contamination to find out.

Is harsher sentencing for possession of child pornography the cure here? Is it more counselling and some kind of rehabilitation? Again, I don't know. Just don't go telling me that looking at a few pictures of naked kids, forced to do grown-up things they have no understanding of, for the pleasure of GROWN UPS on the Internet doesn't hurt anyone. What if that was a picture or video of your kidnapped or abused or lured child that your friendly neighbour was getting off to every night in the privacy of his own home? How far would your defence of the sanctity of one's civil liberties extend to then?


I propose to Ms. Amiel that it is not that our sexual landscape is riddled with landmines, it is that our sexual landscape has changed. The tectonic plates have shifted us out of the Pangaea (or Patriarchy) that was, where women and children were seen as possessions and things, into the Present Day world we live in today. A world where everyone has a voice, everyone has a right to be respected and have their bodies respected as well. No, we have not created an anything-goes sexual society. We have just stopped sweeping all the nasties under the rug, turning a blind eye to it all and we have EVOLVED as a species.

Or at least some of us have.

Our Present Day Landscape




Image source: Kevin M. Gill on Flickr