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****Trigger warning: Discussion about rape. All of the links out also contain discussion about rape..****

The recent coverage by CNN on the case of the Steubenville rapists has received a lot of criticism (like here and here). This case, that has been exposed on the web through bloggers, Anonymous, and social media used by students involved, has recently ended with two football players being charged in juvenile court for raping a 16 yr old girl, with another charge of taking nude photographs of an underage girl and spreading those photographs. The pull-at-your-heart-strings situating of the rapists, focusing on their athleticism, good grades, and “promising futures”, resulted in reporting a verdict that did not reference the survivor in the whole segment. The impression that their lives were being ruined by the sentence- not by their decision to rape an underage girl- was clearly the stance of a rape apologist.

This is what rape culture looks like. It’s a place where rapists are talked about in terms of their promise and lost future, seen as “the real victims“, and survivors receive death threats and are ostracized in their communities. It’s a place where sexual assault is not seen as anything out of the ordinary, particularly for those who feel entitled to it, like the heroic school football stars. It’s a place where consent is the absence of a no, not consciousness or the presence of a yes. It’s a place where this is how rape is thought of:

“It wasn’t violent,” explained teammate Evan Westlake when asked why he didn’t stop the two defendants as they abused a non-moving girl that Westlake knew to be highly intoxicated. “I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

This is what rape culture looks like. When black-and-white boundaries are made grey, where it was “their fault for drinking”, where it was their parents fault for letting them go out into the world, where it was the ignorance of youth poisoned with hormones, when no one steps in because they didn’t think that violating an unconscious girl is violent. Rape culture is where the survivor is not even mentioned in the coverage that follows, and we are left apologizing and sympathizing with rapists. CNN has been an active participant in rape culture, as have many other reactions. It’s hard to see such blatant examples, but hopefully it will bring attention to the rape culture we are saturated in today.

If you are interested in an apology from CNN, we encourage you to sign this petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/cnn-apologize-for-your-disgusting-coverage-of-the-steubenville-rapists

You may have seen in the news, perhaps here, that a University of North Carolina student, Landen Gambill, is facing possible expulsion for speaking publicly about her sexual assault. SACOMMS would like to extend this letter of solidarity with Landen Gambill, and would also like to share that letter with others. Please read and share this letter and other article pertaining to this very important case.

 

March 4, 2013

 

The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Student Society (SACOMSS) would like to express its’ solidarity with Landen Gambill. Gambill is a student at University of North Carolina facing an Honor Code violation, filed against her in response to her complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the University of North Carolina “has routinely violated the rights of sexual assault survivors and failed to assist them in recovery after the reported abuse.”[i]

Earlier this year, Gambill made the very brave decision to file a formal complaint with her university against her rapist. For her decision to be met with possible expulsion and challenges brought to her by the university is atrocious. A survivor’s decision to talk about their experiences of sexual assault is that, a decision, and it is never necessary to do so. Once one chooses to share their experiences, however, it is crucial that they be met with support and belief, two sentiments absent from the University of North Carolina’s reaction to Ms. Gambill. Part of a university’s responsibility is to ensure the safety of members of the university community; this includes supporting survivors of sexual assault. Instead, it seems that the University of North Carolina has chosen tactics of alienation and intimidation.

As a student-run Sexual Assault Centre, committed to offering support to survivors and their allies, we feel it is important to express our concern over the handling of Ms. Gambill’s experiences by her university and community. We wish to extend our support and solidarity with Ms. Gambill through this ordeal, and acknowledge her courage throughout this process. Ms. Gambill deserves to be respected and believed, as well as to see this process end equitably.

If you ever thought that everyone in the world is either a boy or a girl, when you start to hear about gender that is non-binary or the concept that gender is a spectrum, it can be a bit confusing. Wait, that person isn’t pink or blue- what does that mean?

Now, to get this concept of a spectrum, I’m going to ask you to put your statistics hat on. No, you don’t need to ever have actually taken a statistics course to nail this concept, but a few examples about how variables are looked at might help you visualize what a spectrum is and why the distinction is important. When you are given some data, there are two types of data possible: discrete and continuous. Discrete data is data that you can count in whole numbers- like this flower has 1, 2, 3 petals. There are no 1.2 petals. Continuous data is data that has an infinite amount of possible values- like this leaf is 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 cm long. Any value is possible on the scale, and there’s no either/or option. Pulling you back out of the garden and back into gender, when gender is referred to as a spectrum, that means that there are infinite “values” or possibilities for someone’s gender. In the gender binary system, you are either 1 (boy) or 2 (girl)- there’s no 1.37. In a spectrum system, gender isn’t 1 or 2 it’s 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 on a scale.

What the “scale” is remains contentious. Some people argue that putting “male” on one end and “female” on the other is only a slight improvement, still limiting people on a horizontal axis and implying that in order to be more feminine it is necessary to be less masculine (and vice versa). Some people prefer to think of the spectrum like a rainbow of colours- all different, varied, and no colour better than the other. This, while representative, may have difficulties because every label added will inherently narrow the categories. Perhaps the most important lesson from the “scale” is to understand that the concept of non-binary gender is an evolving conversation that is always working on becoming more inclusive and accessible to everyone. The end point has not been reached.

Gender is complex. There are many facets, it sure ain’t static, and as we continue to explore those facets on this blog, we hope that this concept of gender spectrum is kept in mind. If you have any critiques of our take on what a spectrum means, let us know and we will keep this updated accordingly. In the meantime, this is a video that explores multiple spectrums in a pretty comprehensive manner, and gives some food for thought about where these spectrums may also apply.

The first workshop I attended where we were asked to go around the circle and state our preferred pronouns, I froze. It was one of those moments where you can hear that teacher, the one who always said “one day you will use this information” in your head. Which was a pronoun again? Before or after the description of the thing, or is it around the stuff where you have the action? After a few people had said theirs, I figured out what seemed to be the system, and managed to produce one when it came to my turn. My heart rate went back to a respectable level, and palms were quickly wiped clean. Thinking back, it was an interesting moment that brought a few issues to a head. First, it exposed a level of privilege that as a cis person who conforms to the physical expectations of my gender, I’ve never had to think about what pronoun to use (or even what a pronoun is). Second, it opened up some possibilities- I had this idea that there is a wide variety of gender identities that anyone can access, but I didn’t know how you actually did that. The thought that I could have control over my gender identity when engaging in discussion during a workshop felt exciting and empowering. Such a simple question- “what is your preferred pronoun?”- can convey a lot of respect.

 Though it’s a simple question, it encapsulates some pretty important concepts- namely, respect for everyone, especially the misidentified, and an acknowledgment of gender fluidity. These are important, and hopefully there will be an ongoing conversation on this blog about some specifics. In the meantime, this is article is more of a practical, how-to guide about what pronouns are and how to use them.

 What’s a Pronoun

 Back to the basics and the original word that threw me into a panic- pronoun. According to the Random House Dictionary, a pronoun is “any member of a small class of words found in many languages that are used as replacements or substitutes for nouns and noun phrases”.  If you remember our friend the noun (person, place, or thing), when someone asks you what your preferred pronoun is, they are basically asking you what you want your name or personhood to be replaced with. So instead of people saying “Sally wants that” or “That person wants that”, they can use a pronoun and say, “She wants that”.  Which brings us to the next point- pronouns can be gendered.

 Gender and Pronouns

 We encounter a lot of gendered pronouns: she, he, his, and hers. These are often used based on assumptions about other people’s gender that we perceive, which is unfortunate because for many people gender isn’t clear cut or fixed. To the person who has been classified into a gender category to which they don’t identify, these assumptions can be disrespectful.

 There are gender neutral pronouns- “they” being the most commonly used one. It is easy to incorporate they/their/them into regular conversation. You might be thinking “hey, isn’t ‘they’ plural?”. While it is used in the plural more commonly, it can be adopted in the singular for gender neutrality- you may have also seen the singular in more formal documents before. One you may not have heard of is “ze”. Pronounced “zee” like the way American’s say the last letter of the alphabet, it is the he/she equivalent. Here is a chart about some pronunciation details that is easier to follow than any written description I’ve found. It also contains pronouns I’ve never heard of that are gender neutral- interesting for the more linguistically inclined to peruse, and some might seem catchy enough for your own use.

 Bringing it into Your Conversations

 So now you know that people are addressed with pronouns, some of those pronouns are gendered, and you don’t want to be disrespectful by using the wrong pronoun that makes someone uncomfortable. What to do? The easiest way to find out, as always, is to ask. “Hey, what is your preferred pronoun?” is a great way to kick off a conversation, either about whom the person is that you’ve just met or, if you are responded to with a blank stare, a quick exchange on what you meant- does the person want to be referred to as he, she, they, or perhaps ze? It’s worth the possibility of a little confusion at first if you can end at a place where you now can address them respectfully. This is also an opportunity to introduce the concepts of pronouns to other people if they’ve never heard of such a thing.

 In a larger group, an alternative may be to start introducing yourself with your own pronoun. “Hey, nice to meet you, my name is Lee and you can refer to me as he or they”. This also brings up the concept of pronouns, and may make other people feel more confident about asserting their own preferences.

 Outside of introductions, it’s important to keep in mind that pronouns may change- checking in with people you know will allow you to continue a respectful relationship that is mindful of their preferences.

That’s it! Simple stuff, but practicing proper pronouns shows a lot of respect to the people around you.

Trigger warning:  this post contains discussion of sexual violence 

This week, we here at the SACOMSS Media Watch blog are starting what we call our weekly Thursday Round-up, a compendium of articles related to the SACOMSS mandate that we want  to share with a wider audience.  

In recent weeks, the Indian capital New Delhi and surrounding cities have been overtaken by protesters in recent weeks after the gang rape of a young woman on a bus.  

This Wall Street Journal article describes the ban that Delhi officials have placed on protesting:  

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324660404578198473010757116.html 

And this Slate article comments on the lack of women at the protests, despite the movement being coordinated primarily by women:  

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324660404578198473010757116.html 

In news closer to home, the University of Toronto’s Sexual Education Centre has been in the news for their decision to rent out a sex club for student use as part of their Sexual Awareness Week:  

http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2013/01/uoft-orgy-rumours-swirl-despite-student-groups-qualifiers.html 

And the Idle No More protests on the subject of the Canadian government’s treatment of First Nations people all across Canada have been getting news attention:  

http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Stephen+Hume+Idle+More+protests+yell+attention/7836163/story.html 

A First Nations youth comments on the protests:  

http://rabble.ca/news/2013/01/racism-hunger-and-laziness-first-nations-youth-perspective-idle-no-more-media-coverage 

That’s all for this week.  If you have an idea for an article that could be featured in next week’s round-up, send it via Facebook:  

https://www.facebook.com/sacomss 

Just a reminder that SACOMSS is hosting a December 6th Memorial event. If you are interested in more history behind the event, the CBC archives have footage from December 6, 1989 available to watch (warning: it may be disturbing to some readers). There is also updated information from the events page:

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On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine entered L’École Polytechnique of Montreal with the intention to “fight feminism” by killing women engineers. Each year, this day is remembered as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. SACOMSS is hosting a memorial service to remember the lives that were lost and to remember that we deal with violence and oppression every day and it is our responsibility to stand up and take action.

The event will be December 6, 2012 from 6:30-8:00 @ Birks Chapel (3520 University, Montreal), followed by a reception with coffee, tea and snacks. The Birks Building is wheelchair accessible.

There will be speakers and performances, as well as candle lighting and a moment of silence to remember those whose lives have been lost. Volunteers trained in active listening will be present throughout.

Speakers and Performances include:
-a performance by Lady Sin
-a piano piece by Stefan Christoff
-a song by Tonal Ecstasy

We hope that you can come.

For more information, feel free to contact specialprojects@sacomss.org

For those of you who live in the Montreal area, SACOMSS will be holding three events in the near future:    

The first is a baked-goods giveaway on Friday, November 30th.  Volunteers will be giving away sweet treats at the Y-intersection in the middle of McGill’s main campus.  More information can be found on the Facebook page.

We’re also holding a condom design competition!  We want your artwork, witty slogans, and talent to come together in a design that supports safe sex and sexual assault awareness. These are designs for the Sexual Assault Centre so your design must allow space for: our name (SACOMSS) and our number (514-398-8500).  We will be taking the top 3 designs to be voted upon as a centre. The winner will receive a prize of free condoms of your very own creation!  Deadline for submissions is December 15.

If you have any questions or want a template for your design, contact publicity@sacomss.org
December 6th Poster Finally, SACOMSS is hosting a memorial for the December 6th shooting at L’École Polytechnique of Montreal.
On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine entered L’École Polytechnique of Montreal with the intention to “fight feminism” by killing women engineers. Each year, this day is remembered as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. SACOMSS is hosting a memorial service to remember the lives that were lost and to remember that we deal with violence and oppression every day and it is our responsibility to stand up and take action.The event will be December 6, 2012 from 6:30-8:00 @ Birks Chapel (3520 University, Montreal), followed by a reception with coffee, tea and snacks. The Birks Building is wheelchair accessible.

There will be speakers and performances, as well as candle lighting and a moment of silence to remember those whose lives have been lost. Volunteers trained in active listening will be present throughout.

For more information, feel free to contact specialprojects@sacomss.org, or visit the Facebook event page.

The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). As such, the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) has organized a Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW) of events focused on reclaiming sex based on respect, supporting those who have experienced sexualized violence, and strategizing ways to make our communities (and sex lives) safer and sexier for everyone! Read about those events here and contact specialprojects@sacomss.org for more information.

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