Rape culture is alive and well at UBC. There is no denying it, there is no way to pretend it does not creep into the lives of every person on campus, and there is no one that can convince me the University is taking effective steps to address this issue. As a student at this school, it is something I live with, that I experience, and that I witness every day. So, it’s not only infuriating to read Margaret Wente’s column that ridicules the “fainting-couch feminists of today” (Source), but it is also destructive because it invalidates the very real experiences of the numerous sexual assault survivors living on a campus that perpetuates gendered violence.
Roughly one year ago, the head of the renowned creative writing department at UBC, Steven Galloway, was suspended following “serious allegations” (Source); the University vowed to conduct a thorough investigation and encouraged anyone who was affected by this to seek the proper care they needed. From the day UBC released this statement, the Canadian media has vehemently questioned the university’s behaviour while not only defending Galloway almost unanimously, but actually ridiculing the complainants and the “fragile, politically-correct” university culture that would have the nerve to encourage students to care for their mental health. The overarching opinion in the media was quite troubling: many felt that UBC’s statement to encourage those to seek help was not a sign of the institution properly addressing sexual misconduct, but rather a damaging insinuation that the nature of the allegations would be enough to harm someone, thus tarnishing Galloway’s otherwise stellar reputation. Like at UBC, the perpetuation of rape culture in the Canadian media proved to be alive and well, advocating for justice solely for Galloway, while either ignoring or intimidating the very real, courageous survivors who broke the silence surrounding a powerful figure in the Canlit community.
A year later, after a private investigation that lead to the termination of Galloway, roughly 80 prominent Canadian writers signed a letter demanding due process for Galloway (Source), with absolutely no mention of the women who came forward with allegations. Moreover notable signatories, such as Margaret Atwood, have not taken the criticism that followed this harmful letter very well, and provided a poorly written apology claiming allyship to survivors of sexual violence (Source). The media’s coverage of the letter, and all the happened afterwards (including 12 writers removing their names) has followed the same pattern from the initial coverage: preaching sympathy and justice uniquely for Galloway, and not for the women who have experienced any harm.
The discourse in Canada right now surrounding sexual violence, especially on university campuses, seems to be a constant topic that everybody has an opinion on. While having these kinds of conversations is not inherently harmful, the way mainstream media discusses this issue is frightening. What has really shocked me in the Galloway coverage is the obvious disconnect some journalists have of current-day university campuses and the damaging conversations/acts of violence that occur in our space of learning. Margaret Wente, the spokeswoman and public conscience of Canada’s white-middle-aged-upper class, compared the entire Galloway fiasco to the Salem witch trials and called for a “return to sanity” (Source), thus implying that the mere idea of believing survivors demonstrates a true state of madness. On top of that, Wente ridicules rape culture and yearns for the days before the Jian Ghomeshi trial (the apparent catalyst of all social justice work) where it wasn’t a big deal to sexual assault someone and we could just humiliate and deter survivors from speaking out against powerful men. I don’t want to single out Wente; many other media sources such as the Walrus and CBC have published similar stories that highlight the serious problem we have in our country regarding gendered violence.
It is important to remember why mainstream media has been so embarrassingly ignorant on its Galloway coverage: it is what Canadians want to read. This is not simply a news problem, it’s a societal problem. It seems like no matter what the case is, we simply cannot believe survivors. Our instinct is to protect the Galloways and the Ghomeshis, to humanize them, and advocate for their wellbeing instead of the victims of their abuse. And these sentiments are only further expressed and validated by the media, so Canadians are not challenged to change. The role of all prominent news figures, like Wente, is to confirm our biases and perpetuate this national issue.
So, my question to Wente and all the other out-of touch journalists who feel they are entitled to ridicule and belittle survivors of sexual assault is simply this: How does it feel to be complicit in the countless sexual assaults that occur on Canadian campuses every year? How does it feel to contribute to the harmful culture of silencing those who’ve been violated in a space intended for learning? And, most importantly, how will you reconcile the fact that your words and your voices are supporting every act of sexual violence in Canada?