“Theft isn’t black, bank fraud isn’t Jewish, and rape isn’t male. Just because you’re paid to demonize men doesn’t mean rape is gendered.” These words accompanied posters put up by the newest chapter of a Men’s Rights Group in Calgary.
The posters were reported by members of the University of Alberta’s student union, and began to appear on social media on Sept. 16. They also featured a portrait of Lisa Gotell, chair of the Women’s Studies department at UofA, labeled as a ‘bigot.’
Though this happened at a university, it would be naïve to dismiss the issue as something that is only happening on campuses.
According to Julie Michaud, the Administrative Coordinator at Concordia’s Centre For Gender Advocacy, the fact remains that rape culture is deeply ingrained in our society. “Rape culture is a term that sounds quite inflammatory. When we hear it we may feel like it’s an exaggeration,” she said.“We realize there are a lot of attitudes and explicit messages that tell us that rape is normal, and not that big of a deal. We’re told people who are making a big deal out of it are just being over sensitive.”
The problem with men’s rights advocates is not that they wish to talk about issues such as men’s access to rape and sexual assault counselling, it’s that they do so in a way that disparages feminism and anti-sexual violence work. Their words are less rooted in justice, and more in blaming the victim.
They ignore the fact that feminist discourse shows an understanding that these issues do not only affect women. This comes from a profound and intentional lack of understanding of feminism, which according to Michaud, is in part gained from media and popular culture, which paints women as “almost cartoonish, man hating feminists.”
For groups like Men’s Rights Calgary to insinuate that droves of women are lying about being sexually assaulted or raped is not only ignorant, it’s downright false. There are no statistics to support any assertion that women are lying about rape. In fact, the most popular study often cited by men’s rights advocates, which claimed that a staggering 41 per cent of rape claims made to the United States police over almost a decade were false, has since been completely debunked, according to The Huffington Post.
The rhetoric being thrown around by these groups is also dangerous; it normalizes the idea of rape and sexual assault. This victim blaming is part of the problem. We need to teach men not to rape, not teach women how to avoid being raped.
According to Michaud, it can start with more education. “I think we need consent workshops with as many students as we can. I think campaigns like the ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign are very effective because they show in a really clear way, that having sex with somebody who’s too drunk, or passed out, or who changes their mind once some kind of sexual activity has started… that those things are all sexual assault.”
Despite the good intentions of campaigns like ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ Michaud believes they are not enough. She believes open discussions and workshops on the issue are important.
There remains plenty of evidence that rape culture is silencing women about their experiences with sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, out of every 100 rapes that occur in the United States, only 46 are reported to police. Only three out of those 100 cases end in conviction. Those numbers point to a serious problem.
This is why it’s so important to have places like the Centre for Gender Advocacy, and the Sexual Assault Centre, which has long been fought for and is finally going to open this year.
At a time when a culture of rape runs rampant, and men’s rights groups look to undermine the work to end sexual violence and violence against women in general, it is our job to be vocal about these issues and to get involved as much as we can.