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Fighting the sexist status quo

Wield your own agency to fight against the crowd. (Chris Parent photo)
Wield your own agency to fight against the crowd. (Chris Parent photo)

Last week, I wrote about the Saint Mary’s University chant and our collective responsibility to step back and try to wrap our heads around the social structures that made it possible. I concluded my article with a call to action, placing the onus on everyone to do their part to end violence against women, and sexism more generally.

But what does taking responsibility actually look like?

It means educating ourselves. Read a Chatelaine from the 50’s to understand the messages our mothers and grandmothers were receiving about how to live their lives. Then read a contemporary copy, to understand how little those messages have changed. Find out what people mean when they use the phrase ‘rape culture’. Try to understand where Miley Cyrus fits into all of this, and talk about it with others.

It also means watching our language. Rape jokes, including phrases like “I raped that test”, are not funny or smart, and endorsing those comments when they’re made by others is equally harmful. ‘Slut’ is a loaded term with plenty of history, so use it wisely or not at all. Speaking about women who have experienced sexual assault as if they deserved it—they were wearing the wrong clothes, they were sending the wrong messages on the dance floor—is also part of a language that oppresses women and shifts the blame from the perpetrator’s shoulders. In other words, it creates blurred lines.

It means supporting the women in your lives. Try to understand how it feels to move through life in a woman’s body (see ‘educating ourselves’). Split the daily grind evenly with your partner, to make sure you’re both doing your part around the house. Mentor women in your professional or personal life who want to get to where you’ve come to be. Realize that not all women are or should have to be ‘nice’, but many are ‘assertive,’ ‘witty,’ or ‘driven’.

Collectively, taking responsibility for ending violence against women falls mainly in the institutional corner. It means ensuring policies that benefit both men and women, such as offering parental, not just maternal, leave. It means creating an atmosphere in which women have room to lean in. It manifests in movements like Vancouver’s Don’t Be That Guy campaign. It’s kept honest by mass protests, bloggers calling institutions out on their shit, and employees willing to speak up to affect change in their workplaces.

As individuals, we are inseparable from the social structures in which we operate. Often, these systems oppress and restrict the power of women. However, we—women, men, everyone—must capitalize on what agency we do own within these systems, and work to change them. For Jared Perry, this means shouldering his slice of the blame for the SMU debacle. For me, as a woman, this means aiming high in whatever career I end up pursuing. For King’s, it means creating a video about consent. Whatever your avenue, work it. The system won’t fight itself.

Samantha Elmsley
Samantha Elmsley
Samantha was Opinions Editor of the Gazette for Volumes 145 and 146.

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