the opera in Ottawa a few months ago, I had the kind of experience
that once galvanized women to speak out against the sexist put-downs
that passed for humor in an earlier era. This time, however,
the putative humor was at the expense of men.
silence anything in your possession that may be annoying to
those around you,” said our host, an affable radio personality
with Canada’s public broadcaster, “That includes
cell phones, other electronic devices, your husband
. . . ” An approving chuckle ran through the crowd.
times have changed. Forty years ago, a few stalwart feminists
might have walked out of the auditorium to express their (justified)
annoyance at gender discrimination if the wife had been the
annoying appendage to be silenced. Now the feminists in the
audience made no noticeable protest.
unquestioned is the anti-male animus of our time that the only
pain considered worthy of attention or collective action is
pervasiveness of feminist ideas about female innocence was vividly
on display a few weeks ago in Edmonton, Alberta, when two rival
poster campaigns garnered media attention. “Don’t
Be That Guy,” an anti-rape campaign by a coalition of
women’s groups in conjunction with the RCMP (the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police), met with general approval in the mainstream
media while outrage greeted “Don’t Be That Girl,”
an anti-false-charge campaign by Men’s Rights Edmonton
(which one reporter snidely dismissed as a “so-called
men’s rights organization”). The difference in the
posters’ reception tells us a good deal about the enormous
social power of the woman as victim theme in Canada today.
anti-rape posters show various scenarios in which sexual assault
can occur. A young woman is passed out on a bed, a man standing
over her reaching for his pants’ zipper: the caption reads
“It’s not sex . . . when she’s passed out.
Sex with someone unable to consent = sexual assault.”
In another, a drunken woman is helped to a cab by a man, her
body supported by his: the caption reads “Just because
you helped her home . . . doesn’t mean you get to help
yourself.” In another, a young woman is laughing and drinking
with friends at a bar, smiling invitingly at a young man, but
“Just because she’s drinking . . . doesn’t
mean she wants sex.” There are five other such scenarios,
all involving white men and women (multicultural representation
for once having been completely —deliberately? —
neglected); one scenario involves two white men (“It’s
not sex . . . if he changes his mind”). None of the pictures
shows a man in a position to be sexually abused by a woman.
the almost jocular wording in some of the posters, the insulting
message is clear: young white men are so morally obtuse about
sex and so prone to commit assault as to require a public finger
wagging and calling-out: Don’t be that guy! Don’t
be the guy who violates an unconscious or unwilling victim.
The average white man is presumed to need elementary instruction
in how to treat a woman.
As a sexual assault prevention strategy, the posters’
efficacy is dubious — would a hardened rapist reform after
seeing them? It seems unlikely — but they are undoubtedly
effective in libeling all men as potential abusers despite the
fact that the vast majority of men (94-95% according to feminist
statistics) bear no blame for sexual assault.
poster campaign is unsettling for its insistence that no matter
what a woman does — no matter how careless and irresponsible
— she is always innocent. While every reasonable person
would agree that an unconscious woman cannot consent to sex,
the various drunken scenarios raise complex issues of accountability.
One is not supposed to ask what a girl is doing getting herself
so drunk that she needs assistance home (in fact, of course,
part of the posters’ message is that such questioning
is itself quasi-criminal — that encouraging women to take
responsibility for their safety is misogynistic).
anti-rape culture of these posters is about prohibiting all
such questions. One is not supposed to ask how, if a girl is
so drunk that she needs help getting home, she will not be too
drunk to remember that she did not consent. One is not supposed
to ask how her drunken memories of what happened to her will
be more reliable than the defendant’s report of what happened.
Her drinking doesn’t mean anything, according to these
posters, other than greater-than-usual vulnerability and greater-than-usual
exemption. And what of the young man who is probably also drinking
too much: does he not receive any exemption from responsibility?
Apparently not. Although the posters squarely target the guy
in question — whose guilt is the whole point — the
creators of the posters aren’t interested in his feelings
and responses, and certainly not in his potential difficulty
in ascertaining consent.
along these (unacceptable) lines, Men’s Rights Edmonton
created “Don’t Be That Girl,” a poster campaign
that uses one of the poster’s images but changes the wording
to express men’s concern about false allegations of assault:
“Just because you regret a one-night stand . . . doesn’t
mean it wasn’t consensual.” Highlighting the scenario
of young women and men drinking at a bar, the posters focus
on women who use alcohol as an excuse to be sexual without responsibility,
or who turn an error in judgment into a criminal charge. Though
criticized for making rape a joke, the poster strategy is serious
and straightforward, and is not about rape at all — but
about false charges. The point is that sexual assault is wrong,
but so is the idea that all men are potential rapists and women
always innocent victims.
too predictably, “Don’t Be That Girl” caused
an uproar. Edmonton mayoral candidate Don Iveson tweeted that
the posters’ message was “morally indefensible,
condemnable, and contemptible.” The Calgary Committee
Against Sexual Abuse said the men’s campaign was “100%
incorrect.” Twitter came alive with assertions that the
posters proved the existence of a rape culture in Canada, and
Anu Dugal, the Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian
Women’s Foundation, denounced the posters’ putative
suggestion “that women are responsible for sexual assault.”
Karen Smith, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre
of Edmonton, claimed that assault victims “just don’t
lie about that.” Even the police department joined in
the righteous chorus, with one officer, Acting Inspector Sean
Armstrong, coming forward to dismiss the concerns of the men’s
organization by noting that “after 4.5 years of working
as a sexual assault detective, he had seen only one false report”
out of numerous files.
wonders about Inspector Armstrong’s certainty. His and
the other responses make clear that under the reign of feminist
orthodoxy — which reaches even, one is dismayed to note,
deep into the police department, supposed to be an impartial
organization that does not pre-judge cases — it is not
enough to agree that sexual assault is wrong. One must also
commit to the doctrine that women never lie about it.
we know that women do lie and that false claims of abuse, whether
sexual or physical, are a reality. Karen Straughan cites the
case of Soner Yasa, an Edmonton cab driver who was saved from
a false allegation only by the camera in his taxi, which proved
his accusers’ story to be a vindictive fabrication. In
other cases, women have dodged criminal charges by claiming
to be victims of abuse. One thinks immediately, to take the
most egregious Canadian examples, of Karla Homolka, who participated
with her husband in the sexual torture and murder of her sister
and two girls whom she lured to their home; or Allyson McConnell,
who drowned her two sons in the bathtub after her husband left
her; or Nicole Doucet, who hired a contract killer to murder
her husband. What these three have in common is that all claimed
to have been victims of (unsubstantiated) abuse, and all received
reduced sentences or, in Doucet’s case, no sentence at
all because of the credulity of justice system officials
about female victimization. The problem is not, as Anu
Dugal of the Canadian Women’s Foundation claims, that
Canadians tend to “blame the [female] victim;” on
the contrary, Canadians are often afraid even to question her
for fear of being accused, in the feminist lingo, of “re-victimizing.”
Inspector Sean Armstrong’s proclaimed trust in women’s
word about sexual assault is likely the outcome of years of
feminist advocacy and training within the force, which insists
that when assault of any kind is at issue, men are the perpetrators
and women the ones who have been harmed. Whether Armstrong’s
position reflects a genuine belief or an empty genuflection,
it is disturbing to hear it coming from an officer of the law
whose job it is to investigate crime rather than implement feminist
rule. If I were a man getting a knock at the door over a false
allegation, I would dread to have Armstrong, or anyone like
him, investigate my case.
of the points made by the “Don’t Be That Girl”
campaign was simple and brilliant: both men and women commit
crimes, and men are tired of being singled out for condemnation
while women’s culpability is denied. There are many crimes
and social problems that might be targeted by posters (fetal
alcohol syndrome, home invasions, shoplifting) but groups other
than white men never receive such defamatory attention.
you imagine “Don’t be that Muslim” in a campaign
about Islamic jihad? Or “Don’t be that Aboriginal
Mother” in a campaign about fetal alcohol syndrome? Or
a poster campaign about ‘black’ rapists? Critics
would charge that an entire group of people was being unfairly
targeted for the actions of a few — and in a manner more
likely to induce public humiliation than behavioral change.
The same is true of the image of white men promoted in “Don’t
Be That Guy,” and yet men are not even allowed to say
so without incurring further outrageous accusations.
time for frank discussion and an end to the knee-jerk stigmatization
of male sexuality.
also by Janice Fiamengo: