Sexism and gender inequality is still a huge issue around the world. Women make less money, women are convicted for being victims of rape and sexual assault, and women are discriminated against simply for having a vagina (or for identifying herself as a woman). We all hear stories about the sex trade in Asia, about the oppression of voices in the Middle East and even the lack of access to contraception in the United States. But I am going to talk about what happens here, on the University of Waterloo campus.
As hopefully most of you know, last year there were posters put up around campus. These posters had a picture of Marie Curie, a mushroom cloud, and the words “The brightest woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, the mother of the nuclear bomb. You tell me if the plan of women leading men is still a good idea!” These posters covered those of all women running for student government. Following this was an e-mail sent out by a hacker pretending to be Feridun Hamdullahpur (UW’s President). The e-mail said that he was against women in leadership and against women attending university. Volunteers from the Women’s Centre were also harassed and received threatening e-mails.
I wish that I could say that our campus has learned from this incident. But following the shenanigans of last week, I’m afraid to that there are many who want to hold women down while the majority of the student population remains silent.
The following is information I collected after speaking with a Women’s Centre volunteer. I attempted to speak with SLC Management regarding last week’s incidents, but never received a reply.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Centre (a FEDS service) had planned several events and workshops to run throughout the week. These workshops were designed to empower women and to continue a discussion about the posters from last year. The volunteers booked space approximately 2 months ago to hold all of their events. As per regular booking procedures, the Centre had some communication with SLC management about times and rooms, and the bookings were agreed upon.
Three of the Women’s Centre’s events went smoothly in the spaces that were booked. However, for three other events (held in partnership with WPIRG), the Centre was denied access to the spaces they had booked. No concrete reasons were given by SLC management for this, and the spaces went unused. After being denied access to the multi-purpose room (MPR) for a self-defence workshop, one woman attempted to speak with SLC management. This manager told author Inga Muscio that she should be ashamed of the book she had written (Cunt: a declaration of Independence). Her book was carried in Dana Porter library until very recently.
In an act of peaceful protest, all attendees for the workshop formed a Congo line in the SLC. They danced around singing “Cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt!” (You know the tune). They handed out flyers with definitions from Inga’s book to passersby. In essence, the workshop on self-defence turned into an act of self-defence. (On a side note: someone didn’t like this and called the Regional Police who of course couldn’t do anything because there was nothing illegal happening.)
That evening Inga Muscio spoke, and the event went well with a great turn-out. However, Inga told the women’s centre volunteer that she felt much more welcome at other universities compared to Waterloo (including Pen State! Yes, that Pen State, with the covering up of a child molester and rapist).
The Women’s Centre volunteers also had a difficult time with marketing for their events. For example, after chalking the words “Cunt Love” onto pavement, a Campus Police officer hosed down the word “cunt” and made some volunteers feel intimidated. Additionally, many of the posters hung in Uptown Waterloo were torn down or had the word “cunt” cut out of it.
The volunteer I spoke with said that “by shutting us down, we formed a community.” The people who witnessed this happen became mobilized, and are only more encouraged to promote equality on campus.
Last year after the Marie Curie posters went up, a [female] friend of mine told me that my outrage was an overreaction and unjustified. This is bullshit. Sexism on our campus exists and it’s appalling and it makes me angry. Here is my call to action for all of you:
- E-mail Feridun Hamdullaphur and tell him why this behaviour won’t be tolerated by students (we all pay for FEDS Services after all)
- Call, write, or e-mail SLC Management – call them out on denying access to the Women’s Centre and WPIRG
- Attend workshops held by the Women’s Centre and show your support
We can all use this to mobilize and show that sexism on campus should not and will not be tolerated.