Sexism at UW

16 Mar

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.

9 Responses to “Sexism at UW”

  1. Nafis at 12:39 am #

    What I would like to say is related to the SLC staff. There are definitely rules in place that do not allow the staff to discriminate due to affiliations of the student groups. They can’t NOT allow an event booked through the correct procedures and approved by the clubs manager(unless there is an emergency). So I believe that there must have been some non-affiliation based reason as to why the rooms were kept locked, otherwise someone should have lost their job over this.

    There are a lot of people who have concerns about the way women’s groups are treated on campus, but I am sure, the University officials would fully cooperate in discussing and addressing the concerns if it was held in an official manner with both parties trying to reach a workable solution. If that is not the case, then there is reason to really wonder what kind of people are leading us from the top.

    • kylamckee at 12:52 am #

      Hey Nafis – thanks for the thoughtful comment! From what I was told, there was no real reason that they were denied access to booked spaces. The volunteer I spoke with had a theory: SLC management has had run-ins and disagreements with WPIRG, and so denied the women’s centre space when their events were held in partnership with WPIRG.

      Just to make it clear – that is simply a theory.

      I wish that I had gotten a response from an SLC staff person, but unfortunately I didn’t so I only got the information from the perspective of the women’s centre. I would encourage everyone that is interested in hearing management’s reasons for what happened to call, write, or e-mail. Since they aren’t holding themselves accountable, it falls to the students. It would be wonderful if pressure from students at large led to a meaningful discussion between both groups.

  2. shiggs91 at 9:08 pm #

    Is it sad that this doesn’t surprise me at all? I’m particularly offended by the fact that this university is known for being innovative and for developing strong business and workplace skills, but we can’t tackle something like gender equality? How backward is it that we can’t embrace ideas that are different or outside of the status quo? Without looking past our own knowledge, accepting others, and listening to other opinions how can we ever expect change – let alone innovation.
    I’m also not surprised because I’ve seen some of the sexist attitudes on campus myself, don’t get me wrong, most people are lovely, but occassionaly you come across the attitude that “oh you took women’s studies classes, does that mean you’re a feminist? Do you refuse to shave your legs and hate men?’ Yes I am a feminist and those conversations end pretty quickly.
    It saddens me that women are branded and their behaviour is excused as being erratic or ‘wrong’ if they argue the status quo or encourage equality. It saddens me that its still considered appropriate to make jokes about the roles of women or when people step up to do something because the ‘female might get hurt’.
    People need to realize that women are capable, equal, and have no reason to be treated any differently than men, or this universities already dwindling understanding of innovation will be entirelly shut down and one sided.

    • kylamckee at 9:33 pm #

      I agree Steph – especially the part about “feminist” having a certain label. My high school for International Women’s Day one year sold t-shirts that said “This is what a FEMINIST looks like.” It was awesome to see how many male students and teachers wore them!

      Waterloo does pride itself one innovation, but the focus tends to be on technological innovation. Universities have always been the space to challenge the status quo and where change starts. We can see this in so many historical and present revolutions and protests. University administration should be encouraging its students to challenge what they’re told instead of trying to suppress them.

      • shiggs91 at 7:48 pm #

        technological innovation is nothing unless we learn to think and act in innovative ways..

  3. Leah Rowlinson at 12:44 am #

    Slut walk had a lot of similar backlash. The reclaiming of words is always tricky because they are so loaded with history.
    That being said, I think that having a dialog about language is much more productive then cutting the word out or hosing it down.

    I wonder why Waterloo has such strong gender issues? I wonder if it has to do with Waterloo being one of the few remaining Canadian universities where men outnumber women? Especially because the faculties that are pulling these numbers are traditional masculine fields, such as engineering, that are only recently beginning to become more popular with women. But I’m not at Waterloo, in engineering, or a man, so this is more or less just a question I’m putting out to the world.

    • kylamckee at 2:53 pm #

      That’s a good question Leah. I don’t know if and how that would play in to the problems with our Student Life Centre’s management though. I think that I put the blame on students for being silent about all the behaviour of the administration.

      I also wonder if other Canadian universities have experiences like this, and maybe they’re just hidden and covered up better? It would be interesting to hear stories from other schools that have both a similar and a different demographic as Waterloo.

  4. Daniel Chevalier at 4:54 pm #

    This was incredibly eye opening. I heard about the Marie Curie posters, but I figured they were done by some insane radical. Clearly the SLC management isn’t any better. Sexism should not be happening, especially on our campus. Feridun Hamdullaphur will definitely be getting a nice little email from me. And by nice, I mean angry.

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