Anne Thériault (@Anne_theriault) recently wrote a blog post disclosing a long text message conversation between several students full of non-consensual, graphic sexual remarks about Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. That conversation is particularly extreme, in its vulgarity and graphic descriptions. But many parts of it are troublingly familiar, and so much I’m not even sure how to talk about.
Sex is seen as something that can be had, at will, by men. In the conversation, they are cheering each other on, promising beers and props for whomever will have sex with Roy. Roy, it is clear from the conversation, is not a woman that any of the group particularly like or respect. Why, then, would she ever be interested in having sex with any of them? This is very plainly not sex in terms of intimacy, affection or pleasure. This is sex as a weapon.
The conversation recorded in those texts is especially violent. But the conversations in high schools, bars, and university campuses, while less explicitly violent, too often take women’s sexual interest for granted. “If she was single, I would totally date her.” “After how much she was flirting with you that other night, why don’t you just have sex with her?”
“Why don’t you just have sex with her?”
How grating does that sound?
It is intentional – characterizing oneself as so desirable that interest is taken for granted to gain status. I don’t know all the FANCY DETAILS on how language influences our thoughts, but there is an obvious connection between the absence of recognition towards women’s interests in sex, dating, relationships, and the ongoing violence towards women.
Theriault writes: “In fact, three of the five men involved in the conversation are considering legal action against Roy on the grounds that it was a private conversation that should not have been made public. That’s right. They want to pursue legal action against her because she publicly called them out for making rape jokes about her.”
I’m sure there is some legal argument to make, that Roy “shouldn’t have shared personal conversations with consent.” That line of legal reasoning is not wrong or absurd to have in our country. It just has no place in this specific circumstance. Get a grip, use some judgment, apologize, maybe even REPENT or LEARN. But those dudes trying to play the victim here? no words.
To be honest, I’m not really sure why I’m writing this. I don’t think a single person will read this who doesn’t already agree with me. I guess it felt lazy and complicit to not write anything because I already knew *more or less* how I felt. instead of working to actually get my thoughts on paper and organize them.
In the inexplicable circumstance that someone is reading along with a furrowed brow, nodding with dawning comprehension, I guess I have two pieces of advice. The first: We can talk about relationships, love and sex with our male friends – why wouldn’t we? But just because it’s an all-male audience doesn’t mean the idea of consent needs to go out the window. The distance between “I would totally date her,” and “I would totally love to date her” is both tiny and significant. It’s about reminding everyone who is listening to you that the other person is a PERSON, and has a voice and thoughts and yeah, what they think matters too!
“You should totally have sex with her…” ..yeah, maybe you don’t need to be advising anyone on who they should or shouldn’t have sex with.
The second: Those distinctions, those seemingly innocuous comments, they need to be addressed. This is for myself as much as for anyone else.
The amount of trouble I had in writing this significantly less explosive, more conservative bit, was remarkable and embarrassing. “Oh, but if I phrase it like this, people can say that. If I phrase it like THIS, people might criticize THAT.” Who. even. cares.
So I would also like to commend Theriault for writing what she did, and Roy for standing up and not standing down. It’s brave.
eds note: written cis-gen-hetero. gotta write whatchya know.