In this last installment of the feminism series, I want to continue looking at what others have to say about the topic. One other notable voice on feminism is U of T’s Professor Mari Ruti, who teaches critical theory at the St. George campus. Although she is currently on sabbatical and thus unavailable for personal comment, she has achieved a most remarkable feat for an academic: in 2011 she published a mainstream book called The Case for Falling in Love, in which she debunks our culture’s mainstay and feminism’s archnemesis—the romance self-help industry. You know, books that teach women how to “win” a man, ones based on the premise that men and women are from different planets and that women have to educate themselves on how to manipulate a man into their arms.
Ruti uses her background in cultural theory, psychoanalysis, gender studies, and continental philosophy to argue, “Clichés about ‘what men want’ and ‘what women should do to seduce them’ reduce the intricacies of romance to over-simplified formulas that can’t hold up in the face of real life complexity.” She also argues that “there is a complexity to romance that exceeds stereotypical distinctions between men and women”, but that the self-help industry reduces love’s intricacies to gender-based explanations that often imply that “women actually are doing something wrong with men” if their relationships fail. Such covert denigration dressed as helpful advice leads women to be even more insecure about romance and take the sole blame for the volatile nature of love.
I agree with Ruti that the relationship self-help industry has long been a bastion of outdated ideas about gender roles. It seems miraculous to find a book whose message is that there is absolutely no “method” to romance, a book that defends failed love as valuable to personal growth. By going against the views of so many social anthropologists, Ruti’s book is revolutionary, and what remains incredible is that in the 21st century there is even a need for a book to explain to women why it’s perfectly okay to be their authentic, flawed selves in relationships with men.
Someone else who has added much value to the conversation on feminism is director Kirby Dick, who recently premiered The Hunting Ground, a documentary about the rape epidemic happening on American (and likely Canadian) university and college campuses.
It was while making another documentary (The Invisible War, about the prevalence of sexual assault in the U.S. military) that Dick discovered the premise of The Hunting Ground.
The problems presented in the documentary are myriad, from frat houses with an “old boys’ club” mentality to university administrators who do their utmost to have sexual assault reports go no further than their office. The film argues that university administrators—even of such top-tier universities as Harvard and Stanford—perpetuate the occurrence and frequency of sexual assault in the schools by failing to take adequate measures, such as conducting an investigation, involving police, and expelling offenders.
The film cites statistics from multiple sources to back this up. For instance, 16–20% of women are sexually assaulted in American universities, or nearly one in five. On smaller campuses it’s very possible that everyone knows at least one person who has been a victim of sexual assault. Despite this statistic, 45% of universities reported zero sexual assault incidents in 2012. One year, Stanford had 259 sexual assault complaints and only one expulsion. If nothing changes, 100,000 women will be victimized at American universities this year alone.
The Hunting Ground scrutinizes what we all suspect: that money means more to those in charge than the well-being of women. Because American universities rely on reputation and donor money for so much of their budget and their competition for the best students, they fear that bad publicity will turn away donors and in turn lower salaries for everyone.
“Less than 8% of male students commit 90% of college rapes,” the film says. By being unwilling to remove them from campus, university administrators are enablers for multiple offenders, who become predators through such lax punishment initiatives as $25 fines and community service hours at an abused women’s shelter. The universities’ Jekyll and Hyde relationship with their notorious fraternities is also to blame. Fraternities like Sigma Alpha Epsilon have been acronymized by interviewed students as “Sexual Assault Expected”, but because fraternities hold enormous appeal for current and prospective students, colleges are unwilling (and in many cases are not legally able) to bring them to heel. It is not surprising that the second-most common insurance claim against fraternities is for sexual assault.
Closer to home, Premier Kathleen Wynne has added consent for the first time to the proposed new sex ed curriculum. She has also launched a campaign to combat the “culture of misogyny”—all too evident in some reactions to the Dalhousie Dental School, Bill Cosby, and Jian Ghomeshi scandals—by implementing a multimedia “awareness campaign”. The province will eventually offer more training to those working with sexual assault or harassment complaints, increasing funding for sexual assault crisis centres, and more.
In November, The Toronto Star launched an investigation into how Ontario colleges and universities handle sexual assault cases. After surveying 24 public colleges, the Star discovered that not one had a policy outlining the administration’s responsibilities towards the student filing a sexual assault complaint. In fact, only nine of 78 Canadian universities had such a policy. Since then Ontario universities announced that they have created a “multi-pronged sexual violence plan” to serve as a roadmap to the eventual creation of a sexual assault policy, which each university will draft independently. Ontario colleges, on the other hand, have already created a uniform sexual assault policy that outlines the responsibilities of the colleges toward their students in the area of sexual assault complaints and that provides a clear path for students filing these complaints.
So there is much being done and much still to be done. Let us not forget that, in the words of Caitlin Moran, “When feminism has won, it will have just disappeared and people will just go ‘But why did you need feminism? Everybody is equal.’ ” We are far from this goal, but I sincerely hope this series of article will stimulate the conversation we all need to have.