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U of O shuts down paper for misogyny

March 20th, 2008     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

The most recent issue of the Oral Otis, the University of Ottawa’s Engineering Students’ Society paper, featured misogynistic content. Again.

The Bad Professor Kathryn Trevenen, with U of O’s School of Political Studies, “said the article was in such poor taste that she doesn’t think students should be paying for the newspaper out of their non-academic fees” (full article at the CBC).

The article in question was an advice column which contained “graphic references to anal sex, sexual aggression and pedophilia.”

The Ugly Responding to controversy over a previous issue, U of O’s student newspaper The Fulcrum quoted the Oral Otis’ editor-in-chief Zacharie Brunet as saying:

“I was aware that [the article] was a little bit pushing it, but it was our first time writing a paper. I had no guidelines to follow; I didn’t know what the line was [and] if we were crossing it or not.”

Now that Zacharie has some experience under his belt, just what did he see fit to publish this time? From Professor Trevenen’s letter:

After counselling men on the biological irrelevance of the female orgasm, the authors offer “tricks that will get her to think twice about finishing faster than a pedophile at a preschool.” They encourage, “jerking off on her after she’s finished: if she doesn’t get the message after the first or second time, she’ll sure get the message when you start aiming for the eyes.” Finally, they recommend anal sex in language that evokes rape. They say: “Don’t stop: Hey, if she’s screaming and moaning in pleasure, just keep thrusting harder and don’t let her get away…remember, you two aren’t finished until you say you are.”

Rob Arntfeld is the vice-president of social affairs for the Engineering Student Society. The CBC quotes his response:

“For myself, personally, I think some of the content in the paper is meant to be humorous,” he said. He added that engineers “have taken a lot of flak for being engineers,” and are often the subject of jokes about engineers rarely touching women or getting laid. “I believe that when we take this sort of thing in stride and that sexual harassment, if we dish out a little bit of our own, who’s to say who’s more right?”

The Good What the CBC article didn’t mention, which was covered in the several more comprehensive pieces at The Fulcrum are the reactions from the university as a whole, and the repercussions for the ESS and its newspaper. (Unlike the CBC, The Fulcrum also didn’t position the story as ‘Feminist Prof v Engineers’, but that’s a separate post)

The first time around similar actions were taken by: Seamus Wolfe (VP University Affairs for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa), and Jordan Leichnitz (coordinator of the Women’s Resource Centre).

In this more recent case, Professor Trevenen’s open letter published in the Fulcrum was supported by 15 additional faculty members and 44 students and community members. Then there is the open letter from the Women’s Studies Student’s Association. An open letter from a 2nd year international development student. And the Editorial from The Fulcrum.

As for what happened to the ESS – “Oral Otis pulled from stands, denied ability to publish again: Rejection of content comes from all corners of campus”:

“…the editors of the Oral Otis will not be allowed to print another issue until they create a policy that outlines what is deemed reasonable content, and the ESS will be penalized–likely a monetary reprimand–for allowing the issue to go to print.”

The Rest There are many good and decent people who are or want to be engineers. Some of them are my friends and family.

Unfortunately, engineering departments at many universities have a reputation of being schools within schools (a culture highlighted by many engineering frosh and social events). And they are, I think fairly, often associated not with taking all the best egalitarian traits of a university, but rather with being vestigial boys’ clubs.

In those departments where these boys’ club attitudes go unchecked, women are allowed in so long as they don’t make a fuss about it being a boys’ club. If you don’t just blend in to the misogynist wallpaper, then you are (oh sweet god no) a feminist, or worse, a humourless feminist.

Because what a downer you are if you don’t laugh about rape. You must not find anything funny.

As Danielle, who tipped us off to this story, rightly pointed out, it’s the female engineers who “often take the brunt of this sexual frustration and ‘humour’ and many end up feeling uncomfortable in the program once enrolled.”

Which I touched on in an article in the current issue of Shameless about women in Computer Science. Another discipline where women are still in the minority, and still have to deal with attitudes that anyone raised on a diet of Free to Be is incredibly disappointed to find still out in the world.

As long as universities continue to tolerate these attitudes, in any department, it continues to happen. Because there will always be people like Zacharie who will claim they don’t know where the line is, if you don’t draw it in giant indelible ink right in front of them.

So I’m looking at the story this way: The University of Ottawa, collectively, drew the line and sent a strong message that this sort of anti-social behaviour is not acceptable. Good on them.

Tags: news flash

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