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Maddie Hunt, Queens University. Edited by Kenzie O’Day
Domestically, Queen’s University is known for its strong academics, expansive alumni network, and infamous party culture; so much so that it was ranked third in Maclean’s “Canada’s top party schools” in 2020.1 However, the unfortunate reality that is anchored to the alcohol and substance infested environment created by this party culture, is one of internalized misogyny and normalized rape culture – all of which Queen’s students have further enabled through spray painted white sheets proudly hung on the front side of their homes. In countless homecomings (and now faux-homecomings) throughout the decades, large signs that hang from student homes have been a staple of this well-known day. Most recently though, images of homecoming signs bearing alarming statements like “Lock down your daughters, not King$ton” and “Western guys wish they were Pfizer so they can get inside her” have been circulating on social media. Whether the creators of these signs are aware of it or not – and I want to give them the benefit of the doubt – they are validating an ideology that sexual violence is okay, and that rape culture should be normalized. To put it bluntly, they are utterly sexist. While the prominence of sexual violence and rape culture on campus may not be obvious in the day-to-day student experience, it does not take away from the fact that this is an ongoing issue in which these signs are contributing to. Rape culture itself is a term that many may not know how to properly define. As feminist and award winning author Emilie Buchwald explains, rape culture is:
a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
This definition thoroughly covers the dangers of these homecoming signs and their contribution to a threatening culture of sexual aggression, which the signs promote through their enforcement of rape culture in the underlying messages they hold. Perhaps due to a lack of education or awareness, I am sure there are students who do not believe that sexual harassment or assaults happen at Queen’s. However, in 2018 “a survey on sexual violence on Ontario university campuses indicated Queen’s had the second highest rate of reported sexual harassment and ranked fourth for the prevalence of sexual assault.” There needs to be a serious wake up call to the prevalence of sexual assault and normalized rape culture on campus. Whether this awareness is spread through educational workshops, speakers or social media posts, the students of Queen’s University need to be aware of the dangers that can accompany party culture and how homecoming signs can reinforce them. Further and equally as disturbing is that not only are these attitudes present on our campus (and others throughout Canada), but that there is a large majority (including many women) that see no problem with signs bearing messages like these. There are individuals who not only lack condemnation for the signs, but find them to be comedic and entertaining. I will not act above the people I am referring to, and say that I have always been completely educated and aware of what rape culture is and the dangers of univeristy party culture. In fact, the uneducated, naive, younger version of me may have even thought the signs were clever. However, looking back I realize it wasn’t my lack of education or naiveness that would have caused me to dismiss the problems associated with these signs – it was an internalized misogyny and the normalized rape culture that have twisted my thoughts. I am aware that it is a bold statement to project that women are subconsciously sexist to other women, as well as themselves, but it does make sense. It is an undeniable conception that we, as women, live in a man’s world. The man makes the media that sexualizes, degrades, and creates a certain image of what a woman “should be”. For example, some movies and TV shows sexualize a woman’s body, or create dismissive female characters, which ultimately feeds into the male gaze and fulfills the male fantasy of an ideal woman. This is then reinforced through “preconceived notions about what a woman should be” – which are rooted in gender roles and societal expectations. With this in mind, it would be understandable to laugh at signs with deeply sexist messages instead of evaluating the situation for what it really is: misogyny at its finest. A quote from Suzannah Weiss on internalized misogyny reminds us that “[i]nternalized misogyny does not refer outright to a belief in the inferiority of women. It refers to the byproducts of this societal view that cause women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender.” This needs to be brought to light, so change can be made; so that when women see signs like those that appeared during homecoming 2021, instead of finding it comedic, they will condemn it. They will see value in who they are as women instead of accepting the inferiority that is projected through the messages of the signs. To close, I am not suggesting that the tradition of homecoming signs should come to an end; all I am proposing is that there needs to be more appropriate messages on these signs, rather than a continuation of sexual-violence-related, and sexist, messages. Believe it or not, there can be signs that don’t enable rape culture through blatant misogyny. I found a sign that read “flip cups, not cars” to be quite entertaining. Though the university may not appreciate the endorsing of partying through these signs with renewed appropriate messaging, it is a step in the right direction from the endorsing of sexual violence.
Claire Brownell, November 27, 2019. (2020, April 1). Canada’s Top Party Schools 2020. Macleans.ca. Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://www.macleans.ca/education/canadas-top-party-schools-2020/.
What is rape culture? WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. (2019, March 19). Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/.
Press, T. C. (2021, October 18). Queen’s taking action against students after misogynistic signs over party weekend. nationalpost. Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/queens-taking-action-against-students-after-misogynistic-signs-over-party-weekend.
Internalized misogyny: What does it look like? how do you stop it? UMKC Womens Center. (2018, November 16). Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://info.umkc.edu/womenc/2018/11/16/internalized-misogyny-what-does-it-look-like-how-do-you-stop-it/.