Rape Culture at the University of Guelph

Today, I had the worst pedagogical experience I have had in a long time.  It makes me question the value of my teaching and it has forced me to reassess my goals as an educator.
I am a member of a Facebook group called “Overhead at Guelph.”  The purpose of the group is, ostensibly, to share the stupid/funny/crazy things you hear people saying as you go about your life on campus.  Recently, there have been more efforts to police the group from within, not in terms of keeping offensive language and material off of the group, but instead to keep material that questions dominant gender expectations off of the site.  That is, a recent comment by a student at Guelph who expressed disbelief at a rape apologist statement delivered in class by another student garnered well over a hundred responses as students argued both rape apologist and anti-rape positions.
The thread petered out – as all things will on the internet – yet the take away from the discussion was not to shame the rape apologists, but to embolden them.  Those who expressed views that were not in line with conventional gender norms were invited to take their views elsewhere as the group was “for joking around.”
                I was proud that there were enough students in the group who would stand up to the asinine commentary of rape apologists and trolls (those who comment to online forums merely to get a rise out of their opponents) to largely shut down the group and make people think.  As a teacher who deals with rape and mutilation in my classes, I was exceptionally happy to see some of my students fighting the good fight.  Sadly, last night a post was put up in that same group that was reciting a chant that had been overheard on “the drunk bus.”  The chant is a violent male fantasy about rape and I quote it in full:
Guy:I wish that all the women
Group: I wish that all the women!
Guy: Were statues of Venus
Group: Were statues of Venus!
Guy: Cuz then they`d have no arms
Group: Cuz then they`d have no arms!
Guy: To push away my penis
Group: To push away my penis!
I am not removing or obscuring the names of those who commented because the page is publicly accessible and it would be pointless to attempt to keep the privacy of those who did comment either which way.
What saddens me is not that the commentary that has followed has not been equally disruptive as last time, nor is it the fact that there are dozens (literally dozens) of students who approve of that message.  No, what saddens me is the fact that one of my own students… one of the students whom I taught Titus Andronicus with its graphic images of rape and mutilation… not only did he approve of the message, he decided to add to the song.

Wish that all the women were pies on the shelf, and I was the baker so I’d cream em all myself.

Wish that all the ladies were bells in the tower, and I was quasimodo so i’d bang em every hour.

What have I been doing in these classes that one of my own students does not have the presence of mind to make the connection between such statements and a culture of gratuitous violence and rape?  What has the point of my teaching been if I can’t get my own students to recognize the most fundamental rights of other human beings?  What is the point of teaching these kids about sexual violence when they can only rabbit back the party line and then go off to use their creative energies to further a rape culture?
                I’m teaching Shakespeare again in the spring.  I had planned on using the lectures that I have prepared on Titus Andronicus, but now I don’t know.  Now, I recognize that for at least a few of my students, such lectures, with their balanced, academic approach to what is an inherently difficult topic, just didn’t work.
 I can already hear the cries of many who may read this – that you can’t reach all students.  This, however, is a topic on which it is impossible that one doesn’t at least try to reach every single student.  This is a topic where we can’t afford, as a society and as pedagogues, to let any single person continue to promulgate fear and hatred.
                This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and, knowing the propensity of students to binge drink on that day coupled with the correlation between alcohol consumption and sexual assault, a lot of students I know or have taught are going to be raped this weekend.  Or if not one of my students, then perhaps someone they know. It will happen.  It is a statistical guarantee.  What saddens me is that one of my former students is participating in a culture that begets that statistical guarantee.
                What do I do?  How am I supposed to react?  How am I supposed to stop this culture from continuing?  I’ve approached the Human Rights and Equity Office at the University of Guelph, though because the site is privately run, there’s probably very little they can do about it.  I will bring this topic up at the feminist round table later in the month, to be sure, but what more can be done?
I’m a teacher.  I like to think that that means that I can help students to understand themselves and situate themselves in the world in an ethical and reasonable manner.  Any suggestions?

96 thoughts on “Rape Culture at the University of Guelph

  1. I wish more people would, when called out on being misogynistic (or racist, homophobic etc) regardless of their intent, stop and think about why this (maybe marginalized) person would think that, put themselves in someone other than a white/hetero/cis/male person's shoes, and say, “Oh shit, sorry, I didn't see it that way but you're right it was uncool. My bad.” Everyone makes mistakes, I suggest you learn from them instead of crying when somebody calls you out on extremely offensive language. People will have much more sympathy for you if you take it with dignity and a rational mind.


  2. @Anonymous 6:03.

    I am not expecting your sympathy. I take full responsibility for my response. I will add that I did not look to the first post as a reference to rape and did not respond under that impression. My comment offered no indication of sexual assault, and I do not sing lyrics of a song that would condone something to that effect.


    You make a good point initially, however when you turn to saying I am whining about someone calling me out that message is lost. My concern with this is not that I was called out, I would appreciate the criticism if it were done privately and neutrally rather than the implication that I normalize the idea of rape and support it.


  3. But your behaviour does contribute to normalizing the idea of rape. Not you alone, of course. But the thousands upon thousands of guys like yourself who don't seem to see a problem with the things they say and do because they have never experienced what it's like to be the receiving end of such dehumanization.


  4. The very fact that you didn't realize that the original post was about rape is a sad sad problem with today's society. I am not blaming you as I know you're not the only one who somehow didn't seem to comprehend that this was a song about making it easier to rape women (which is even sadder).

    You may not think that your comment offered indication of sexual assault but the first impression I received of your comment was that you consider women to be sexual objects for your own enjoyment. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant as it is the impression that a lot of people received. If you don't want people to think you support this notion then you have to think before you link your name to a comment like that.

    However, I sincerely appreciate that you are thinking about your actions, as I know many many people couldn't have cared less about what they said.


  5. Graham,

    Let us know what happens to the complaint you filed. I hope it goes in your favour.

    I would also like to point out that I DO NOT agree with what you posted. However I do think the professor handled it inappropriately.

    Best of luck.


  6. If it was anyone else who drew attention to his post you wouldn't even give a shit. Who cares that the person who posted it is a professor? I REALLY hope that you don't let emergent issues pass you by just because you think it'll make you look bad as 'a person in authority'. Where would the world be today if every influential person, every person in authority, cared more about their image or their profession than human rights? Why do so many people seem to miss the big picture.


  7. Back in my day we apologized when we were caught doing something wrong. We didn't file a complaint about the person that caught us. He's a coward.


  8. Graham you come across as someone with an ersatz sense of entitlement; i.e., a jerk.

    Ha ha. i made a joke – it's hilarious, yes?

    I too am a comedian, at least as “funny” as you, i'”ll wager. And everyone else is saying it too!


  9. It's amazing what people will call me behind the veil of the internet. I challenge you to share a conversation with me, in person regarding this issue rather than condemning me for reciting published and well known lyrics.

    Call me a jerk all you like but at the root of it you are hunched behind your computer making unbased allegations about my character and protecting someone who has published potentially career affecting (both mine and their own) slander which is in violation of law.


  10. What I'd like to see is you, or anyone else who participated, admitting that they have actually taken into consideration that this shit is extremely harmful and disgusting, instead of hiding behind excuses that it's well-known, published, everyone else was doing it, you didn't mean it that way, etc.

    You feel like your character was defamed? I feel like you participated in dehumanizing my entire sex and reduced us to something fuckable and rapeable. I don't have sympathy for you. You completely brought it upon yourself and now you are paying the price in shame.


  11. If you weren't hotheadedly replying you would see that I have repeatedly taken note that I do feel bad for it, I do know the extent of how it makes a person feel, and I do apologize for it. It, however is not your place to comment on my character for it, nor is it the place of this professor to try and make me infamous for it. I removed the content in question once I saw the reaction it evoked and realized the severity of what was said and all I ask is this professor do the same.


  12. Uh, why does everyone have to keep reminding you that you're the one that posted the derogatory comments? If I was an employer I wouldn't hire you from those alone….you tarnished your own image farrrrrr before the professor even got involved.


  13. I am one of Bretz's students, and part of his teaching style is his engagement with his class. He is not a professor that puts little to no stalk into his students, and as the offender in question is likely one of my classmates, if indeed Bretz's taught him, I am fully allied to Bretz's side on this one. Especially pertaining to the reference of Titus Andronicus, from which any sense of compassion in regards to the growing problem of sexual assault on this campus should have been tweaked, I am confused as to how a normal, caring human could continue to consider the aforementioned dilemma okay. The individual should know, considering his education, that this has made him part of the problem.

    Say what you will, but you posted this to Facebook, so tough shot if it's posted elsewhere. If you want to nitpick the policies, then I am perfectly happy to tag my network so as many people as possible can see it. Warfare's a bitch, and when you attack a prof this school would be worse off without, be prepared to draw sides. If this goes to the administration to any great effect, I for one will be there to fight you. Hurrah for partisan politics.

    As to Bretz's pedagogy, I hope he keeps everything up, including Titus Andronicus. If there was the option, there is no question I would take another of his classes.


  14. know what doesn't help? singling out and making someone who made an honest mistake or said something without thinking, feel like shit. because that's all this did. I'm not saying I don't find the song not funny, immature, and gross, but attacking individuals does NOT help the cause. Thank you so much for making it even worse. Speaking with anger only makes things worse. Everyone speaks without thinking, so ya'll need to stop acting like you're better than everyone.


  15. Thank you for continuing to single me out after I have apologized multiple times. The quote in question was by a friend that alludes to women being a mystery and then stating that that is where the similarities end. It gives no indication of anything other than sleep is deemed useless by him.

    Can everyone please stop hounding me for something I a)deleted b)Feel horrible for c)Have apologized for and d)did not recognize the impact or consequence of what I said. I truly am sorry and I would appreciate if you could all give it a rest


  16. While I can sympathize with this professors “need” to perform some sort of civic response to what he viewed as outrageous social behavior, as an academic, as an instructor he fails INCREDIBLY hard. This is NOT how you deal with students (real or imagined), you don't call them out and condemn them before giving them an opportunity to discuss their actions.

    Hopefully you keep this blog up, so that it can serve as a warning to potential students of yours and definitely potential employers at your glaring inability to put your personal need for “justice” aside and handle situations rationally.

    And just to be clear – rape is beyond wrong. As is racism, sexism, dwarfism, and any other 'isms I haven't covered. Doesn't mean one can not find humor in the darkest of subjects. . .


  17. “I am confused as to how a normal, caring human could continue to consider the aforementioned dilemma okay.”

    Absolutely ridiculous, and a good example of the oversimplification/generalization one expects from these courses/campuses. Because one laughs at a joke does not make that person a defacto support/enabler of racism (if this were so there are a ton of racists buying/watching Chris Rock concerts) The same rules apply here.

    By couching this “dilemma” in something it is not, you actually denigrate the very real environments of rape that exist (on your campus and elsewhere).


  18. Absolutely nobody is saying that “singing this song means you like rape” or “making rape jokes means you are a rapist.” Nobody. Just in case anybody was confused. Try actually reading what people are saying about WHY this kind of “humour” is extremely damaging. If you still need to get your laugh out of it despite all the harm it does, then all I can possibly say is fuck you, selfish asshole.


  19. I don't understand why you're all picking on one person- yes, he made a mistake. But he certainly wasn't the only one. And he HAS stood up and apologized. How about some of the others who were contributing to this discussion, who were also adding lyrics and egging on this behaviour? How about the fact that there were students in leadership positions that found it okay to do this? Yes, it's inappropriate for anyone to do this, but I find it more troubling that there are people on that forum who have actually had the training to know that it's wrong and did it anyway.

    There's a bigger issue here that you're all missing. This isn't about what one student posted. This isn't about what one student replied to. This is about (the last time I saw it) the fact that there were more than 70 likes! That there were other people commenting on it and cheering them on. How do you propose that we deal with the larger issue, rather than making one student the scapegoat?


  20. Is using god in the national anthem promoting religious culture? No its part of a traditional song that we sing as a sign of respect for our country, I proudly sing it even though I am an atheist.
    Now the lyrics he posted have much less value and true meaning, but still, that's all they are lyrics to a stupid song. Men and women in engineering and aggie sci sing these songs on busses on buses all the time, and have been for decades.
    You guys slandering a good person and accusing him of promoting rape culture is ridiculous. And the professor who posted this should not be trolling around picking fights, and slandering innocent students who post stupid things. The professor who writes this blog should be disciplined by the school for slander of a student’s character and maybe should try to troll where there actually is a rape culture. It does not exist in the overheard @ Guelph group.


  21. Is using god in the national anthem promoting religious culture? No its part of a traditional song that we sing as a sign of respect for our country, I proudly sing it even though I am an atheist.
    Now the lyrics he posted have much less value and true meaning, but still, that's all they are lyrics to a stupid song. Men and women in engineering and aggie sci sing these songs on busses on buses all the time, and have been for decades.
    You guys slandering a good person and accusing him of promoting rape culture is ridiculous. And the professor who posted this should not be trolling around picking fights, and slandering innocent students who post stupid things. The professor who writes this blog should be disciplined by the school for slander of a student’s character and maybe should try to troll where there actually is a rape culture. It does not exist in the overheard @ Guelph group.


  22. I think this massive outpouring of comments might be a pretty strong indication of the level of frustration people (women) feel in general in their day to day lives with the constant barrage of demeaning, pig-headed comments/'jokes'/etc. It seriously bubbles under the surface all the time and now that a particular, very public display of mysogyny has been brought to everyone's attention in a manner that allows those frustrated by it to comment under the freedom of anonymity, it's all pouring out! I think it's great.
    But if these childish lyrics are able to bring forth so many emotions and comments, doesn't it indicate that this was only a 'tipping point' of sorts?
    So: to the people who are frustrated that they were singled out for having a laugh – maybe try to be a little more aware that you are only tossing another log on the fire which has never been truly stamped out. But the people trying to stamp it out are facing bigger frustrations than you. And you are not helping.


  23. To the “God in the anthem” comment:
    “…its part of a traditional song that we sing as a sign of respect for our country, I proudly sing it even though I am an atheist.”

    Oh! So the “wishing women were armless so they can't slap away a penis” is a sign of respect! For women! That's great.

    What a terrible argument. You are equating the National Anthem which says “God” because of historical climates and culture with the “I want to put my penis in women” song? Oh, and by the way, YES: the reason why it says “God keep our lands, glorious and free” is because of religious culture. Just like saying “I am going to stick my penis in a women whether she likes it or not” is mysogynistic culture.

    I just love that men rule the world. Don't you? Yay!!


  24. But then again:
    We sing the national anthem because we are taught to feel “national pride” for wherever we were born/wherever we live and pig-headed people sing demeaning songs because they are taught that it is not necessary to respect women.

    So maybe you've unlocked the secret code of the Universe: we're all brainwashed and demonstrate/perpetuate it through the power of song! How fun.


  25. To r. william and all, we apologise if anybody read our poem as an indictment of revenge rape or just desserts, something we would never, ever, consider as reasonable. What we meant, and mean, is that we wish people could empathize and put their mother or sister into the song and then they might be able to see how disturbing it really is. Just because it is sung a lot of places, just because it is meant to be funny, just because some people might think it is a lighthearted song about not being able to get any, does not take away from its many meanings, and one clear one is a desire to have women unable to put their pesky no in the way of a sexual conquest. Rebecca and John


  26. This is absolutely ridiculous. Anyone who has said the prof did not call out the students by name is an idiot, as he stated a specific phrase, and then posted that phrase from facebook with the student's name.

    I hope there's some sort of action taken against this prof, to single out one student in this manner when there are many who have commented similarly. This is an abuse of power on the part of the prof, and I personally would like it dealt with. I certainly would NEVER take a class with this prof based on these actions.

    It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with the person referred to, this prof is abusing his power and potentially harming the life of the student in question. Not cool.


  27. I think that people have to remember that websites like these, facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc. are NOT private. Your information is kept. Your information is public. If you are posting something you will regret, especially in a group message board, you have to be aware that anybody can access it, and anybody will access it. There are consequences to such things. This prof is will within their right to post this on the internet. You posted it, you made it public. Also to those of you saying it is meant a joke, it is not funny. This sort of thing, including jokes, media representation, only lull people into a false sense of awareness that this sort of this is OK, and that this is is not a serious matter. I can definitely tell you, it is. You can talk to any of my friends who have been raped and sexually assaulted on campus alone. I don't think any of them are laughing with you, and neither am I.


  28. Very good write up, i was linked it from a friend on facebook.

    It blows me away that this verse can be so openly nonchalantly sung without people thinking about the implications.

    While some might write it off as friendly group of drunk teenagers singing, the fact that this sort of thing is perpetuated and is normal, is nothing short of disgusting.

    Becoming 'numb' to the concept of rape is something that we as a society should never condone.


  29. While I agree that incidents like what occurred on the bus are disheartening, I find it disappointing and ultimately ironic that a professor who makes frequent reference to Panopticonism in his lectures would be so aggressive about exposing the comments one of his own students made on a social networking website.


  30. This song isn't even about rape… If you wanted to spin in that way go right ahead, but language is used to communicate an intended meaning and the intended meaning of that song definitely isn't rape.


  31. Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks that rape jokes are funny and says so in a public forum. To all those who have criticised this professor for outing the posts – he is addressing the very real rape culture that exists in our society that means women are not safe to walk alone in the dark. Please think about this – WOMEN ARE NOT SAFE ON OUR STREETS. What does that say about our society? Rape jokes are making fun of the fact that half of our population is not safe. Funny? I don't think so. Maybe the poster – who is worried about his future employment prospects – could spend some time thinking about this fact. And then maybe he could put together his own blog post outlining why he was wrong and how he has now changed his opinion. That might help. Maybe.


  32. I just wanted to say that I'm really sorry for what happened to you. I was an R.A. for two years and am shocked to hear about it – we have so much training that ingrains in us about these potential situations amongst the students, I feel so horrible that someone is a supposed position of power would do this to you (and that you didn't feel comfortable reporting the assault). We are supposed to be the people who help prevent these situations or help students cope if they do.

    I wish you all the best and hope you never have to experience anything like that again!


  33. I am a female, a Guelph student, and was following along with the debate. To target one student out of the nearly 100 who supported this is unfair. I agree, it was incredibly inappropriate and I was very disappointed in the Guelph community.

    But to blame rape culture on one kid, who said a few dumb things, when we LIVE in rape culture day in and day out, is missing the point entirely. His, along with other students names should have been blurred out. They are students, and I hope, are at a university to receive an education. Private messages or a one-on-one chat would have done just fine (in fact, it would have probably been better), along with them personally knowing it was they who posted it and the reaction it caused in the greater community.

    Why the professor chose to potentially scar a student's future success at life, because of a stupid decision at 19-22, is beyond me. I am sure Greg is a good person, who forgot to use his ever-crucial critical thinking skills. The post has been deleted by the author, so the argument that this is in “public space” is no longer true. It only exists in private space, and I do think he has reasonable grounds for a law suit. People who make dumb decisions still have rights. I'm not apologizing for him, I think that was absurd, but there are far more pro-active avenues for addressing these issues.

    Guidance, instead of humiliation, I think, would have been the most effective teaching tool.

    Maybe you should use that next semester.


  34. I completely disagree. He did single out his former student. Not by naming his name, but by providing what he had written. He then followed it up with a screen caption of the thread, which included the student's name. While this student may have shown support by adding to the chant, his additions (while sexist) were not about rape.

    I think this post should have been written as to not single anyone out.


  35. As much as there are two sides to everything, there are two sides to this. Much as it might be offensive, humour IS offensive. Second, this doesn't need to be leveled at Guelph. As far as I can tell, this is no more offensive than Red-chants at McMaster.

    Now, I personally find this chant unsavory. But I personally find many things unsavory. There are worse jokes. There are also funnier jokes. This is NOT AN ISSUE OF RAPE. This is an issue of appropriateness in humour. Or, alternatively, appropriateness in University Chants. This is an issue to be dealt with on a singular basis. The student should possibly be taken aside, and the connotations of his words discussed with him. In private. There is no reason to publicly smear a single university, or a single university student because you think there song supports rape. Get over it.

    Man, he said things about having sex with the Venus De Milo – probably supports rape as a legitimate form of recreational activity. Lets tell the internet. (You see how maybe this might be wrong, Andrew Bretz?)


  36. LOL, I can't believe what I just read (the whole comment thread). Totally glad to be at a different University.

    I won't claim we don't have people singing the same verses… But we don't have idiots trying to file ethics board complaints against the people who take an issue with them posting/stating extremely offensive lines like this. You hang your head low in shame and hope for forgiveness. Welcome to the internet era, Version “Social Media”, where anything you post is NOT ANONYMOUS. BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! So many of you Guelph students think it is…

    This is total jokes.


  37. A friend just showed me this blog post and I know this is a pretty late response, but in response to those who are upset with this instructor for having taken a screenshot of this conversation without even hiding the names of those who commented: Well, now that we're in April 2013, we already have seen the lovely example of the Steubenville trials.

    Two young men were found guilty for the crimes of sexual assault, which they committed. A lot of people felt sorry for them for now having to serve time in prison and for having lost the great opportunities they had coming their way. The media was more upset about their losses brought by their deserved punishments than it was about the assaults committed against the victim. It is completely wrong of all their sympathizers to feel sorry for these young men: they committed a crime and just like anyone else in this world, they should have to accept the consequences.

    The same goes for students who commented in support of this post on Overheard (and, of course, for the student who created the post in the first place). They said what they said and didn't even hide their names about it on a page that can be fully viewed by anyone who has a Facebook account. I don't really care if their actions tied to their names are ridiculed for what they are by a member of staff at the university or by the Mayor or Guelph or by whomever for that matter.


  38. Just because these kids add to the chant does not mean they endorse rape culture at all. Of course, it makes it easier for these things to be accepted in the case where someone is raped, which is horrid.

    The real problem is not the students though, it is the environment they have been brought up in. There is no way you can have everyone against even jokes which allude to rape, when their entire childhood has been raped itself by sex-sell ads and everything that has sexed up our kids.

    Even having cell phones increases the chance of two people having sex at a young age. Sexual interaction itself only relies on 1) being in contact with in individual, or being in communication, and 2) some attachment to them, by factors like looks and personality. If you increase the communication side of the equation (e.g. myspace, facebook, cell phones, twitter, etc) then you will increase the probability of some kind of sexual union. At the same time, if you dress our kids in short shorts and spandex pants, the guys will start drooling a little more (the attachment side of the equation).

    They can't necessarily help it, people are still animals and most of their actions reflect that, in being impulsive or emotionally based. You can't expose a child to a sexual environment in their development years, and then try to contradict those biological adaptions with logical reasoning. Logic is a fluke, rape can only be mitigated in the long term by the correct environment. It is sad but it is a reality, if people shun this negative idea then the argument will continue forever.

    So does this mean people should not communicate and try to look less attractive? Hell no, first it is impossible due to ones inability to change their impulsive reasoning beyond the age of ten or so, and people still need to reproduce! It just becomes more of a problem when a 9 year old girl (who has advanced in puberty due to BPA contamination) gets a cell phone and starts fooling with all sorts of guys around her and with no moral or emotional barrier to it, and with the men going nuts because they stare at her spandex pants-ass whenever they get the chance.

    And to the men who have had been with a lot of teenage girls, it is not surprising if a girl gets assaulted at a party, it is a slippery slope and may be considered hooking up with a really drunk girl, which is the case enough even without their consent.

    So in the end, rape is just the trickle down effect of problems people ignore because they like them too much. Think of it as a potential energy barrier, the hotter you are, the less the potential. The easier you can communicate, the lesser the potential. Of course this is not the case of conventional rape, but the rape that is most disgusting (drunk girl at party, between supposed “friends”, etc) that goes unreported.

    It is an adverse effect of sexing everyone up to ridiculous degrees, but hey! We have to increase consumer consumption somehow right! For the sake of the economy! RAPE!


  39. I go to the University of Guelph and I am honestly so embarrassed to say that I am educated at the same institution as these ignorant, misogynist individuals. They are so uneducated. It is terrible.


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