‘Do You Know What ‘Misogynist’ Means?’

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Latest public outcry over male dentistry students who made violent comments about female classmates on Facebook page.

I was rattled last night by CBC’s recent reports that leaked violent, sexually explicit posts on a private Facebook group that was run by fourth year male dentistry students at Dalhousie University. It made me question my own stereotypes of ‘who is a misogynist?’

The group called themselves “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen”. They are twelve men, all one semester away from graduation and becoming licensed dentists, though, as evidence from their Facebook page clearly demonstrates, hardly ‘gentlemen’ at all.

Screenshots of their Gentlemanly banter on Facebook were taken and sent to the CBC – forty-five pages worth, in fact – which revealed hateful and violent sexual comments towards their female classmates and women, in general.

“Who would you hate fuck?” read one post, asking members to vote on two of their female classmates. The post was seen by “everyone” and eight members casted their votes.

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40 pages of screenshots from the students’ group were leaked and sent to the CBC.

“Penis,” began another post, defining the purpose of male genitalia, “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.”

“And by productive I’m assuming you mean it inspires them to become chefs, housekeepers, babysitters, etc.,” another member commented.

Another post featured a bikini-clad woman with the headline: “Bang until stress is relieved or unconscious (girl).”

The Gentlemen discovered they’d been found out late last week and took down the page. But sources even managed to capture frantic discussions between the men after they’d realized the contents of their page had been leaked to Dalhousie administration.

“RED ALERT!!!!! RED F–KING ALERT!!!!” a member posted. “Apparently one of the ladies has seen or heard something about the recent posts in the gentleman’s. We have to get rid of the evidence.”

Before destroying the evidence; however, they posted yet another poll, asking members how they should proceed. Shockingly, one of the options included “Issue statement of some sort” – as though they thought they could fall back on the ‘boys will the boys’ argument, tuck their tails between their legs and slink away from the media and administration’s radar. (Which, of course, could very well happen). But even more disturbingly, the Gentlemen joked about retaliating by using chloroform or nitrous oxide to gas women.

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“Does this mask smell like nitrous oxide?”

“Does this mask smell like nitrous oxide to you?” read the words superimposed onto an image of a woman wearing a bikini.

Right. Boys will be boys. And gentlemen will be gentlemen. And misogynists will be misogynists. And misogynists who get off the hook by society will be misogynists who get off the hook by society. And, well, you get the point.

At least three of the student members of the group have deleted their personal Facebook profiles in the last 36 hours, and names have not yet been named in the media. Dalhousie University is deliberating what to do with the Gentlemen and will announce their decision by Friday. In the meantime, they’ve postponed all dentistry final exams until January*.

And in the meantime, the twelve Gentlemen (and, potentially, future Canadian dentists) remain nameless, off the record.

I’ll admit that the evidence on Dalhousie’s dentistry students shakes my own perception of ‘what is misogyny’ and ‘who is a misogynist’ today.

I grew up in a small town in Northern Alberta where misogyny was expressed in implicit and explicit ways, reinforced unconsciously and consciously by men and women.

Our town was a hockey town where everyone placed their Friday night hopes on a team of eighteen, nineteen and twenty year old men who chased a puck around the ice. Those guys were something like small town gods, heroes, role models and leaders. On the ice, they were talented athletes and exciting to watch. Off the ice, they (generally, anyways) had a reputation. They drank, they partied and they slept around. Hockey talk moved from the locker rooms to the after parties held at gravel pits and houses and rural locations where the cops couldn’t find. I was at some of these parties and I remember hearing the talk.

The talk about young girls and women like sexual objects, like stupid, dispensable playthings. “Puck bunnies,” they called the girls who attended all the hockey games.

I remember the slander in one guy’s voice as he talked about a girl who gave hand-jobs to two guys at once. “It’s like she was cross-country skiing!” he howled with laughter. It was vicious talk. They talked about girls I knew, some who were my friends. Maybe they talked about me, too. I don’t know why, but even with all that talk, I still went to their parties.

The term “tag teaming” was also commonly heard and laughed about, describing how two men would have intercourse with one woman at the same time, or switch off. It was talked about like a badge of brotherly honor, like a fucked up rite of passage for male bonding. And afterwards, the girl was usually referred to as a “slut” or “whore”. Guys called them that, and so did other girls who caught wind of the stories. And there were so many stories.

I haven’t written much about these experiences of misogyny, about what it was like to grow up in a town where the image of young male hockey gods was untouchable. Where immoral or illegal behavior of boys was often placated with acceptance that ‘boys will be boys’. But I have reflected a lot over the past ten years. And I finally feel brave enough to write about it.

When I was a teenager, of course, it felt wrong. But I didn’t know how to frame it as violence, or as hateful social behavior towards girls and women. I didn’t even know what misogyny meant, or who could be called a misogynist. Of course, today I remember their faces. The faces of some of those hockey gods and other guys in town, too.

Unconsciously, perhaps, I’ve formed my own ideas of ‘who is a misogynist’ and what he looks like. And, of course, he reminds me of those small town guys. Athletes, those who are rough around the edges, trades guys, oil patch guys (‘rig pigs’). I’ve pegged how I see and understand misogyny to my past experiences. Over the years, I’ve defined it as ‘small town, rural, unsophisticated, ignorant misogyny’.

Of course, I’ve encountered misogyny in Edmonton, as well, but the face hasn’t looked all that different to me, it’s still the same small town ‘bro’ I remember.

On one unforgettable occasion, four years ago, I was waiting in line with friends at the Funky Pickle pizza joint on Whyte Avenue. A few friends and I had just come from the Black Dog pub. It was late enough that we were pleasantly drunk on pints and hungry for pizza. Two white guys (probably in their early twenties) were standing in line in front of us, talking brashly about two women that had just left the store.

“We should tag team that one girl,” one of the guys said loudly. “Stick it up her ass.”

They weren’t even trying to hide their talk and their laughter. They were probably drunk.

I acted reflexively, fueled by too many stories from female friends who’d experienced sexual assault and, admittedly, too many pints of beer. All of a sudden I was tapping the guy on the shoulder and confronting him.

“Do you know what ‘misogynist’ means?” I asked him patronizingly, drawing out the syllables ‘MI-SO-GY-NIST’ as though physically dangling the word in front of him.

My friends told me later that I actually tossed my pizza crust down on the floor in front of the guy, maybe trying to make my 5-foot frame stand up against him. The crust bounced off his shoe. I do remember the guy looking down at me with disbelief on his face.

“Yeah, yeah we know what that means!” retorted the other guy, coming to his friend’s defence.

It was a drunken standoff in an Edmonton pizza parlor. Me against these city bros who wore the same faces as the small town misogyny I remembered. I have no idea who those guys were, where they were from, or what jobs they held in society. They could have been guys fresh from the oil patch, looking to throw their money around, get wasted and try and hook up with women. Those are the kind of guys, much to my own admitted bias, that I associate misogyny with. But who says that they couldn’t have been dentistry students?

What has been so revealing to me from the Dalhousie incident is that my bias against those ‘rough around the edges, small town guys’ isn’t necessarily true – and that misogynistic attitudes and behaviors, whether we want to believe it or not, aren’t limited to stereotypes of rednecks, hillbillies and urban Jersey Shore inspired bros.

Actually, what scares me more than loud-mouthed rednecks are the men who form Gentlemen’s Clubs, the men who have enough intellectual, social and economic capital to secure places of privilege in post-secondary institutions, to study to become dentists (and lawyers and physicians and teachers and politicians, and so on) and to gain societal status and respect and protection, also. Those are the misogynists that really scare me. The ones who know what ‘misogynist’ means, just like they know what ‘nitrous oxide’ does and how to administer it. The ones who could very well get off the hook for the violence in their posts and comments towards their female classmates, and become licensed dentists within the next six months.

Will Dalhousie protect these students; the dentistry gods of their nationally recognized dentistry program, or expel them from the program – like over 3700 citizens in an online petition are already demanding?

One comment following the CBC story read like a threat:

“If CBC or Dal outs these 12 and ruins their high earning dental careers, expect 12 massive lawsuits aimed at restoring the potential earnings of each of these guys. The courts will decide if the fair penalty for their stupidity should be the loss of millions of dollars of future lifetime earnings for each student. If the court decides against CBC or Dal, it won’t be a good day for them either.”

But other comments aren’t letting the Gentlemen off the hook so easily:

“They joked about drugging and raping women. And they are due to become persons in positions of authority with the use of sedatives…yeah. They cannot be allowed to practice.”

The next 24-hours will be telling as Dalhousie’s administration makes a decision on how to deal with the students who participated in making blatant hateful (even criminal) comments about sexualizing and even raping women.

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Poster at Dalhousie promoting awareness of ‘End Violence Against Women’ campaign in early December 2014.

Will they protect their ‘dentistry gods’ (maybe it isn’t so different from the hockey institution in small towns) because, after all, ‘boys will be boys’ – or will they do the morally correct thing for an institution that literally just celebrated ‘Ending Violence Against Women’ at an event in early December? Make a stand against misogyny and hate speech, in general.

“We all have a responsibility to challenge sexism and misogyny,” read a Dalhousie poster for the event.

Let’s hope the administration takes that slogan seriously with their forthcoming decision.

T

*President Florizone releases public statement that claims university is moving forward with restorative justice process – see here.

One Comment:

  1. My son was evicted from a Dal residence for “allegedly” smoking pot.
    Given this incidence,what might be might not be too severe a punishment?
    Plenty of dentists out there. We could lose a few and not notice.

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