Recently, the University of Calgary’s Active Living office received complaints about a handful of intramural team names that purportedly contributed to rape culture. Names like “Frigid Whore,” “Cunning Stunts” and “Beats by Ray” were cited as examples of team names that made women on campus feel unsafe.
Thankfully, the Active Living office took action and won’t accept offensive team names next season. However, this solution sidesteps the most important part of this debacle — the fact that these names should have never been chosen by the players in the first place.
I want to address two groups of people here, both of which I consider responsible for an intramural flag football team being named “Frigid Whore.” The first group is the obvious one: the people that don’t see anything wrong with these names.
Look, I get it. Being accused of “perpetuating rape culture” sounds overdramatic. After all, it’s just a team name. It’s not like you actually sexually assaulted anyone or have ever abused a partner. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you think sexual and domestic violence directed at women is completely wrong. So what’s the harm in making a little joke?
The issue isn’t that you think violence against women is okay. The problem is that there are people out there who really do think that violence against women is acceptable and when they see you joke about it they will assume that you do too.
There are men out there that genuinely believe it is okay to shame women for their actions, force women to have sex with them, or to physically abuse women in relationships. And above all, they believe that every other man also thinks this way.
Joking about violence against women validates this belief, and allows them to justify and perform this violence.
By making light of sexual assault and domestic violence, you’re also telling women that you think these problems aren’t serious. How can we expect women who have experienced domestic violence to feel safe when we live in a world where a man violently beating a woman is trivial enough to be a throwaway gag?
That is what rape culture is — the words and actions that normalize and trivialize the problems and violence women face. It’s a culture that emboldens those who believe that violence against women is okay. It silences and shames the women who are victims of this violence.
A lot of women will have to deal with slut shaming or abuse in their lifetimes. The least you can do is remind the world that these things aren’t okay and to treat these problems with the gravity they deserve. There are more important things than making a shitty joke, and the feelings and experiences of others is one of them.
Now I want to talk to the second group of people who made “Beats by Ray” a reality. These are the people who already understand that rape culture is a problem, but still let these team names happen.
If you truly believe that rape culture is a problem, then you probably already know where you went wrong. You had the chance to speak up, but instead you gave in and let it happen.
Along with black-and-white striped shirts and kale-based smoothies, talking about rape culture is in right now. Student leaders are quick to bang the drum for the abolishment of rape culture and often loudly support initiatives to make the U of C campus a safer place for women.
Obviously, that’s all great. But rape culture isn’t just a buzzword that can be thrown around to earn feminist brownie points. It’s a huge problem that must be fought in all aspects of our lives.
It isn’t enough to believe that violence against women is a problem. To really make a difference, you need to put in the effort to act according to your principles. I know this can be hard. It’s not fun to be the one guy that suggests that maybe “Cunning Stunts” isn’t the most tasteful name for a sports team. That’s why it’s tempting to let organizations like the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education (CASE) club fight these battles for you.
But CASE can’t single-handedly stop rape culture, especially not when the people who claim to be their biggest supporters fall silent when it really matters. To truly change our society, people need to take personal responsibility for making things better.
Individuals need to stop trivializing violence against women when those jokes are being told, instead of simply leaving others to clean up the mess. Because if people stood up for what they believed in when those names were being chosen, this whole mess would have never happened.
Yes, this will be hard — doing the right thing often is. Remember that you can believe whatever you want. But in the end, it’s your actions and words that make a difference. So make them count.
Sean Willett, Gauntlet Editorial Board