My mother was a Dentistry graduate at the University of Toronto in 1943. As I look at her class graduation photo, I count 44 men and three women. She practiced dentistry, then taught dental hygienists, for 40 years. When I was a child, she never attended class reunions and, as far as I know, was never friendly with the men who graduated with her. Years ago I asked her why. She said, “The boys in my class were awful. They insulted me and the other two women. They played nasty tricks on us.”
More than 70 years have passed since that class photo was taken. I look at it now and wonder if those male graduates would have posted their misogynist comments, jokes and photos to Facebook.
In the media, I heard Dalhousie University’s president explain that he had received many emails urging him to take action, including expelling the 13 male dental students in the ‘DDS 2015 Gentlemen’ Facebook page. The ‘gentlemen’ have been active on the Facebook page for some years. Online, the male students talked openly about using chloroform to drug and then rape women classmates (for what else does “hate sex” mean?). They debated the women’s appearance, rated women in bikinis, and wrote in praise of using the penis “to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society.” One dental gent wrote to clarify, “And by productive I’m assuming you mean it inspires them [the women] to become chefs, housekeepers, babysitters, etc.”
This is the class of 2015 – 38 students, at least 19 were men and 13 of them were involved with serious sexual harassment, threats of rape and degradation of women classmates. That’s 68 per cent of final year male dental students were involved in DDS 2015 Gentlemen. Of course it wasn’t just them. It was also at least one male faculty member who thought nothing of denigrating the women students when he showed a video of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to ‘wake up’ the men dental students in his class.
Dalhousie University’s president Richard Florizone started to cry on the TV news when he recounted his pain when he listened to the women dental students – yet he had been told of these outrages at least six months previously and had done nothing. We now learn that several women fourth year students (including one who made a prior complaint) were not consulted on how this issue would be resolved.
So what are we to think? The Dalhousie ‘community’ chooses to take the restorative path. Of course by definition that means finding a “middle ground.” I predict the women students will not call for expulsion, because they fear the backlash they could face if they end the men’s career prospects. After all, the thinking goes that after paying high fees, and enduring four years of education, the women and the men both ‘earn’ the right to high status jobs with high pay. Statistics Canada tells us that on average dentists earn $175,000 per year. Doctors earn $180,000 but they have to complete at least two more years of post-graduate education than dentists. Much has been said of the of the high fees dental students pay for their education. Dalhousie charges about $18,000 per year for the four year dental program (three time more for foreign students). This means the students entering dentistry are part of the elite and seriously privileged. Either their parents pay, or the students take out loans which are quite easy to get because dentists’ huge earnings for decades after graduation tend to make them attractive borrowers.
While some of the women featured on the Gentlemen’s site may settle for a glorified apology for the miscreant soon-to-be dentists, how will this help to solve the problem of misogyny, power and privilege? It will not. Frequently women who suffer at the hands of men are told ‘education will help.’ Will it? We’ve seen all the education and training available at universities across this country have not turned the tide against misogyny. The education almost never zeroes in on men, race, class, power and privilege which are the underpinnings of misogyny. The education never tackles our misogynist culture. Only by making serious examples can institutions curb this sort of behaviour. Maybe we could all agree to follow a few simple rules which could help change the culture.
- On TV and radio interviews, on platforms, at political meetings, and at any presentations, if there is no woman speaker, then the event does not take place. The interview is forgone, the political meeting is cancelled. One cannot get around the rule by using a woman as an emcee or a moderator. It does not count if the woman is used as ‘window-dressing’, to host or emcee the event. She has to be a full participant.
- Any sports team, group of students, or social club which has one or more members who have sexually assaulted, verbally assaulted, sent out tweets or posted anything misogynist on social media gets banned from playing their sport, banned from the university for a minimum of six months.
- Any person in public office, if found to have engaged in harassment, assault or other form of misogyny (such as the two Liberal MPs if the allegations are proved against them) has to make a public apology and write an open letter of apology to the woman or women he targeted. The letter has to be published in a display advertisement in a national newspaper.
- Women get to speak first, in classroom discussions and in question periods at public events. Men should not be allowed to monopolise these forums.
We have seen rape chants erupt on campuses from UBC to Saint Mary’s; we’ve noted the denigrating tweets and rape threats against women on social media; we’ve exposed the long-running reign of terror against women by Jian Ghomeshi; we’ve heard men cat-calling and abusing women on the floor of the House of Commons; we’ve had the tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons. When are we going to get sick of being forced down the middle road of apology and fake contrition? A slap on the wrists merely enables repetition. When are we going to act?
Judy Haiven teaches in the Management Dept at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. She is chair of the CCPA-NS.