Queen’s University and community organizations have issued a statement condemning the misogynistic signs painted on bed sheets and displayed on student houses during the University’s Homecoming weekend, Friday, Oct. 15 to Sunday, Oct. 17, 202.
The incidents happened when Queen’s official homecoming celebrations were held virtually for the second year in a row. Despite that, thousands of young individuals — who self-identified as being both students at Queen’s and students from a variety of other Ontario colleges and universities — took to partying in the streets and at unsanctioned gatherings, both of which contravene the University District Safety Protocol and accompanying bylaws, and the current Public Health COVID-19 guidelines and the Reopening Ontario Act.
Queen’s Principal and Vice Chancellor Patrick Deane issued a statement on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, saying there is no excuse for sexist behaviour, sexual violence, or harassment, and that “action against individuals who displayed misogynistic signs at unsanctioned student parties [is] being pursued under [the] Student Code of Conduct.”
“While this weekend’s street parties and other forms of disruptive conduct might be explained sympathetically by some as an expression of the pent-up energy of young people emerging from COVID-19 isolation, no such excuse can be made for acts of sexual harassment or violence or sexist behaviour of any kind,” said Principal Deane in a statement.
Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin, Global Talent Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Waterloo and Queen’s Alumna; MA (2013); Ph.D. (2018), unpacked the two of the signs displayed during the revelry and explained how these signs are the product of toxic masculinity and a culture of normalizing both misogyny and sexual violence.
“The first sign, ‘Lockdown your daughters, not Kingston’ — Are women not part of Kingston? Is the freedom of women not equally as important as that of the larger community? And, of course, what this sign really contributes to is the tendency to reduce women to objects – they need to be locked down, as one would their bike, lest it get stolen like any other piece of property,” explained Dr. Hoskin.
“The second sign, ‘Western guys wish they were Pfizer so they can get inside her.’ Here, women are again reduced to their bodies, which are then used as pawns to facilitate rivalry between groups of men; to foster in-group bonds between men of the same group (e.g., men from Queen’s versus men from Western). It also reduces sex to an acquisition; something that is “gotten” or to be had, but not something that is shared between consenting people.”
She also emphasized how these messages could dehumanize women, and in that situation, they cannot be expected to learn and thrive as equals.
Dr. Hoskin’s expertise focuses on critical femininities, Femme Theory, and femmephobia. Her research explores the sociology of gender, gender-based violence, sexual and gender diversity, gender and power, violence and discrimination, feminist theory, queer theory, transgender studies, and social inequality. For her doctoral work In 2019, she was awarded the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal at Queen’s University.
“It is statements like these that feed into rape culture and make it more unsafe for women and other marginalized populations living in these communities. If you think it’s okay to hang a banner like this, then what do you think is okay to do? Where do you draw the line?” said a joint statement released by Kingston Interval House and Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, specifically about the “misogynistic banners” and the “importance of addressing rape culture.”
As elaborated by Dr. Hoskin, seeing these signs as a survivor might be a reminder that we live in a world that condones behaviours that dehumanize and objectify women as objects for men.
“This is particularly the case when we see the degradation of women embedded into cultural celebrations and tradition, especially a university’s homecoming celebration that is intended to welcome back community members. Are women not community members? Why is the dehumanization of women part of that tradition? And, I think we know the answer – these signs are symptomatic of the culture of misogyny and sexual assault that persists year-long,” she added.
Hoskin also emphasized that we need to challenge this tendency to overlook and normalize misogyny to support the survivors.
“To do that, we need to see these misogynistic signs for what they are: inciting sexual violence against women. Then there would be no question in terms of how institutions should respond,” she said.
Last year some of Queen’s students made an anonymous Instagram account where victims of sexual assault and harassment shared their experiences to create awareness about the severity of the issue. But that was not the only platform. Over the years, Queen’s students have repeatedly attempted to address the problems of sexual harassment and assault on campus. Just two weeks ago, the university students also protested on campus to address a similar issue, and to show their support for victims of sexual assault. And three years ago, similar backlash occurred over similar signage being displayed on campus — a recurring trend that accompanies the Frosh and Homecoming traditions in Kingston.
“Sadly, this weekend revealed that amongst us, there are still problematic and violent assumptions being made about gender that reflects a complete disregard for their impact on individuals and indeed, our entire community,” said Principal Deane said in his statement.
A number of those in the Kingston community, including MP Mark Gerretsen, have called for action to expel the students involved in such displays, or at least more severe consequences, such as suspensions.
Next week, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, Queens Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services (SVPRS) and Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (SAC Kingston) will host an online event, a virtual screening of The Bystander Moment, featuring Jackson Katz. The two associations have partnered up as part of an Engaging Men on Campus Series, and the event aims to break down gender stereotypes, explain how to become active bystanders, and inspire leaders in our community.
The following sexual violence resources were provided by Principal Deane in his statement:
Sexual violence resources
There are a number of resources in place at Queen’s for students who have been affected by sexual violence, including Student Wellness Services, the Human Rights and Equity Office, and the AMS Peer Support Centre.
Any student in need of support is encouraged to contact Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Barb Lotan, at [email protected]. For free 24/7 crisis support, students can also turn to Empower Me and Good2Talk. Faculty and staff can contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program.
Learn more on the Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response website.
To connect with Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, click here.