Misogyny on the Bench: no still means no why feminism still matters in 2011.
THE FEBRUARY RULING in a sexual assault case in Thompson, Manitoba by Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar used victim-blaming rhetoric to justify a two-year conditional sentence for the accused, justice Dewar detailed the survivor's clothing, conduct and attitude on the evening of the assault, stating that "sex was ... more than just a manner of dress, more than the fact that she was a woman. And [that is] a relevant, mitigating factor." Because her attacker may have been misreading her signals, he should be considered a "clumsy Don Juan" rather than a rapist.
Since the story broke, feminists in Winnipeg have been engaged in a constant back-and-forth in the media, fighting a culture that is complicit with the misogyny of this ruling.
This is nothing new for feminists. The Dewar case is a micro version of ongoing conversations we have within our communities about sexual assault. Arguments in defence of Justice Dewar's ruling have included character references from his lawyer pals; pearl-clutching over "girls" who dare to dress as they please and dance in public; comparisons of sexual assault to theft and women's bodies to valuable possessions left in plain view; and countless variations on the argument that if she didn't say the word "no," instead indicating non-consent by stating that she feared for her life, she was giving implicit consent. The "clumsy" rapist was understandably confused, mainstream media commentators tell us.
This dialogue is based on the belief that rape is about sex, and that it happens because women are too arousing and men cannot control their sexuality. Those of us who have engaged from a feminist perspective know that rape is an inherently violent act. It is first and foremost an act of power over the survivor. We believe that there is no such thing as implied consent; that people of every gender can and should enthusiastically consent only to the sex they want.
Constantly fighting for women's bodies, lives and autonomy can be exhausting. Most of us feel like we've been saying the same thing again and again for years, and people aren't getting it.
But there are small victories being won. The Minister Responsible for the Status of Women in Manitoba, Jennifer Howard, spoke out against justice Dewar's ruling. The Government of Manitoba filed a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council. A call from the Canadian Federation of Students has gone out over the RebELLEs network for letters to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press in response to pieces that have been printed defending Justice Dewar.
This is a hard fight, one with traumatic consequences for survivors and for all women. We will continue to fight because we can't imagine doing anything else. We are better able to do this with supports like the RebELLEs Movement, which allows us to reach out to each other when we're feeling isolated and exhausted. As a movement, we can demand our voices be heard, and work more effectively toward change.
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|Date:||May 1, 2011|
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