Statement from our Executive Director on Margaret Wente’s comments on CBC Radio: The Current today and her October 20 The Globe and Mail article “Please turn down the volume on the outrage machine.” I am extremely disappointed by Margaret Wente’s comments on the #Metoo campaign and her impressions of sexual assault. Wente does not represent the experiences of the vast majority of women and is clearly deliberately stirring the pot. I work with vulnerable women and survivors of sexual assault and know the damage caused by dismissing the impact of all forms of violence against women. I am frankly appalled that CBC Radio and Globe gave her a platform for such harmful messages.
The #Metoo campaign highlighted a well-known fact – the overwhelming majority of women have experienced unacceptable and often harmful sexual behaviour. This is even more true for black, Indigenous, and other women of colour. Many of the women adding their name to the scrolls of those who have experienced harassment or assault may be doing so for the first time. It is an act of courage and of solidarity. Many women who didn’t add their name because their experiences are still too raw or the trauma is too deep hopefully felt the support of their sisters and could take some comfort from knowing that they aren’t alone. The campaign does not claim all men are perpetrators of sexual assault, as Wente chose to focus on. Many men – whether consciously or unconsciously – contribute to a patriarchal and sexist culture that allows for sexual harassment and assault to continue, often unchecked. Whether playing sexually exploitive video games or failing to call a buddy out on an inappropriate comment or joke, most men have had opportunities to shut down the overtly sexist narrative that still exists and have chosen not to. This lack of action – while not as damaging as being a perpetrator of assault or harassment – is still problematic, as it allows women to be portrayed as lesser than. Further, by noting that her experiences of sexual harassment (some of which were quite alarming) didn’t make her uncomfortable or wreck her life, she diminishes the experiences of women who have felt violated by being groped on a streetcar or almost kissed by a friend’s father when underage. Margaret Wente could choose to use her privilege and power to support women rather than kick them when they’re down, but does not: this is little more than lateral violence.
Telling women not to feel like victims risks further silencing voices and reducing reporting rates. Sexual assault is the only violent crime not on the decline in Canada and yet the percentage of assaults reported to police has plummeted from 12% in 2009 to 5% in 2014. It’s not difficult to surmise why. Women are often not believed and are made to defend their feelings and experiences, a situation exacerbated by comments like those of Wente. When only 1% of sexual assault cases result in a conviction and reporting means reliving the trauma, who can blame them for their silence? (http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-sexual-assault-sexual-ha…) Sexual violence exists on a spectrum of actions which devalue women, which often begins with “harmless” harassment. Turning a blind eye, downplaying its significance or continuing to act inappropriately towards women, all but guarantees the problem will continue to grow. Let’s turn the volume down on complicity and keep speaking up loudly for women to be safe and respected. Lorie English Executive Director West Central Women’s Resource Centre