So this story has had quite a bit of attention lately. And it doesn’t matter where you’re talking about it, someone is going to jump in and defend the men in question, while demonizing Roy for her actions against them. This aspect of the story is perhaps the most troubling to me, because it discourages others from speaking up about discrimination they’re facing, and obstructs public discourse and education about discrimination, sexual objectification, and rape culture.
For those of you questioning Roy’s actions:
This isn’t just adults talking about sexual desire and preferences, or making crude but harmless jokes, and the fact that the conversation was intended to be private does not make it okay (I’ve read many comments on FB posts and news articles to this effect). This is a group of men talking about having violent sex with a specific woman, with whom they have a professional relationship, in a context in which she has no opinion, power, agency, or humanity. Do you understand how threatening it is to have people you work with talk about you in such a demeaning way?
She has to work with them every day, knowing that they don’t see her as an equal team member in their organization but as a sexual object to be used and controlled, knowing that they’ve been spreading and encouraging this opinion between each other and perhaps to others.
It’s hard to feel safe or respected with this kind of conversation going on. You start to wonder how much alcohol or peer pressure is needed to tip that over the edge, from violent conversation to violent action. You start to wonder, am I safe in a meeting with them? At a social event? Can I trust them if they drop into my office, and I’m there alone?
If this happened in your workplace, you would go to your boss (or equivalent) to find some way to remedy the situation and allow you to feel safe in your place of work, so she does the same and seeks action at their SU board level. She seeks support from the organization she works with, so that she can feel safe and respected in the organization. And what does she get? A cease and desist, and a tabled motion.
Basically, the original conversation removed a lot of power and agency from her as a person, and when she reaches out for support, she’s essentially told they said they were sorry and it was a private conversation anyways so she has to just shut up about it already, which keeps her in that powerless position. Unsatisfied with this lack of resolution or action, she makes the issue bigger, and searches elsewhere for support. Is this spiteful or hypocritical or wrong? I don’t think it is.
It doesn’t matter that they weren’t explicitly threatening her, or that they apologized. There are more ways to threaten, harass, and injure a person than by outright saying, “I’m going to rape you.” And how is saying sorry supposed to remedy the situation? How is that, in any way, an acceptable consequence for so thoroughly dehumanizing a colleague, particularly considering the fact that these people are public figures who work with Roy to represent others? Imagine this wasn’t a bunch of students to which you have no personal ties, but your city councilors talking this way about your mayor, or your MLAs talking this way about your Premier. Would you be so quick to defend them and condemn your Mayor and the media outlets reporting on the story? Or would you expect greater professionalism and accountability of the people elected to represent you?
As representatives, they should be taking greater responsibility for their actions than a private letter of apology. To be fair, one of them did pretty quickly. If the other four were sincere in their apology, they wouldn’t have threatened legal action against her, or sent a cease and desist order.
If their main issue is that their privacy was violated, they should be seeking legal action against the person who leaked the conversation, not against Roy. She didn’t unlawfully obtain the information herself, she just reacted to it when someone else sent it to her. I can totally support them seeking such legal action against the indivual(s) who actually invaded their privacy and unlawfully accessed a private conversation, but I cannot support them shirking responsibility for their actions by trying to silence Roy’s complaints through legal action.
This is what their actions tell me: The apology they sent her wasn’t about actually being remorseful, but about regaining control and power over the situation and, by extension, over Roy. They don’t actually see their conversation as being wrong, or damaging. They feel it was perfectly acceptable to talk that way about a colleague, just because it was a private conversation, and that by writing a letter of apology, they should be absolved from any further consequence or action taken to hold them accountable.
So how sincere was that original apology, anyways? Are they sorry they behaved as they did, or are they just sorry they got caught?
As of now, all four of the five who were elected representatives have resigned and dropped their legal threats, largely due to the strength of the public outcry against them. Their reaction to Roy’s complaints, and the way internet discourse has been largely dominated by those who feel Roy overreacted, shows how normalized sexual objectification and rape culture are. But I guess the public outcry that ultimately forced the resignation of these four representatives is a glimmer of hope that we can turn that discourse around in the future.