Recently, the Vancouver Police Department partnered with a handful of agencies including Battered Women’s Support Services, Women Against Violence Against Women, and BC Women’s Hospital Sexual Assault Service to launch a new public education campaign called “Don’t Be That Guy.” Basically, over the summer posters reminding guys not to be “that guy” and take advantage of women who have been drinking (and that they need consent to have sex with them) will grace the walls of Vancouver’s public places (primarily clubs and bars). Because it’s important to respond, but we may share different opinions (a la the plurality of feminisms), we thought we’d put forth a joint response from a few different perspectives. A little more blog-style, off the cuff, and less “united” to reflect the “movement.” What do you think about the campaign? Tell us in the comments!
The representation of women’s bodies here is problematic, as all the women featured in the ads are young, white, and able bodied. These images are consistent with the myth that only “good girls” are victimized – “good girls” being white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, middle class, able-bodied, etc. The images on these posters are not consistent with the fact that rape affects everybody. Furthermore, the campaign ignores the historical, economic and social conditions that marginalize different people in different ways – the effects of sexualized violence, the strategies of victim-blaming, the ways in which communities and laws react to rape cases, are all measured by systems of capitalist colonial heteropatriarchy. Since our bodies have historically been described as willing sites for conquests, women of colour are routinely described as “wanting it” when we are raped. We only have to look at the current nonsense surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case to know that, and to see the ways in which class power dynamics also play a significant role in whether or not accusers are victim blamed. Poor and working-class women are often demonized and accused of being opportunists in cases where they are raped by powerful, rich men. Women with various kinds of disabilities are especially vulnerable to assault, as are trans folks, queer women and men, gender queer folks (or anyone who challenges or seems to challenge normative gendered behaviour). Homeless youth and women are routinely sexually victimized; sex workers, regardless of where they work, are often seen as willing rape victims by the so-called justice system. I don’t see any of these people represented here, and they don’t ask for it any more than these pretty white girls do.
I spent my early 20s in Vancouver and I remember participating in a lot of unsafe behaviours (like partying really hard and drinking and blacking out on the Skytrain on my way home) but for whatever reason (committed relationship? I’m fat and unsexy … which is a lie I told myself, etc.), I never experienced date rape, sexual assault, or violence at the hands of some drunk dude at the Shark Club. But I would often be on the dance floor with my friends and would bump into these creep-o guys and then witness drunk girls and guys just taking whatever they wanted and was never sure how one actually intervenes with a stranger in that situation (the grey area before the possible sexual assault takes place) if you don’t know any of the willing or unwilling participants. I don’t like these ads for a number of reasons (white, privileged faces; the notion that assault only really happens from strangers when we know it’s family and friends most of the time; and the heteronormativity of it all), but that being said, they seem really aimed at a specific target audience of white brooding boys who act out patriarchy physically on drunk girls all over the city of Vancouver. And they use the word consent rather “no means no,” which proliferated the idea that women were just victims when there is a lot more to say with “no” when considering consent.
My gut reaction? This is fabulous. We never see men spoken to in this way. But could we have the message coming from women instead of some disembodied authority? So, “just because we’re not saying no” or “I’m not saying no…”
But I do think that a kind of “sex respect education” is good. And yes “that guy” is incredibly patronizing and underplays it, but probably meets certain creepsters where they are.
I think the campaign is good if it helps shift the thinking even one inch away from “rapists are insane criminals that abduct you from the bus stop.” This points out that we aren’t taught “sex communication” in a practical way. We basically encourage a norm where men make moves and women fend them off or let it happen. So I’m glad someone is sending the message that real, ordinary people can cause incredible lasting harm by “making moves” when they probably don’t think they are really doing anything wrong, but rather something exciting and risque. Or worse, something expected of them.