Commentary | Take back the night, take back identity


Walking among their comrades and shouting to be heard, Montrealers spoke out against the social norms that burden certain genders with the prevention of their own rape, at the annual Take Back the Night! march last Friday. Roughly 500 people attended the march to rid their communities of sexual violence for people of all genders, because they were angry and sick of the unjust systems that dictate who we are, how we should act, and how we must see ourselves in the context of our identities.

Recent events in Montreal show the necessity of marches confronting sexual violence. On November 17, the legal system failed a survivor of sexual assault when the prosecution dropped the charges of sexual assault of a former Concordia student in a case against three ex-Redmen players, showing a blatant disregard for survivor testimony. There has also been a recent increase in the number of assaults on women in Montreal taxis, and three UQAM professors have been denounced as rapists in the past few weeks. The magnitude of these instances of gendered violence are clear evidence of the link between identity and violence. Furthermore, the difficulty that people have found in challenging accepted cultural norms of gender and sexuality, such as in the Redmen rape case, demonstrates how truly ingrained they are into the framework of our society.

At the university level, certain identities are also disproportionately affected by sexual violence. For example, one survey showed that, in Canada, 80 per cent of female undergraduates had faced violence in a relationship, and of that number, 29 per cent experienced sexual assault. Even so, university administrations, like countless other institutions, often turn a blind eye to instances of rape and sexual violence.

This is why students at several universities have started campus-wide initiatives: to combat the institutional systems that uphold gendered stereotypes that encourage sexual and gendered violence. In response to the sexual assaults that occurred on campus, UQAM students have started a “Breaking the Silence” campaign. At McGill too, students set up Sexual Assault Center of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) in 1992, after instances of sexual assault on campus , and are currently developing a sexual assault policy.

Our identities are shaped by our experiences, our struggles, and our contact with the world around us. As students, it is important that we stand up to gendered violence and understand how our culture and the formation of our identities play into the perpetuation of rape culture. The hardships faced by those disproportionately targeted by gendered and sexual violence – trans women of colour, Indigenous women, and countless other marginalized identities – directly affects how their identities are shaped. We must challenge notions such as ‘girls must defend themselves,’ and ‘boys will be boys,’ which feed into the culture of victim-blaming. Instead of preparing marginalized genders to encounter sexual and gendered violence, we must attack the systemic violence, hate, and discrimination that lie at the root of the problem.

­—The McGill Daily Editorial Board