****Trigger warning: Discussion about rape. All of the links out also contain discussion about rape..****

The recent coverage by CNN on the case of the Steubenville rapists has received a lot of criticism (like here and here). This case, that has been exposed on the web through bloggers, Anonymous, and social media used by students involved, has recently ended with two football players being charged in juvenile court for raping a 16 yr old girl, with another charge of taking nude photographs of an underage girl and spreading those photographs. The pull-at-your-heart-strings situating of the rapists, focusing on their athleticism, good grades, and “promising futures”, resulted in reporting a verdict that did not reference the survivor in the whole segment. The impression that their lives were being ruined by the sentence- not by their decision to rape an underage girl- was clearly the stance of a rape apologist.

This is what rape culture looks like. It’s a place where rapists are talked about in terms of their promise and lost future, seen as “the real victims“, and survivors receive death threats and are ostracized in their communities. It’s a place where sexual assault is not seen as anything out of the ordinary, particularly for those who feel entitled to it, like the heroic school football stars. It’s a place where consent is the absence of a no, not consciousness or the presence of a yes. It’s a place where this is how rape is thought of:

“It wasn’t violent,” explained teammate Evan Westlake when asked why he didn’t stop the two defendants as they abused a non-moving girl that Westlake knew to be highly intoxicated. “I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

This is what rape culture looks like. When black-and-white boundaries are made grey, where it was “their fault for drinking”, where it was their parents fault for letting them go out into the world, where it was the ignorance of youth poisoned with hormones, when no one steps in because they didn’t think that violating an unconscious girl is violent. Rape culture is where the survivor is not even mentioned in the coverage that follows, and we are left apologizing and sympathizing with rapists. CNN has been an active participant in rape culture, as have many other reactions. It’s hard to see such blatant examples, but hopefully it will bring attention to the rape culture we are saturated in today.

If you are interested in an apology from CNN, we encourage you to sign this petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/cnn-apologize-for-your-disgusting-coverage-of-the-steubenville-rapists

You may have seen in the news, perhaps here, that a University of North Carolina student, Landen Gambill, is facing possible expulsion for speaking publicly about her sexual assault. SACOMMS would like to extend this letter of solidarity with Landen Gambill, and would also like to share that letter with others. Please read and share this letter and other article pertaining to this very important case.


March 4, 2013


The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Student Society (SACOMSS) would like to express its’ solidarity with Landen Gambill. Gambill is a student at University of North Carolina facing an Honor Code violation, filed against her in response to her complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the University of North Carolina “has routinely violated the rights of sexual assault survivors and failed to assist them in recovery after the reported abuse.”[i]

Earlier this year, Gambill made the very brave decision to file a formal complaint with her university against her rapist. For her decision to be met with possible expulsion and challenges brought to her by the university is atrocious. A survivor’s decision to talk about their experiences of sexual assault is that, a decision, and it is never necessary to do so. Once one chooses to share their experiences, however, it is crucial that they be met with support and belief, two sentiments absent from the University of North Carolina’s reaction to Ms. Gambill. Part of a university’s responsibility is to ensure the safety of members of the university community; this includes supporting survivors of sexual assault. Instead, it seems that the University of North Carolina has chosen tactics of alienation and intimidation.

As a student-run Sexual Assault Centre, committed to offering support to survivors and their allies, we feel it is important to express our concern over the handling of Ms. Gambill’s experiences by her university and community. We wish to extend our support and solidarity with Ms. Gambill through this ordeal, and acknowledge her courage throughout this process. Ms. Gambill deserves to be respected and believed, as well as to see this process end equitably.

If you ever thought that everyone in the world is either a boy or a girl, when you start to hear about gender that is non-binary or the concept that gender is a spectrum, it can be a bit confusing. Wait, that person isn’t pink or blue- what does that mean?

Now, to get this concept of a spectrum, I’m going to ask you to put your statistics hat on. No, you don’t need to ever have actually taken a statistics course to nail this concept, but a few examples about how variables are looked at might help you visualize what a spectrum is and why the distinction is important. When you are given some data, there are two types of data possible: discrete and continuous. Discrete data is data that you can count in whole numbers– like this flower has 1, 2, 3 petals. There are no 1.2 petals. Continuous data is data that has an infinite amount of possible values– like this leaf is 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 cm long. Any value is possible on the scale, and there’s no either/or option. Pulling you back out of the garden and back into gender, when gender is referred to as a spectrum, that means that there are infinite “values” or possibilities for someone’s gender. In the gender binary system, you are either 1 (boy) or 2 (girl)- there’s no 1.37. In a spectrum system, gender isn’t 1 or 2 it’s 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 on a scale.

What the “scale” is remains contentious. Some people argue that putting “male” on one end and “female” on the other is only a slight improvement, still limiting people on a horizontal axis and implying that in order to be more feminine it is necessary to be less masculine (and vice versa). Some people prefer to think of the spectrum like a rainbow of colours- all different, varied, and no colour better than the other. This, while representative, may have difficulties because every label added will inherently narrow the categories. Perhaps the most important lesson from the “scale” is to understand that the concept of non-binary gender is an evolving conversation that is always working on becoming more inclusive and accessible to everyone. The end point has not been reached.

Gender is complex. There are many facets, it sure ain’t static, and as we continue to explore those facets on this blog, we hope that this concept of gender spectrum is kept in mind. If you have any critiques of our take on what a spectrum means, let us know and we will keep this updated accordingly. In the meantime, this is a video that explores multiple spectrums in a pretty comprehensive manner, and gives some food for thought about where these spectrums may also apply.

We have cool links!  Click on them!  

This week we’re featuring an interactive (bilingual!) website called Draw The Line about how to stop a culture that ignores sexual violence in little ways (and big ones). 

And controversy has sprung up around a new dress that disappears as the wearer gets aroused.  

Threats, an internet hate campaign, and a fatwa from Kashmir’s Grand Mufti have convinced Kashmir’s first all-girl rock band to stop making music

Finally, The Nation’s Jessica Valenti writes an open letter to her male relatives who “like” sexism on Facebook. 

As we discussed in Part One of this series, a lot of us didn’t receive great sexual health education when we were in high school. And even if you did, you might have totally different concerns now than you did when you were that age. Sexuality is a lifelong process—it’s something you can always learn more about. So whether you want to supplement a pretty decent education or make up for an awful one, read on for some ways you can take charge and give yourself the sex ed you deserve.

Learn the basics. SexualityandU, run by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, gives a good overview of different birth control and STI prevention options, and has a cool app that helps you figure out what to do if you forget to take your birth control pill. CATIE has an awesome pamphlet on safer sex for queer women, and TheSexYouWant, created by the AIDS Committee of Toronto, is a great safer sex resource for queer men. Want to brush up on what enthusiastic consent means and how to talk about your sexual preferences with a partner? Look no further than this amazing comic. And Scarleteen has great info on pretty much everything, from gender identity to masturbation to kink to polyamory.

Explore your desires. Masturbating, fantasizing, discussing your fantasies with others, and reading or watching porn can be great ways to explore what turns you on physically and mentally in a low-pressure way. Note, though, that while there’s some really awesome porn out there, there’s also a lot of stuff that’s problematic in its depiction of sexual consent and gender roles, so if you can afford to, consider actually paying(!) for videos or a membership from sites that you know abide by a code of ethics similar to your own. Always wanted to try some particular sexual thing? Talk about it with your sexual partner(s) and see if they’d be down. Not really sure what you’re into? Scarleteen has a great “Yes/No/Maybe” checklist to help you articulate what you like, don’t like, and might want to try. Not really sure if you’re into any of this at all? You might want to check out the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

Learn some more. Obviously these links should just be jumping-off points. There are books, websites, and real live people out there that can help you learn about pretty much any sex-related topic. Figure out what you want to learn about, and empower yourself to do so.

Get involved. Think sex education is important? Want to do something to make sure young people have access to info you may not have been given? Head and Hands and the Outreach branch of SACOMSS both run workshops in high schools on sex-related topics. You could also get involved with the Shag Shop, the 2110 Centre, the Union for Gender Empowerment, or any of the many other McGill and Montreal based organizations that educate people on these topics. And start a conversation! Share your new-found knowledge with your friends, and if you have a young person in your life, consider letting them know you’re available to talk, and answer their questions honestly.

And have fun 🙂

This Thursday has a bit of an art theme, from modern art and photography to the art of satire.  We also have a more involved post about the Idle No More movement.

Artist Angela Washko set out to document what players in the World of Warcraft think of feminism.  This piece in Hyperallergic talks about what she found– which was mostly rudeness.  One interview she conducted while in the game stands out.  Washko had a conversation with a 19-year-old young mother named Chastity (video here), whom she named her project after.  You can follow Washko’s progress towards bringing feminism to WoW on her blog

Fifty Shades of Gay is a TED talk by queer photographer iO Tillet Wright about the gray areas of sexuality and gender. 

The Onion recently published this hilarious satire on the “complimentary” comments we make objectifying teenage girls. 

On a much more serious note, the Idle No More protests continue to bring Canada’s relationship with First Nations people into the public discourse.

And Tennessee is considering a law that would require school teachers, counselors, and administrators to ‘out’ LGBT students to their parents

For most of us, sexuality is something we thought about a lot as teenagers—whether we were deciding whether or not to have sex for the first time, questioning our sexual orientation or gender identity or the things that turned us on, dealing with peer or cultural pressures to act a certain way sexually, or wondering what all the fuss was about. If we were lucky, we weren’t left alone to untangle the confusing web of desires, identities and experiences that make up our sexual selves. Maybe we had friends or family who were knowledgeable and willing to talk about sexuality with us. Maybe we had access to books or websites or phone lines that provided us with accurate and non-judgemental info. And maybe—just maybe—we had decent high school sex ed.

The sex education I got in high school—for a two-week block of my physical education class in Grade 9—was far from perfect. Some of the information we were given was outdated, like the advice to use spermicide, which is no longer as highly recommended as they used to be. Our discussion of consent mostly focused on how to say no to sex—as if none of us would want to say yes. We never talked about the existence of queer or trans* individuals, and I remember the teacher getting flustered when I asked about dental dams.

But I was actually pretty lucky. That class taught me how to put a condom on a banana (the teacher searched several different stores to find non-lubricated condoms, so we wouldn’t be grossed out from getting lube all over our hands). I learned where the nearest abortion clinic was, and where I could buy the emergency contraceptive pill. The teacher talked about what an orgasm was and assured us that it was OK to masturbate, and she did answer my question about dams in the end.

It’s no wonder the information I received in my sex ed class was a bit outdated. The sexual education curriculum in Ontario, where I went to high school, hasn’t been updated since the 1990’s. An updated curriculum, written in 2010, hasn’t been implemented because a small but vocal group of parents object to the inclusion of topics like gay and lesbian parents in a Grade 3 class on diverse families, and an acknowledgement that masturbation can be a healthy way to explore your sexuality in a Grade 6 class on puberty.

But at least I didn’t go to a school that taught abstinence-only sex ed. The fact that my teacher was even allowed to talk about subjects like contraception and abortion means my sex ed class was more comprehensive than the sex ed in most classrooms in the United States. Since 1996, 1.5 billion dollars have been given to school boards by the US government for abstinence-only sex education. Much of this funding is provided on the condition that schools do not discuss contraception or sexual activity outside marriage in a positive way. These programs have not been shown to decrease sexual activity, but they have been shown to lower the likelihood of teens using barriers/contraceptives when they do engage in sexual activity.

Actually, I was very lucky to receive formal sex ed at all. Since 2005, Quebec has not mandated any dedicated sex ed unit, expecting discussions of sexuality to be integrated into other classes. Not surprisingly, this means that the extent to which sex is discussed, and the topics that are covered, vary widely across the province. Some organizations, like Head and Hands in NDG, and SACOMSS (that’s us!), run workshops on sexual health topics in high schools to try to pick up some of the slack, but how many students these programs reach is dependent on how many schools are willing to let these organizations come in and speak to their students.

Personally, I think that young people have the right to accurate, comprehensive, and non-judgemental sexual health information, and while schools aren’t the only place they can get that information, they’re a pretty crucial one. Most high school aged folks are in school, and schools are places where—ideally—we should be provided with information on topics that are relevant to our lives, as well as assisted in developing critical thinking skills to decide how we feel and what we believe about this information. It’s a pretty big deal that schools aren’t doing that with sex ed.

So what to do? Check out part two of this series, on how to take your sexual education into your own hands (no pun intended) and empower other people to do so.

We have a diverse set of links to share today, from a Vancouver high school student’s photo project to how Notre Dame football players bully survivors.  

Daniel Callahan, a prominent bioethicist, proposed increasing cultural prejudice against obese people as a way to encourage healthy habits.  Nobody else thinks this is a good idea.

A Victoria’s Secret model talks about privilege, perception, and pressure in this recent TED talk. 

In this article, Salon reviewed the stories of survivors being bullied into dropping cases against Notre Dame football players which are being ignored while the Manti Te’o story is receiving international media attention.

A photo project about slut-shaming by a Vancouver high school student has gone viral on tumblr.

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