REPOSTED: Stephen Hume: If any country has an anti-woman culture, it’s Canada

violence against women post Mar 18 2015

REPOSTED: Stephen Hume: If any country has an anti-woman culture, it’s Canada

It’s not the veil: Statistics indicate 5.6 million sexual assaults on Canadian women since 2001

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has disparaged the veil favoured by some Muslims as “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

Right behind him, nodding in apparent agreement, sat Edmonton MP Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Multiculturalism, in his blue turban.

What irony. A decade ago, the turban was the issue. Legions in B.C. had banned them, despite the fact that turbaned Sikhs have a highly regarded, highly decorated history in the British army. There was apoplexy that turbans would be worn by police. Anti-turban petitions were presented to parliament.

Even as recently as 2013, Quebec’s bigots were still banning turban wearers from minor sports, a prejudice exploited by politicians like then-Premier Pauline Marois looking for expedient wedge issues. The niqab provides a new scapegoat for public xenophobia and, once again, politicians seem eager to exploit it.

Some Muslim women are doubtless coerced to wear veils. For others, it’s personal choice. Some Orthodox Christians, Jews or Hindus feel pressure to wear prescribed dress — or shun what’s proscribed. It’s not uncommon even for mainstream women to voluntarily wear veils with wedding or funeral attire.

Some women are coerced to fashion choices by the punitive social norms of what Naomi Wolf calls “The Beauty Myth,” which explains why B.C. researchers report 60 per cent of underweight girls identified themselves as “fat,” 90 per cent said they felt pressured to be thinner and 50 per cent said they wished they were someone else.

If men express their religious commitment through dress, it’s considered an assertive, empowering act. When women do, it’s identified as representing acquiescence to oppression — women are assumed incapable of self-determination.

If Harper really wants to confront anti-women culture, why not start with the big problem rather than the non-problem? Canada’s annual sexual assault rate is 68 per 100,000. The basic arithmetic indicates 5.6 million sexual assaults on Canadian women have occurred since 2001. Does a culture get more anti-woman than that?

How about the RCMP? Hundreds of female Mounties complain they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues. Or the Canadian Forces, which admits to a “huge problem” in that its own investigations show that one in 13 deployed service women have been raped.

There’s the “Gentlemen’s Club” at Dalhousie University’s dental school with its misogynistic posts; and those chants at St. Mary’s University and the University of B.C. — a 20 year tradition — which extolled the pleasures of raping underage girls.

In 1990, The Vancouver Sun reported University of Alberta law students defending their use of a poster depicting a woman’s mutilated torso to promote a campus event. Simultaneously, in UBC residences, female students were being subjected to “jokes” about raping and killing them.

Out at his pig farm, Robert Pickton was doing precisely that to dozens of women. And thousands more women all across Canada were experiencing it, too, starting with the murdered and missing aboriginal women who now dominate the public agenda. More than half of those missing and murdered women cases occurred in Western Canada, most in B.C. and Alberta.

Yes, there’s much violence suffered by men, too. The difference is that most men suffer violence not because they are men, but because they got in some other man’s way. Women suffer violence specifically because they are women and the violence is directed at what defines their femininity.

We can lie to ourselves that the cultural tropes to which Harper referred are from somewhere else (India and its rape culture) or are embedded in some other religion (those woman-oppressing Muslims and their veils) but this is self-deception.

YWCA research claims 460,000 sexual assaults on women in Canada annually. The rate has declined slowly but the arithmetic still suggests that during the decades in which UBC students’ chants extolling the pleasures of rape went unremarked, perhaps 10 million sexual assaults on Canadian women took place.

Canadians, and particularly Canadian women, deserve more from their prime minister than politically-motivated red herrings.

Misogyny is not the niqab. It’s not Islam or the diverse and different cultures in which it flourished and continues to evolve. It’s us. It’s here. It’s now. It doesn’t wear a veil, it wears blinkers.

A woman-hating culture, in the larger frame of social evolution, is a self-hating culture, one that’s declared war on its own reproductive capacity — in other words, its future. The woman-hating culture Harper and the rest of us should most worry about is Canada’s.

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