By Kshama Ranawana –
In Canada, the University of Ottawa’s men’s hockey team and its coaches stand suspended, while an investigation into a sexual assault complaint is completed. Just days before the alleged assault was made public, a female student of the university accused five male student leaders of the university of conducting sexually explicit conversations about her on Facebook.
Even as four of those men attempted to silence the female student by threatening legal action, press reports state that two of the men have stepped down from their leadership positions at the university.
Of late, there have been many media reports of sexually charged chants glorifying underage sex at some Canadian universities during frosh week. University authorities have stepped in to curb this trend, suspending student leaders and even having them take sensitivity training.
Look at what I found pic.twitter.com/EdHKY5TXZB
— Namal Rajapaksa (@RajapaksaNamal) March 4, 2014
Women have made many inroads in the fields of employment and education. Yet, even as the struggle to be accepted as equals continues, the biggest hurdle faced, is the sexual objectification of women.
Following the horrific rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, India tightened its laws against sexual predators, however, women and children are raped and otherwise sexually exploited almost daily. The story is the same in most other countries.
Perpetrators of the crimes come from all walks of life. Some may argue that unless actual sexual violence takes place, no real damage has been committed. That is definitely not the case. While sexual innuendos and perverse comments demean women they are also an indication of the crass mentality of those committing them.
The issue is compounded, and gains more legitimacy when those in leadership positions engage in such disgusting behavior. Society will judge them. Sexists comments and repulsive behavior have been the fall of many a politician or public official.
Last year, “The Australian” reported that Queensland MP, Peter Dowlings, who was involved in a sexting scandal and other wrongdoing, had apologized for his actions and also stepped down as the chair of the ethics committee until he was cleared of the allegations. And then we have America’s ex Congressman, Anthony Weiner, who resigned his seat following reports that he had sent sexually inappropriate messages to several women. A later attempt to run for Mayor of New York City was defeated when more reports of his sexting emerged.
Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford was amongst those called into account recently, and forced to apologize over a sexually explicit and uncouth comment he made; one which did not even spare his wife.
These are just a few instances where public offices found to be involved in sexist and unbecoming behavior have had to bite the dust.
Namal Rajapaksa, who tweeted a crude and sexist meme involving his political colleague Anarkali Akarsha seems unrepentant as reported in the Colombo Telegraph. For her part, Anarkali too seems to be happy to be the subject of “sexist jokes.” That is her right. Perhaps she values her political survival and cares not that she is the subject of disgusting and demeaning “humour.”
A good example of sexist banter going wrong was reported in the Toronto Star of March 10. The woman, who obviously, did not think much of participating in such banter, finally ended up the victim. A female City Parks worker in Toronto complained that a colleague had become aggressive and begun to unzip his pants following an inappropriate comment she made. She states such banter is accepted at her workplace. Following five months of investigation the complainant has been suspended for five days for the inappropriate comment and violating the City’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment policy.
What Rajapaksa and Anarkali fail to grasp is that, in tweeting the meme their little “inside jokes” are now in the public realm. They either refuse to comprehend or have no care that such comments are crude and irreverent and cause irreparable damage to women. If they aspire to be the future leaders of Sri Lanka, they need to learn that women must be treated with dignity.
It may be “harmless fun,” yet often, what starts as fun turns into sexual violence against women.
So that is why in public life it is important to know when and where to draw the line. Sexist jokes are no laughing matter.