Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No Means No More Silence

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

This is a true story and also a local story. It came to me the same way most stories get around: Someone told someone who told someone else. In this case, my husband heard it from a friend.
A young man was showing this friend photos on his phone. The photos were of his former girlfriend who was 16 when they were dating. The photos were more than intimate, more than suggestive; they were explicit. 
And this young man was showing them around.
Private moments made public. Without the girl’s consent.  
According to my husband, the friend said nothing but he admitted his shock to my husband. 
 “Do you know what the appropriate response would have been?” I said when I heard the story. “Your friend should have picked that young man up by the neck and held him against a wall while explaining how wrong it was to show anyone those photos. Then he should have taken the phone and crushed it under his boot.”
My best friend, whose husband is a cop in Ontario, had a better idea: “Take the young man and his phone to the local RCMP detachment and see what they think of the photos.”
I heard this story months ago but with the Saint Mary’s University frosh chant scandal making news, and Rehtaeh Parsons burned into our minds, it needs to be pointed out that this kind of devastating, thoughtless, potentially harmful behaviour is happening everywhere. We have sent 18-year-olds from our community away to school this month but they are not in danger only in the city or on campus; they are at risk right here in our community. 
This is my message to my husband, and his friend, and to all the other men who are part of this story, or part of a similar one: SAY SOMETHING. 
“That’s wrong,” would be a start. A brave male voice in the wilderness. 
Of the silent bystander, he needs to ask, “What if that was your daughter in the photos?” 
If no one speaks out, if no one sets a new example, this behaviour -- new to those of us who reached adulthood before social media and smart phones took control of our lives -- will not stop.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a first-year university student. It was the beginning of the “No Means No” campaign; posters were all over campus and banners hung from dormitory windows. What made the greatest impact, however, was the impassioned speech my English professor gave to the class. 
To the boys in the class.  
He told them that no matter what state they were in and what stage they’d reached with a girl, if she said No, if she said Stop, if she said she wasn’t sure, “Pull up your pants and get out of there,” he said. He told these 18 and 19 year old boys that No means No, without exception, without negotiation. 
“You have no right to go any further,” he said.
That was a man talking to young men. Imagine if an entire generation of young men had heard that speech in their first year of university. Imagine if an entire generation of young men heard those words long before they reached the age of 18.    
Perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about “rape culture” in 2013.
In this age of camera phones and social media, of rampant underage drinking and prescription drug abuse, that talk about “the birds and the bees” is much more complicated – and absolutely necessary. After all, we armed children with what Lisa Gregoire, writing in The Walrus magazine,aptly  calls “relationship-warping technologies”. If anyone created the blurred lines, it was adults, with our ignorance of technology and our neglect of drastically updated conversations about sex and relationships, personal space and privacy. 
In the 21st century, a 16-year-old girl needs to know that any photo taken of her will last forever. How can she make an educated decision about Yes or No if she doesn’t  know the real facts of life? 
When I was 18 years old, I learned that the voice of a man can make a difference. Yet 25 years later, in a much more complicated world, when verbal cruelty is considered entertainment and smart phones have put an end to real conversation, there is still a need for that lone male voice that speaks out and tries to make a difference.

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