Vagina Week: Guest Editor Feature

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By David Power

S A F E   E N V I R O N M E N T   S U R V E Y

Approximately three weeks ago, the Feminist Society of Sciences Po, Campus de Reims, called for the active participation of students in responding to a survey concerning campus environment. Questions on the survey addressed the issue of the safety and personal health of the student body. The goal was to form a data set to accurately describe student experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

The collected data will be analysed and converted into a report. This will be handed to the administration on site in Reims as well as, hopefully, to members of the central Paris administration. The report is intended to complement and potentially even critique Sciences Po Paris’ latest crackdown on sexual harassment, assault and rape.

The student response was widespread. It includes over 150 unique and thought-provoking comments, giving insight into the conditions students often face: returning home from bars, being catcalled in the street, and, on occasion, feeling belittled on account of gender.

On the one hand, it is true that many comments addressed the need for action towards preventing possible assault and rape on the part of both student body and administration. On the other hand however, a number of respondents criticised the creation of the survey, suggesting it was “targeted towards straight men,” or “detrimental to campus spirit.” Finally, the sentiment that it was unnecessary was also expressed, for example through the statement that “rape culture does not exist.”  

S E X U A L    A S S A U L T    E X I S T S    E V E R Y W H E R E

An Australian senior surgeon came under fire recently for suggesting that trainees in hospitals should consider surrendering to sexual advances, even if they were not interested. Gabrielle McMullin told ABC radio that more often than not, she tells her trainees “if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request. The worst thing you could possibly do is to complain to the supervising body, because then, you can be sure that you will never be appointed to a major public hospital.”

While reading the remarks by the vascular surgeon, I felt disgusted. I was not disgusted by the content of her remarks, but by the environment that legitimizes such harassment and borderline assault. To me, Gabrielle McMullin was not attempting to be discriminatory, nor did she intend to harm the role of women in the workplace. She was looking out for these young trainees – protecting them and their possible upward mobility in the workforce. Gabrielle McMullin later responded to attacks on her view, stating that unfortunately, cases of sexual harassment are “the truth at the moment,” and “that women do not get supported if they make a complaint.”

A female doctor, Dr. Ashleigh Witt, lashed out at the existence of gender discrimination in the medical sphere through her blog post “It’s not ‘lady doctor’, it’s doctor”.  Witt commented on the large existence of sexual harassment in the workplace, highlighting personal experiences of being told that she’d “obviously gotten where she was [in her career] at a young age because she was pretty”. Her twitter paints the same picture of an unfair workplace full of gender discrimination.

“As a woman medicine you get used to dealing with a baseline of low-level sexual harassment. But if you complain- you lose your job.” (@dr_ashwitt)

A female doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fairfax newspapers that her male counterparts had often called her “dumb b*****” and a surgeon had once told her to “get some kneepads and learn to suck c***”.

Therefore, would it be wise to criticise Gabrielle McMullin? No. What needs to be criticised, however, is the workplace in which such blatant acts of sexual harassment and assault are passively tolerated. This is only one occupational field. Due to the path of our undergraduate education here at Sciences Po, there is only a miniscule chance many of us will become doctors. Nevertheless, this form of human indecency is not inherently linked to the medical field, but will exist, and quite possibly continue to exist, in all occupational fields. Our workplaces of the future, if we don’t take action, will be rife with little discussed examples of workplace harassment, assault and quite possibly rape.

Why is discussion of sexual harassment, assault and rape important for our campus?

Statistically, quite a reasonable percentage of us will be the victim of sexual assault, harassment or rape. Each year, in the United States, approximately 293,000 people are victim of sexual assault. However, 68% of assault experiences of remain unreported to the police. According to results, so far, from the Safe Environment Survey, many on our very own Sciences Po campus have experienced forms of both sexual harassment and sexual assault. More shocking, however, is the rate of people perplexed with traditional definitions of harassment, assault and rape. It is imperative for both administration and campus community to ensure further understanding of sexual assault, harassment and rape. This enhanced understanding can be developed through public discourse, debate and association initiatives to ensure that every student will leave our Sciences Po campus equipped with an understanding of their individual rights, especially as many of us will soon enter workforces in which sexual harassment, especially for women, may be common.

I want to apologise sincerely if the survey was, as referenced by one respondent, “a further detriment to campus spirit”, however there is an obvious issue of sexual assault, not only in general but on our campus which needs to be addressed.

The Safe Environment Survey will be released in the following weeks.

V-WEEK is a week dedicated to activities highlighting gender discrimination and the push for equality for both men and women.

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