Overreaction? Not in My Opinion

So there’s been a bit of a scandal going on near home lately. Basically, what happened is this: 13 senior male dentistry students at Dalhousie University posted some pretty awful stuff on their private Facebook group, which was then accidentally left open by one of them and thus the comments discovered and released to the public. Some of the things they said? Well, for one thing they had a discussion about which of their female classmates they would like to “hate-f–k”. There were multiple comments throughout the conversation about the use of chloroform to render women unconscious, and they compared chloroform to nitrous-oxide, which you may recognize as the gas that dentists use to knock you out for surgery. The students also referred to the penis as “the tool used to wean and convert lesbians and virgins into useful, productive members of society,” and described the role of women as being “chefs, housekeepers, babysitters, etc.”

So right now there’s a bunch of debating going on as people fight over whether the students should be expelled (they are currently on probation from practicing at the in-school clinic), what kind of punishment is befitting, whether it’s all being blown out of proportion, and so on and so on.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ingrid Bulmer/The Chronicle Herald

As this article in McLean’s explains, some people – like Margaret Wente – believe that the crux of the problem is not the students and their private Facebook discussion, but that women need to “man up” and stop being such delicate little flowers who bitch and moan about every little comment or joke a guy makes.

Here’s the thing. I’m a tradeswoman, working in a traditionally male-dominated field, and when I’m out West at work I’m usually the one woman for every hundred men. I’ve been doing this kind of work for about 8 years, and I’m one of the first ones who will tell other women to buck up, stop being so prissy, and stop turning everything a guy says or does into an insult, because I’ve seen first-hand that women do this, and they do it a lot.

But the Dalhousie scandal is not one of those times.

When a guy makes a joke of a sexual nature, I don’t see any need to get all up in arms about it, because let’s be open and honest: we’re all thinking about sex about 50% of the time, whether we admit it or not. It’s human nature. I have a work-mate who constantly jokes about sex toys and teases me relentlessly, trying to get me to reveal what kind I own. It might be a little annoying to some people, but it’s not exactly something worth getting a restraining order over. He’s my buddy and he’s a torment, and he and I both know that he means nothing by his comments other than trying to get me to blush. He’s a joker. Again, human nature.

But you know what isn’t human nature? Using chloroform to knock women out and “hate-f–k” them. Whether it was a joke amongst buddies or not, being so cavalier about rape like that is disgusting, and I don’t think anyone is overreacting by getting upset about it. Margaret Wente, in her article, talked about how the 13 dentistry students were all “decent guys” and were just “boys being boys”, but is she inside any of their heads? No. They could be some of the greatest guys out there who would never hurt a fly, but anyone of them could easily be a sociopath, and ignoring comments about them basically stating out loud that they want to rape someone is tantamount to handing them a girl and saying, “Here, have fun.” If any random student with access to guns make comments about bringing weapons to school and shooting up the place, they’d probably be arrested within the hour, because we don’t take risks when someone threatens to kill people. But somehow we’re perfectly okay taking risks when someone shows signs of possibly being a rapist.

There are lot of things that I think people should stop whining about in today’s culture. But any kind of support of rape culture is not on my list, sorry.

So what should we do about it? Well, that’s a whole other argument. There are lots of people screaming for the students’ expulsion, and lots of people arguing the opposite (they did pay for all that schooling, after all). They can’t be taken to legal justice (so far as I know; correct me if I’m wrong) because they didn’t technically do anything or make any direct threats toward the victims of their misogynistic conversation. Personally, I’m not too concerned about how the actual punishment plays out because I think the students have already screwed themselves over enough. After all, if you were looking for a dentist, would you willingly go to the one who was publicly revealed to have compared nitrous-oxide to chloroform, whilst in the midst of a conversation about having his way with the female classmates that he believes should be sent back to the kitchen? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t let that guy within a hundred feet of my mouth, or within a thousand feet of my family.

What do you think? Are we overreacting about a bunch of “harmless jokes”, or should these 13 guys be nailed to the wall for their comments? If it was your decision would you expel them from the rest of their studies or let them complete the program and deal with the consequences of their actions once they’re out in the professional world? Here’s one: what would you do if one of these guys was YOUR son, and you found out that this is how he talks about women to his friends when they think they’re behind closed doors?

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6 thoughts on “Overreaction? Not in My Opinion

  1. I agree with you, I don’t think this is a overreaction at all. This is not just guys joking around and making stupid offensive comments. Being annoying, rude and offensive is one thing, but this crosses the line. I would be afraid for my safety. Rape is not something you joke about. Besides, what kind of joke goes into such detail as to name specific women and talk about the pros and cons of which agent to use to knock them out. As dentists, these guys would actually have access to anesthesia. They may not have broken the law, but they violated Dalhousie’s Code of Conduct. That alone warrants expulsion. Leaving them to deal with the consequences of their actions is not enough. I wouldn’t go near one of these guys for dentistry, but how many people will make a point of knowing their names? How many people will remember their names when this is all over? These guys could get their degrees and go anywhere to practice. How many practicing dentists are there with the name Dr. Joe, or whatever their names are? How are we to keep track of them? What if one of them became the dentist of a rural town? Residents would have no other choice but to go to him for their dental issues. How many times have things like this been said, a slap on the wrist given and only later we realized there was real intent when someone got hurt, or worse? There is an opportunity here to prevent this from going any further and I think it should be taken. People need to know that this kind of thing is not tolerated.

    • You make a valid point, and the more I think about it the more I wonder myself if these students shouldn’t be barred from practicing dentistry at all. Some would argue that you’re possibly ruining a bunch of guys’ lives over one stupid mistake, but when it comes to something like rape you really don’t want to take the risk. All 13 of these guys could be perfectly good guys who would never actually hurt a fly, but what if one of them goes on to practice somewhere and actually decides to act on those impulses while he’s got a woman under anesthesia? That would be one hell of a horrifying thing to happen after the school had the chance to look at the warning signs and prevent it.

  2. Hmm… I usually take up a nice comfy seat on the fence with issues such as this one. I sit and watch justice try to figure out the best course of action. But, I’ll leave my comfort zone for a minute for the sake of argument. Yes, if someone, with access to guns, talks of killing, steps are taken to ensure they don’t. But every man has access to the “weapon of rape”. Does that automatcally guilty? Is the “male member” a weapon? Does a rapist receive the same sentence as a killer? I, of course, in no way condone their behavior or their discussion but expulsion seems extreme. If I were Dalhousie, I would allow them to return. However, they would be banned from practicing anything medical and possibly even associating with anyone in the medical profession. Furthermore, should they transfer, I would be sure to notify their University of their ban. If I were the parent of one of these men, they would be transfered, sent for counselling, and I’d turn into helicopter dad. They would then have to volunteer at women’s shelter for a long time under strict supervsion. Excellent artical, Tracey!

    • I have to ask you this: if you would allow them to return to school, then how could you ban them from practicing anything medical? Their entire program is based on them leaving the school as dentists, so what would be the point in allowing them to return to school if you’re going to take away their ability to practice the profession that they graduate as?

      That said, I agree that it’s difficult to figure out exactly what to do in this kind of situation since, as you said, every man already has access to the weapon of rape, and therefore we can’t just automatically assume every man is guilty. The problem, though, is of course the fact that if you ignore comments like the ones these boys made, and then one (or more) of them actually goes on to become a rapist, how do you justify that you didn’t take action when you had the opportunity? It’s really no different than if a teenager threatens to commit suicide, and you ignore them based on your belief that they’re perfectly emotionally stable and would never really do such a thing…your opinion doesn’t mean a hell of a lot when you find them face down in a bottle of pills later on, does it?

      • I would allow the students to return only if they chose a different program. They would not be allowed to choose to earn their degree in a medical/dental program. Dal offers many degrees for various fields of work. If they were to transfer, then the university they transfer to should be made aware of their case.

        I totally agree that this should not be ignored. It can’t be passed off as boys talking like boys. What they were discussing is a major offense. Opinions and emotions mean nothing when it comes to figuring out if any one of them would actually follow through. If someone talked of killing another we wouldn’t give them a gun and hope they didn’t. Same suit follows, they should not be given access to the drugs/gasses they discussed using. I don’t think expulsion and denying them higher education is the answer. However, at the same time, they need some severe restrictions.

        • Okay, your original comment makes more sense now.
          Yes, I agree, I would probably let the students return to take another program (because even assholes deserve an education and the chance to have a decent future), but I wouldn’t allow them to take anything that would grant them access to any kind of anesthesia or drugs of any kind. We don’t have to ruin their lives over some idiotic comments, but we can definitely take away access to the tools that could possibly help them ruin someone else’s.

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