No cunts allowed in the SLC

Mar 16 2012 in Opinion by Paisley Cozzarin, 2B English & Women's Studies

Organizers Brittney Baldwin and Zoe Miller introduce authour Inga Muscio to the crowd. Courtesy Paisley Cozzarin

Organizers Brittney Baldwin and Zoe Miller introduce authour Inga Muscio to the crowd. Courtesy Paisley Cozzarin

On International Women’s Day, author and feminist activist Inga Muscio was welcomed to the University of Waterloo amongst tension between the university administration and the righteously angry students organizing the event.

I was one of the students that had to meet the layers of misogynistic bureaucracy that the administration laid down in front of us. I experienced their bullying and the crushing frustration and disempowerment that resulted from it. I witnessed the verbal attack of a WPIRG staff member by three aggressive administrators.

They had been ripping down the event posters that were emblazoned with the word “cunt,” the title of one of Inga’s books, for being in violation of Policy 33. This policy covers offensive behaviour and student harassment. Ironic, because Inga’s book celebrates the power and strength of the cunt, a word that she reclaims as a positive expression for women.

After a cease and desist verbal warning was issued by the pissed off administrators, us women-folk were frustrated with the lack of communication and censoring of the topic that the pro-woman lecturer would be covering.

After the posters had vanished, many of the International Women’s Week events had their SLC spaces unbooked. The participants of the self-protection workshop that Inga was to facilitate were locked out of the Multi-Purpose Room. Inga confronted those involved with the lock-out, and she told them that she was embarrassed for their actions. The reply? “You should be embarrassed for writing that book!” So much for a warm welcome.

The participants of the workshop converged in a circle in the WPIRG office. Angry, frustrated words were exchanged. A workshop that was to focus on mental and physical self-protection, resilience and strength in the face of patriarchal challenges had been hijacked.

We felt cheated. We felt disempowered. Inga suddenly slapped her knee, and announced, “Conga line. We’re going to make a conga line.” And amongst much giggling, we organized ourselves into a line that would kick out our feet, while harmoniously chanting, “CUNT!”

We marched around the SLC past the glowering faces of the Turnkey desk. We returned feeling breathless and infinitely more empowered, infinitely happier with ourselves and our solidarity. One woman burst into tears. Safe to say I made a lot of new friends that day.

We were pleased until the police showed up. Two officers came into the WPIRG office, telling us we were being disruptive, and that we must respectfully share the SLC space with everyone else.

Understandable, but it didn’t make sense to us that this mandate was being selectively enforced. Every single student at the University of Waterloo pays to use the Student Life Centre.

How come our event space was taken away? Our posters ripped down? How is playing loud music by DJs in the SLC not disruptive? When the UW Students For Life club uses the SLC to spread anti-abortion messages, our senses are disrupted. So, why are they allowed to hold events in SLC space, when we are not? The same club is also inviting local MP Stephen Woodworth to lecture at UW on the reinvestigation of personhood. I’m offended, aren’t you?

Later in the evening, Inga held her lecture in the Biology building. Plastered in the room were signs reading, “Can we say CUNT in the biology building? ‘Cause we can’t in the SLC,” and “We will take back all the words that were invented to hate, marginalize, and alienate us: bitch, cunt, dyke, slut, whore.”

Inga was hilarious, emotional, and critical of the handling of the event by UW administration. She called them bullies.

In the end, her message was clear: that all students should have equal access to space. The outrage that I shared with other women during International Women’s Week made it clear to me that the University of Waterloo fosters a negative campus climate for female identified individuals.

In order for women-folk to feel safe, we must fight this. In order to be able to hold workshops advocating self-protection, at a university that only last year saw violent, anti-women posters distributed on campus, we absolutely must fight this.

One participant joked, “A man with a gun and a bulletproof vest is a totally reasonable response to a conga line.” But it’s not, and we know it’s not. We must be diligent and critical; we must scrutinize the power structures in our university and the messages that they enforce.

However, we need to stand up to the administration as a unified force, not just as one small group that is easy to marginalize. There have surely been other events that have been shut down by the administration.

In the broader scheme of things, this is probably not an isolated problem. No matter what, we must fight this.