Women’s day gets heated

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International Women’s Week became a controversy about “cunt” at the University of Waterloo (UW) after students hit administrative road blocks promoting and hosting events titled in honour of the word.

Inga Muscio, author of Cunt: A declaration of independence, was invited by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), in conjunction with the campus Women’s Centre, to speak to students about issues of gender inequality. While Muscio’s address on the eve of March 8 – International Women’s Day – ran smoothly and saw a large turnout, for the organizing students the road to Muscio’s talk was a rather bumpy one.

Before the talk, UW student Brittney Baldwin explained to The Cord that a university staff person, Ann Simpson, had prevented a group of students and Muscio from entering an empty room in the Student Life Centre (SLC) for a workshop Muscio was scheduled to lead earlier that afternoon.

Simpson, manager of the SLC, explained that the room the group was asking for was already booked by another campus organization.

“They wanted a room opened, but the room was booked by somebody else and the author got upset because there wasn’t anybody in the room,” said Simpson. “What she didn’t understand was that the room was booked for somebody else and they hadn’t shown up yet.”

Simpson then reiterated that she had no record of any booking requests — all of which are done through e-mail — from WPIRG.

Baldwin along with several other UW students who spoke to Simpson that afternoon, explained to the audience at the evening presentation that Simpson had told Muscio that she should be “embarrassed” by her book. Not addressing the claim, Simpson did response to accounts that the meeting became heated, stating, “I deal with all kinds of people and [Muscio’s] approach to me was really assertive. I mean … there was no sense of cooperativeness from the start.”

In protest of not gaining access to the room, the students got into a conga-style line — an event which they re-enacted at the evening presentation — and sang “cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt.”

University police arrived in response to this having received a complaint from a staff member in the SLC.

According to Dan Anderson, director of police services, the two officers only briefly spoke to the students and things settled down immediately.

Tammy Kovich, volunteer and programming co-ordinator at WPIRG later stated, “All of the women who were going to attend the workshop found an alternative space and actually the topic of that workshop became a little more practical discussion about dealing with misogyny on campus and dealing with administration in response to International Women’s Week.”

Although she had yet to receive a formal statement from the SLC explaining why the original room had not been booked, Kovich did clarify, “These requests weren’t put in by WPIRG, our organization, but were put in by one of the student organizers for the event.”

The cause of the miscommunication in booking the space for Muscio’s workshop had not been clarified by any of the involved parties at press time.
Prior to the booking confusion, posters promoting the evening presentation across campus were taken down by university administration because of the language it featured.

Speaking on behalf of the UW Federation of Students (the Feds), vice president: internal Luke Burke explained that the problem with the posters was that they prominently featured Muscio’s book title Cunt. “There were a number of I believe staff, faculty and deans that contacted the university that were concerned about this, women that were offended by the word,” said Burke.

“The university decided that the posters violated policy 33 on ethical behaviour and told them that they weren’t allowed to post them any more, by they I mean WPIRG,” he added.

When it was finally time for Muscio to speak, the lecture room was filled with enthusiastic supporters of her work. Introducing Muscio, Baldwin and UW student Zoe Miller addressed the patriarchal and pro-life views they believe exist on campus with the examples, “Sit down and shut up and take down those damn rainbows” and “we can’t hear you over your uteri.”

Muscio, beginning her talk, responded to the attitudes the women face, stating, “It sounds like bullying to me.”

“There are different kinds of bullying in our culture …. There’s no real punishment for it.”

Trying to empower the audience, Seattle-based Muscio took on a more optimistic approach adding, “The time of the bully is ending… Times are changing.”

Muscio continued her talk sharing personal stories, reading from Cunt as well as her second book Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil and taught practical skills for self-defence.

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