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Politicians are responsible for toxic, misogynist environment facing girls

18 mars 2008

par Valerie Smith, The Free Radical

    “You hear stuff like ‘What’s up, bitch ?’ and ‘Hey, ho’ every other second” - Tanya, Grade 9

Toronto, Ontario - February 2, 2008 : "Violence against girls and young women is a pervasive problem" in Toronto schools, according to the final report on school safety recently released by the School Community Safety Advisory Panel. The Panel found that "gender-based violence, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, is occurring at alarming rates" and they conclude that the seriousness of the problem requires immediate attention.

As reported last week in the Toronto Star, the abusive language routinely directed at girls is being lifted straight from pop culture. In conversations with girls from five east-end Toronto high schools, the girls reported being subjected to a barrage of misogynist comments, as well as being sexually assaulted "at any time in the halls". 14-year-old Tanya said, "You hear stuff like ’What’s up, bitch ?’ and ’Hey, ho’ every other second". They hear girls being called skank, ho or slut every day, and they hear guys yell out which part of the male anatomy they want them to suck. 18-year-old Jhanelly Porter thinks it may be "too late for our generation" to get guys to respect girls, to get girls to respect each other, to get girls to respect themselves - "especially against the backdrop of the sexually degrading lyrics of" rap and hip hop.

"This toxic environment is no surprise," says Valerie Smith, an activist who has lobbied against violent media for the past seventeen years. "Misogynist rap was introduced over 25 years ago, and because it was popular with the kids, other segments of the entertainment industry picked up the language and ran with it. Politicians sat around with their fingers in their ears for 25 years doing nothing, with the result that misogyny sluices freely through this country contaminating everything it touches, including the lives of the girls who are forced to live with the results of that political "hear no evil" do nothing attitude."

For those who want to absolve popular culture of any blame, this is a quote from a new book, Misogyny & the Emcee : Sex, Race & Hip Hop, by American political activist, Ewuare Osayande :

"Rap music and the rappers who create and produce it are responsible for the impact of their message on the minds of impressionable youth. When a sixteen or seventeen year old boy hears a rapper he admires counsel him to "smack that bitch," why do we think that he would not consider doing that ? What other force is as compelling that is advising him not to strike a woman, when the majority of mediums in American life only reinforce his destructive desires ? Who are we fooling ? None but ourselves if we think we can deny the impact rap(e) music is having on the minds and behavior of our youth."

In Canada, there is very little we can do to curtail misogynist expression, since girls and women are excluded from the protection of the Criminal Code hate laws (in contravention of our Charter rights, it should be pointed out). And, in Ontario, we have no protection from hate material under human rights law, according to the 2006 decision from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which opted to do nothing about the distribution of hate rap by music giant, HMV Canada Inc.

Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a court-designated expert on hate crimes, calls Canada’s hate laws a "fence of protection" for vulnerable groups. Women and girls have been deliberately denied that "fence of protection" by politicians, and not through oversight. In 2003 when the Criminal Code hate propaganda law was amended to add gays and lesbians to the protected groups (Bill C-250), politicians refused to add women and girls !

Last week, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said, "The promotion of hate and violence has no place in Canadian society, and it is an offence under the Criminal Code." "Either Mr. Day’s memory is very short or very selective," says Smith. "For the past two years, his government has been deliberately obstructing attempts by Liberal MPs to add women and girls to the groups protected under the very Criminal Code section to which he refers. And, as long as we lack that protection, the girls of this country will be the ones paying the price."

 For further information, contact Valerie Smith,

Backgrounder : Below are quotes from various media describing the pervasive misogyny of rap and hip hop. For more on the human rights complaint against HMV Canada Inc. and the refusal of politicians to protect women and girls from hate propaganda, see the Hate Propaganda and Music sections at

About The Free Radical ( : The Free Radical web site is maintained by Toronto anti-violence activist Valerie Smith to provide information on media violence and strategies for combating it. Smith has lobbied on media violence issues for the past seventeen years, with a particular focus on the mistreatment of women and girls in popular culture. She is the author of the Action Agenda : A Strategic Blueprint for Reducing Exposure to Media Violence in Canada, funded and published by Ontario’s Office for Victims of Crime, an agency of the Ministry of the Attorney General. The report is available for free download from The Free Radical web site.


 For further information :

French version.

On Sisyphe, February 5, 2008

Valerie Smith, The Free Radical

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