Despite moving towards gender equality, look how far we haven’t come

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As X-Site’s disturbing “Greta” decal demonstrates, misogyny is still latent in Canada

Photo by Darian Lee

Picture this: a naked girl, seen from behind, her long braids pulled back by two hands. Other than the hands, the girl’s sexual partner is not visible, but she is presumably being penetrated from behind. It’s a graphic image. However, some modifications have been made to the original sketch that change the meaning entirely. The space where a man would be is taken up by the logo for X-Site Energy Services, an Alberta oil company, and her name is written across her lower back. She is Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old climate activist. The decal depicts her rape. 

X-Site’s general manager, Doug Sparrow, allegedly stated that he stood by the image, saying that Thunberg is “not a child.” Of course, anyone paying attention will know that Thunberg is, in fact, a child. A bold, brilliant, outspoken child who has breathed life into climate activism worldwide, but indisputably a legal minor, both in Sweden, where Thunberg is from, and in Alberta.

Sparrow later denied that X-Site had any connection to the decal; however, the company has since issued a statement taking responsibility for the original image, and indicating that employees will be attending sessions on respect in the workplace. According to X-Site, the image does not reflect the values of the company or its employees.

Except that the decal clearly does reflect the values of at least some X-Site employees. Someone, took a tattoo artist’s graphic-but-harmless sketch and turned it into a depiction of rape. Someone was secure enough in the knowledge that their coworkers would appreciate the image to distribute it at job sites and online. Someone assumed that their workplace culture would allow them to go unpunished, or, worse, someone truly did not believe that they had done anything wrong.

Someone at X-Site sees rape as a tool to dominate girls and women, and that betrays the misogyny that is still latent in this country.

The past century has brought many advances for Canadian women, but it has not made us equal to men. The entitlement that many men feel to women’s bodies may have been pushed underground — hidden underneath our right to vote, our positions as executives and politicians, our progressive sexual assault law, our access to education — but it has not been erased. 

Many men see objectification as natural and sexual harassment and rape as things that happen to women who ask for it — and “asking for it” can be anything from being intoxicated, to stepping outside of a traditional gender role, to simply being female. 

The desire of many men to sexually dominate women who invade male spaces is no secret. After a photo of Australian Football League Women’s star Tayla Harris stretching her leg above her head in a kick received sexually abusive comments online, my sister, an avid player of a variety of sports throughout grade school, commented that her male peers never referred to a female professional athlete without first remarking on what they would like to do to her.

For men who feel the need to dominate women to reinforce their own masculinity, girls and women “deserve what they get.” It is no wonder that misogyny and sexual violence are so common in areas that have for so long been occupied exclusively by men. 

The NFL, for example, has such a problem with athletes beating up girls and women that no one is surprised when another such incident is made public. A man I once dated told me that, after the OJ Simpson case, his mother stated that women should know better than to date professional athletes, and that abuse is the consequence of marrying them for their money. 

It’s not just sports. Misogyny and violence happens everywhere a culture of hyper-masculinity thrives — such as the resource extraction industry. Not only is this industry linked to the high rate of domestic violence in Alberta (a province heavily reliant on resource extraction) it also endangers Indigenous women and girls. The industry-associated boom towns and “man camps” that spring up in remote areas were recognized by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as being “implicated in increased rates of drug- and alcohol-related offences, sexual offences, domestic violence, and gang violence, as well as sex-industry activities.”

So, when the “Greta” decal hit the headlines, I was, to use a cliché, disappointed but not surprised. Thunberg is the face of environmentalism, which will eventually bring an end to the resource extraction industry as we know it today. She is a symbol of the biggest threat that people like X-Site employees face, and while the decal itself is shocking, the fact that someone made it is not. When a girl poses a threat, the impulse of many men is to exert power over her, and there is no method more total than rape.

Rape is not about sex; it is about control. It is an act of violence, like blackening an eye or breaking a rib. The desire to wield sexual power over women that many men have raises its head every time a man sees an intoxicated woman as an easy target, catcalls a girl on the street, or posts a violent comment online. The more advances that women make towards equality, the more positions of power that women occupy, the more autonomy women adopt, the more threatened many men feel. When latent misogyny bursts out in a public way, as has happened at X-Site, we are reminded that the safety of many women in Canada is maintained at the sufferance of men — men who justify their actions by saying that a 17-year-old is “not a child,” which, far from being a defence, implies that adult women are acceptable targets for sexual violence. 

They’ll get away with it. X-Site is unlikely to meaningfully change their workplace culture. Doing so would require firing every person who treated the decal as an acceptable and entertaining joke, and that certainly isn’t going to happen. There also won’t be any legal consequences, since the Red Deer RCMP have stated that the decal doesn’t meet the criteria for child pornography (a strange decision, given that child pornography is defined by the Canadian Criminal Code as a visual representation of a person under 18 engaging in or being depicted as engaging in a sexual act). Interestingly, Vice recently reported that an X-Site executive used to volunteer with the Red Deer RCMP auxiliary program.

We can’t do anything to change the misogynists that live among us, but we can police them, defend ourselves against them, and teach the next generation better. With education and persistence, we can raise men and women who refuse to tolerate sexism and misogyny. Only then will we have a chance at true equality.