Anti-drinking ad in university women’s washroom blasted for being sexist

With frosh week just days away and campus already buzzing with students getting ready for a new academic year, a poster in the women’s washroom at the York University Student Centre is drawing fire from critics who say it pushes a sexist message.  The ad — which is part of a campaign about safe substance use by York Region — shows a woman, shocked, looking at her phone with her hand on her head.

“Don’t try to keep up with the guys,” the ad reads.  Three Instagram photos of the woman drinking in various scenarios, presumably from the night before, are overlaid on the image.  The last picture in the row is from the account of “College Guy.” The woman is lying on a bed and the hashtag says, “My kind of party.”  At the bottom of the poster it reads, “It’s not just about keeping an eye on your drink, but how much you drink.”

One woman wrote on Twitter that the message was “ridiculous and offensive to women.” A Facebook comment reads, “Once again women are responsible for their own victimization. My goodness, is this 2017 or 1917?”

York versus sex assault

Mandi Gray, who was at the centre of a high-profile sexual assault case at York, shared the photo on Facebook Tuesday and added the sarcastic comment, “The message every young woman needs during frosh week has arrived!”

In 2015, two months after allegedly being attacked by a fellow student, Gray stopped attending the school because she said York University couldn’t guarantee her safety.  Gray filed a complaint against York at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in June 2015, claiming the school lacked clear procedures for reporting assaults. The university announced in December of last year that the human rights case had been settled.

Mustafa Uruyar was convicted of sexually assaulting Gray in 2016, but the conviction was recently overturned and a new trial was ordered.

‘Back to the drawing board’

Ann Ramkay, a manager with York Region Public Health, said the campaign was meant to raise awareness about the dangers drinking can pose to young women in particular.  “We’re seeing an increase in women drinking. They are at risk for alcohol-related harm because they often weigh less, have more fat tissue, less water in their bodies and lower levels of enzymes that break down alcohol [than men],” Ramkay told CBC Toronto.

Ramkay said because of the online feedback, they would be suspending the campaign and removing the poster.  “Our intent is never to offend. We’ll go back to the drawing board and look at the situation going forward,” she said.

Rawan Habib, the president of the York Federation of Students (YFS), told CBC Toronto in a statement that the federation requested the ad be taken down immediately.  “The ad is in violation of our equity mandate,” said the statement.  CBC Toronto confirmed that no similar ad exists in the men’s room in the same building.

‘It’s disrespectful’

The Keele Street campus was bustling with activity on Tuesday afternoon as students got ready for the start of classes next week.  When students were shown the image, many of them reacted strongly, saying there is a double standard to having the ad in the women’s washroom only.  “It’s disrespectful. It could be the other way around too, because girls can take advantage of guys,” said Maya James, a frosh leader whose job is to welcome new students at York.

Student Aneeshka Vyas said the poster promotes a mentality that it’s a woman’s fault if she drinks too much and gets into trouble.  “Maybe they could gear something similar towards guys as well, saying, ‘Don’t overdrink and do something that you’ll regret and ruin a person’s life.’ It would make more sense rather than just having it in the girl’s bathroom,” said Vyas.

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