Russell Peters's 'Joke' About Young Women Had No Place at the Junos

“Look at all the young girls. This is a felony waiting to happen.” Hey The REAL Russell Peters rape jokes are not funny and have no place on stage at a time when we are celebrating the music and art that Canadians have worked to create. Your "little" joke that meant no harm, further creates a dialogue that is very one sided, a dialogue that says men can make whatever jokes they want about our bodies and our experiences and we just need to not take it so seriously. Well, Sexual assault, especially the sexual assault of MINORS AND CHILDREN is serious and is NEVER funny, you asshat. #KnowTheFacts #DontBeAFool #YouAreAFoolPeters

(ASHLEY FRASER /POSTMEDIA)

Many of us in Ottawa’s music community were very excited to have our city host the Juno Awards on Sunday night; unfortunately, the show quickly took an unpleasant turn. Co-host Russell Peters chose to open the evening by looking out at the crowd gathered at the Canadian Tire Centre and commenting “Look at all the young girls. This is a felony waiting to happen.”

This comment needs to be considered in context: Here in Ottawa, about one-quarter of new cases of sexual assault reported to our hospital emergency rooms happen at or around mass events. Big music shows and stadium events such as the Juno Awards and after-parties certainly qualify as mass events. Young women are at particular risk for these kinds of assaults.

There were certainly many women in the audience on Sunday who are survivors of sexual violence, including many who had experienced sexual assault in their youth. These women and girls were listening while a comedian mocked them. They deserve more respect. There are also young men in the audience, learning what kinds of comments and behaviour are seen as funny and acceptable by the crowd. They deserve a better education than this.

Russell Peters needs to apologize, and he should not be invited back. If you look out at a group of girls and see “felonies waiting to happen,” YOU are the problem.

The young women in that crowd were there as guests, attendees and staff. They are artists, producers, fans. They are human beings. They weren’t there to be used as sex objects, as props for Peters’s tired attempt at edginess.

This kind of comment from the stage normalizes rape culture, and reduces young women to a crime that can be committed against them. Imagine how it feels to be a teenage girl in a huge audience of adult men, while one of the men observes into the microphone that your assault is just “waiting to happen.” These girls were there trying to have a good time, or do their jobs, and a 46-year-old man who was hired to host the event chose to sexualize and target them. He made it clear to them that they don’t really belong, and they can’t expect safety in that crowd. It’s workplace sexual harassment, and it’s misogynist and gross. I’d like to see the men who were there – Bryan Adams, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – disavow his comments.

I can appreciate a joke, and I understand that lots of comedians delight in being offensive, but this was not an adults-only comedy club. This was a presentation watched by people of all ages across Canada. This was supposed to be a night celebrating the best in music. 

This kind of “joke” isn’t even really made for humour; it’s not clever, it’s not original, and it’s not funny. This “joke” is the kind of thing men say to assert power and control, to remind girls around them that they can be victimized at any time, and that men will laugh. This is the kind of comment men make when they want young girls to feel embarrassed, nervous and ashamed.

 

As we enter a busy season of 2017 celebrations across the country, it’s up to event organizers to create policies to make young women – and everyone – safer at the festivities. This means implementing bystander intervention training, booking acts carefully, and a instituting a simple guideline for those on the mic: no more rape jokes.

 

by KIRA-LYNN FERDERBER


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