Okay, brief intro to a sordid tale:
Osgoode has an annual charity review called Mock Trial. Mock Trial is usually pretty racy. This year, Mock Trial took an unfortunate turn from "racy" into "what the hell...that's inappropriate." Friend of mine complains to York University's student paper, resulting in this article: "Producer shows no concern over ‘misogyny’" Quote:
“There were a couple of scenes in this year’s performance that were unacceptable and downright offensive,” she said.
One such scene, according to Brierley, involved female law students “gyrating” on chairs to the song ‘Buttons’ by the Pussycat Dolls.
“There was another scene which portrayed a female law student who was essentially down on all fours, pretending to give [oral sex] to somebody who was playing a partner in a downtown Bay Street law firm,” she said.
“The reason for which this law student was doing this was to gain funding for an environmental program.”
Brierley claimed the female law student depicted in the skit was also meant to resemble an actual student.
“As it turns out, the [female] character that was being portrayed was actually modelled after a specific individual at Osgoode. And although no names were mentioned, everybody that I spoke with after the performance knew exactly who it was referring to.”
Elizabeth Martin*, another Osgoode student, said she knows the student who was being depicted personally, and that although no names were mentioned, the skit referred to the student through personal details known to the Osgoode community.
“They made sure they made reference to [those things] in the opening of the skit to allude to her. And from there, it went on to this degrading act,” she said.
“She’s deeply humiliated. She doesn’t even want to attend school.”
First of all, from all accounts it was meant to depict this person, and there was a striptease, so the whole "Brierley claimed" thing is misleading.
The producer contacted not only denied that the skit was inappropriate in any way, but also denied personal responsibility, or responsibility to the student body:
[James Butlin, one of the show’s producers, said] “We’d certainly not apologize. Our show raises almost $10,000 for local charity and involves over 15 percent of our student body, and the response to our show has been excellent from all but these people that I hear about now.”
I...what? WHAT?! Goddammit man, if they'd only owned up to how totally NOT CRICKET that was, we would have been okay, I think. But instead, people went mental, siding with either "Mock Trial" or "Alyssa" (as if those two sides were mutually exclusive, as if Alyssa some sort of irrational hate-on for Mock Trial in general).
My favourite part, and by favourite I mean most-rage-inducing, is that people are angry she went "outside" the school. As if Osgoode is sort of sacred closed community and by "snitching" she broke some sort of unspoken rule. That is patently ridiculous. Osgoode is part of York--sorry folks, but it's true. Also? Osgoode has this bizarre secret-society mentality that allows institutional biases and groupthink to reign; those who don't buy in only have to survive three years of it, so we cope. If you think something is a serious problem, you have to go outside the school.
The editor of Obiter Dicta, the Osgoode paper, said in the most recent issue:"This is essentially a private affair that has unfortunately been played out publicly..." which is simply untrue. If someone had said something offensive is, say, a class, that might have counted as private. But Mock Trial is a publicly advertised show. Public sexism and inappropriate behaviour requires public discussion and public apology.
I will now quote the entirety of Alyssa's comment in the most recent edition of Obiter, because I think it's cogent and eloquent and deserves to be available in an indexed/html sort of a way:
While it is noble that so many Osgoodians spend months preparing an entertaining production in order to raise money for charity, the content of some of Mock Trial last week was troubling to say the least. I would like to preface the comments I am about to make by saying that I commend the dedication and hard work that so many student colleagues have spent on this performance. There is clearly a great deal of talent within the halls of Osgoode. My comments here and those that I made to the Excalibur are not meant in any way to undermine the efforts put forth by the vast majority of participants in the performance. It is unfortunate, however, that the production as a whole has been tarnished by the poor judgement of a few people who felt the need to include questionable material. In a profession where women struggle to be taken seriously, one has to wonder why students – many of whom were female – are perpetuating the very gender stereotypes that make it difficult for women to succeed and why their so-called progressive institute of higher education is allowing this to happen.
Two skits in particular were offensive: one with female students performing a chair dance to the lyrics “loosen up my buttons, baby,” and another depicting a female law student crawling on the floor and simulating oral sex on a male lawyer with whip crème and knee pads. As for the sexually charged dance scene, I fail to see the value in inviting the public to our school so that they can see female law students dancing in a sexual manner on chairs. What a woman does on her own time is her business. What people do at a public event in the name of Osgoode Hall becomes everyone’s business. I for one do not appreciate being associated with this type of performance given that I face enough problems as a young female trying to succeed in a field dominated by men and male oriented career norms.
Most troubling about the performance, however, was the second skit mentioned above. The vast majority of my criticism rests here. While the dance was inappropriate, the now infamous “blow job” scene was degrading, offensive and I would even go so far as to suggest that it constitutes sexual harassment. Aside from being completely inappropriate at a public event attended by families, professors, student colleagues and friends, this skit maliciously targeted a specific female student in a manner that can only be understood as an attempt to humiliate this individual and tarnish her reputation. Although no names were mentioned in the show, it was clear to most people that I have spoken to since the performance last week exactly who this character was supposed to be.
Both of these scenes were offensive in their portrayal of women in a profession where women have had to fight for respect and the right to be taken seriously as intelligent professionals. The portrayal of women in this manner also undermines the ability of female students at Osgoode Hall, such as myself, to feel that they are earning an education in a safe space where they are respected as intelligent and capable individuals rather than sexual objects. What’s worse is that this event had the school’s name all over it, suggesting that this type of depiction of women is sanctioned by Osgoode as an institution.
Finally, the fact that there were so many people involved in the production implies an institutional culture at this school that sees no problem in treating its female students in this manner. Presumably dozens of students witnessed rehearsals of Mock Trial practices and dress rehearsals and yet the performance went on as is – three times. This is clearly a much bigger and more systemic problem. The fact that many knew about the offending performance and no one felt compelled to remove this content is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this entire story.
This should never have happened. The Mock Trial producers should never have included these scenes and the Dean – who performed in the Wednesday night performance– should never have allowed this to continue for two additional evenings. These Mock Trial scenes have embarrassed the school and personally harassed and degraded a member of its community. For the first time in my life, I am embarrassed to be affiliated with this institution. I was so outraged, in fact, that I contacted the Excalibur so that they could report on it. They ran the story on the front page of this week’s edition. When asked to comment, one of the producers remained unremorseful, as if doing something for the purpose of raising money for charity gives them a carte blanche to treat people in such a degrading manner. As for the notion that the offending scene featured a “fictitious character,” that is simply not true and everyone knows it. Claiming that it was not an actual representation after the fact does not change this.
I have been challenged – privately, by members of the Osgoode community and my friends – for my decision to complain to the sponsoring firm so that they could “raise these issues with the producers of Mock Trial and to either pull funding for next year’s production or make it conditional on the content of the production being less offensive to women and other vulnerable groups.” Note that this is a direct quotation from the letter I sent to Cassels Brock; I do not think this is an unreasonable request. People have pointed out to me that this may have an impact on the ability of Mock Trial to secure funds in the future for its charitable aims. While I understand why some may be concerned, perhaps those same people should be instead complaining to those responsible for this, rather than the person tired of this kind of behaviour at Osgoode. I have received numerous letters of support in the past day, from total strangers thanking me for speaking out publicly about this issue. Clearly I am not the only one who feels offended by what happened last week.
Make no mistake: if Osgoode loses funding in the future for Mock Trial, it is not because a female law student got mad as hell and raised a fuss, but rather because there was a failure of judgement and oversight at all stages of the process. If people don’t want their dirty laundry aired, then perhaps they should keep their clothes clean. I don’t think it’s appropriate to be quiet about this simply because this is a charitable event and it reflects poorly on the school. It should. We have to face the consequences as a community for allowing this to happen and not run for cover. This is indicative of a systemic problem and a culture at Osgoode that makes this kind of behaviour possible. There are plenty of ways to raise money for charity in an inclusive and respectful manner and defaming a member of our community in a (mostly) otherwise entertaining production is not one of them. (emphasis mine)
Now, I applaud Obiter for including a number of pro/con comments in this issue, and I only have serious concerns with one: "Come join the Cabaret…" by Sheila Hyatt. The comment states: "Mock Trial is, I think, best defined as a cabaret show. Cabaret as an art form is generally a bawdy, funny, sometimes vulgar intertwining of performances of varying calibre and has also traditionally been a venue for social and political satire and commentary. Mock Trial is very much along this vein."
Okay, I'm agree so far. But the comment continues: "I’ve heard mostly positive comments about the show. Naturally, however, this is law school, and in keeping with the legacy of melodrama that is Oz, I have also heard murmurs that some people are getting their knickers in a knot over the 'raciness' and 'inappropriateness' of some numbers."
Again: What? This isn't about a couple of prudes in a tizzy because someone showed some ankle, for heaven's sake.
The comment then raises the similarity of Mock Trial with the cabaret as depicted in the film Cabaret, stating: "The film deals with cabaret in Germany during the Nazi rise to power. Between 1933 and 1945, the art form was essentially “sanitized” due to Nazi repression of social and political criticism, as well as a desire to exert greater control over public morality. Clearly I am not saying that those who are worried about the content of the Mock Trial show are repressive, fascist, racist, dictators!"
The major problem for me is that I agree with much of this comment, if it were applied to different circumstances. The statement that: "I would like to point out that, as anyone who has studied Jonathan Swift can tell you, satire gets a point across far more effectively than the clearest analytical writing." So true! And that: "...don’t assume that because you were morally offended by something in the show that everyone was or should be offended. It is that kind of thinking that leads to moral arrogance as well as a lack of dialogue between divergent viewpoints." Yes, yes!
But of course, the comment misses several major points. Like the fact that these differences of opinion aren't about opening a progressive discourse, but about a series of ad hominem attacks that the comment itself has participated in (seriously? Nazis? SERIOUSLY?). Also, the striptease was sort of a side note, but was nevertheless problematic not because it was "racy" but because of the way it portrayed a group of students. Would it be okay for a skit to portray any other group by reference to a single, generalized stereotypical characteristic? Hell no.
Another point is that satire and parody have an object. Had the dance number been contextualized, even briefly, it might fit into this category. Male and female students stripping as the only way to pay gargantuan tuition. perhaps, or a sexy dance choreographed to a recording of a boring lecture set to hip-hop music. As it stood however, the only message of the piece was "SEXY DANCING".
The fact that these two skits (mainly the one consisting of a personal attack) made it into Mock Trial concerns me a little. The fact that half the Osgoode community seems hell-bent on attacking the whistle-blowers is, to my mind, far far more alarming.