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Sexual assault – defining consent, round 2

“Feminazi”, “President, Bitch of the Year Club” and “you dog-faced slut” – these are among the monikers I collected during my three-year stint as an out-feminist columnist with the Vancouver Sun. Most of the insults came from readers, but occasionally a columnist from another paper – or even my own – would be so stuck for meaningful material that he (and yes, I’m afraid it was invariably a “he”) would devote his 24 inches to slagging my apparent failure to find sexism funny, or permit other people to just “have a good time”.

My skin thickened over those three years, and I really grew to appreciate that the attacks helped expose the ignorance behind them. Moreover, I had the opportunity each week to challenge the dismissive or insulting characterizations of me with words of my own.

Women who don’t have the luxury of a regular column often feel personally bruised by the sometimes personalized and gratuitous word-assaults still regularly leveled at those who defend a woman’s right to say no, even to her partner.

That’s why it was doubly gratifying yesterday to see Danielle Fostey and Heather Cassells, two legal interns with West Coast LEAF who benefited from some indirect Informed Opinions support, challenge the specious arguments Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew made about sexual consent in his own paper. Mulgrew himself had been responding, in part, to the cogent analysis of a recent Supreme Court decision delivered by University of Ottawa law professor, Elizabeth Sheehy, who had actually intervened in the case. In his column, however, Mulgrew characterized Prof. Sheehy as “sneering” and accused her of being locked up in her ivory tower. Neither charge is remotely accurate, and betray lazy reporting and a willingness to stereotype.

For their parts, Danielle Fostey and Heather Cassells take apart the columnist’s arguments piece by piece, refuting his claims with concrete evidence, case law and common sense. It’s an illuminating read about a persistently troubling issue.