The media is the main source of information regarding numerous events in society, thus shaping our understandings and opinions on a continual basis. Without the extensive coverage of the news, many events would be left invisible to the general public. That being said, it is crucial to always remain critical of the messages being portrayed. The coverage surrounding Take Back the Night is an example of the ways in which the media depicts acts of dissent. Take Back the Night is an organization that seeks to end victim blaming in regards to sexual assault, and instead divert the attention towards the males who actually commit the crime (Take Back the Night 2014). They argue that women should be free to walk alone at night without being victimized. In this analysis, I have obtained five media articles from various newspapers in order to examine how they frame the 2013 Take Back the Night march in Vancouver, British Columbia. This particular protest was centered upon the sexual assault of six University of British Columbia (UBC) students. All six attacks happened while the women were walking alone at night.
When first analyzing the media’s depiction of acts of dissent, it is extremely important to be aware of the type of language they use to frame the event. For example, violent protests are often described as “riots,” whereas peaceful protests are described as “marches.” The latter can be seen in all of the media depictions of the Take Back the Night Protest in Vancouver that were obtained for this analysis. Canwest News Service’s (2013) article titled “Hundreds to rally at UBC to Take Back the Night from sexual predator on the prowl,” frames the protest as a “rally,” whereas Shuttleworth (2013) describes it as a “walk.” This type of language depicts the protests as extremely peaceful, also working to produce the event as legitimate in the eyes of the media.
However, despite the neutral discourses used to frame the event, many of the articles actually perpetuate the stereotypes that Take Back the Night seeks to resist. For example, as a response to the string of sexual assaults on UBC’s campus, Ip, Luk & Bains focused more on the President of UBC Stephen Toope’s perceptions of the events, as opposed to members of Take Back the Night (Luk & Bains 2013). Toope’s solution was to increase security on campus, by installing more lights, hiring more officers and encouraging women to use services such as SafeWalk, which provides students with volunteers to walk with at night (Ip 2013). Canwest News Service’s article, however, ignores the voices of the members completely, therefore inadvertently framing Take Back the Night as a movement revolved around target hardening strategies; something that the organization would not necessarily advocate. Solutions such as SafeWalk, according to members of Take Back the Night, would not actually benefit women; they instead work to make them more fearful. While these authors seem to be offering their support for the organization, they simultaneously paint a false representation of its mandate.
The last two articles that I obtained shed light on new information that is absent in the articles discussed above. Both Shuttleworth (2013) and Quan (2013) write about the Take Back the Night rally that occurred at the University of Guelph. This protest was motivated by the sexist comments yelled during frosh week at the University of British Columbia (Quan 2013). Supposedly, male students screamed chants such as “We like ’em young, Y is for your sister, U is for under age” (Shuttleworth 2013). Thus, it is surprising that President Toope did not mention these chants at all in his concern about the sexual assaults on campus. It is even more surprising that none of the articles surrounding the six sexual assaults mentioned them either. A reason for this absence could be the media’s stake in promoting the University as ‘safe.’ The three articles are all written in Vancouver, and therefore might have had more pressure in framing UBC positively. Writing in Ontario, on the other hand, could have reduced this pressure for both Shuttleworth and Quan, therefore painting a clearer picture of exactly what happened in Vancouver. Consequentially, this leaves a major gap in Ip (2013), Luk & Bain (2013), and the Canwest News Service’s (2013) articles. By ignoring the pervasive “rape culture” that is present on campus, they are ultimately undermining Take Back the Night. Take Back the Night would argue that some male’s perceptions of the female body must change for any progress to be made in terms of sexual assault, not by implementing more security. With that being said, at first glance it appears that the media is highly supportive of Take Back the Night’s initiatives, however when reading closely, it is clear that many of these writers did not understand the true meaning of the organization, and are therefore sending false messages to the public.
Boykoff, J. (2007). Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard. In Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. (248-260). Oakland: AK Press.
Canwest News Service. (2013, October 20). Hundreds to rally at UBC to Take Back the Night from sexual predator on the prowl. Postmedia Breaking News. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=141835719875906406339646272656
Ip, S. (2013, October 31). Marchers take back the night; University of B.C.: Demonstrators hit campus streets to rally against rape culture, predator. Vancouver Province. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=141835726048207505814260784669
Luk, V & Bains, C. (2013, October 31). Unprecedented police presence at one of North America’s safest universities. The Canadian Press. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=1418356980456042962734397230196
Quan, D. (2013, September 14). Campuses struggle with pervasive ‘rape culture’. Postmedia Breaking News. Retrieved December 8, 2014 from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=141835730935502062789503442456
Shuttleworth, J. (2013, September 27). Even stronger message from women; Guelph’s Take Back the Night’s larger numbersis a response to recent university sex chants. Guelph Mercury. Retrieved December 8, 2014 from https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=141835737389903921885319429437
Take Back the Night. (2014). Take Back the Night. Retrieved from http://takebackthenight.org