“Bitches and Drinks”: What I Overheard at Frosh Week at UBC

Yesterday marked the first day of classes for colleges and universities across Canada, and on my campus, like many others, the spirit of excitement was palpable. In spite of the rain, thousands of University of British Columbia students congregated on campus to celebrate “Imagine Day,” a day when undergraduate classes are suspended so that a variety of festivities and welcome events can be held. There were dozens of campus tours being led by guides in brightly-coloured UBC shirts, a frenzy of students gathering their supplies and course materials at the bookstore, and hundreds of people checking out the many booths that lined the streets near the centre of campus.

These booths offer a wonderful way for students to check out services on campus (especially those provided by the Alma Mater Society), to find a variety of clubs and activities that they may be interested in joining, and to familiarize themselves with some of their departmental student unions. As with many universities’ frosh weeks, a fair number of booths are also sponsored by various off-campus corporations and businesses, ranging from cell phone providers to banks.

However, one booth in particular got my attention, and not because I was intending to seek it out.

When I exited the Student Union Building after having run some errands, I heard extremely loud music. Now, loud music coming from a booth is not a particularly unusual or offensive thing in itself: it’s part of building the atmosphere and maintaining the excitement of campus events. However, when I heard Trey Songz’ lyrics “I’m only here for the bitches and the drinks, the bitches and the drinks,” I suddenly found that my sense of campus spirit faded away rather quickly. I turned the corner to find the source of the music, and, not much to my surprise, it came from a booth run by an off-campus nightclub, one which is generally frequented by undergraduate students. With that song still blaring, I walked away, troubled, and a bit angry, wondering if any other students had felt the same discomfort as I did.

Now, I’m sure that some of my critics might tell me that I am over-reacting, or that my tendencies towards feminist analyses and my work on sexual violence have simply made me sensitive to anything that might be vaguely construed as misogynist. So, too, it is possible that someone might remind me that free speech is a right, or that this music was played not by a campus group, but, rather, an off-campus company who claims no inherent affiliation with the university.

However, want I want to explore is not “whether or not” this song should have been played. Instead I want to talk about why I find it troubling to have heard it so loudly on campus, especially during frosh week.

For starters, we know that sexual violence, ranging from harassment to rape, is still a big problem on university campuses, both in Canada and in the United States.

  • I know individuals who have been the target of sexual violence on campus: one friend in particular reported being verbally harassed and groped during her first week on campus, an altogether unwelcome and unexpected treatment at what she thought would be a place of higher education, not a place of street harassment.
  • A number of American universities have recently been served with Title IX complaints after numerous allegations and incidents of sexual assault were either dismissed or improperly handled.
  • Even faculty are not immune.  In the U.S., Midwestern PhD candidate and blogger GracieABD has written a two-part series of blog posts about having been sexually harassed by a student.
  • According to statistics cited by the Canadian Federation for Students, 4 out of 5 female undergraduates on Canadian campuses are victims of violence in dating relationships.
  • Moreover, many incidents of violence occur within the first 8 weeks of the new school year (CFS). 
  • Undergraduate students in particular, who comprise the largest population on campus (and who are, indeed, the target of Imagine Day’s events) may have moved away from home for the first time, may be isolated without much support, and may be especially vulnerable to alcohol or drug-facilitated assaults at on- or off-campus establishments. UBC alumna Meghan Gardiner’s one-woman show on this very topic, “Dissolve,” has toured Canada for a decade.

“Bitches” and drinks, indeed.

We also know that sexual harassment and institutional sexism are still insidious in many campus cultures, whether overtly or covertly, whether within undergraduate or graduate populations, or amongst staff and faculty. Universities, including UBC, have policies against discrimination and harassment for a reason: university campuses are supposed to be safe spaces.

Look, I’m not here to rain on someone’s parade, or to act as the campus music-police. I realize that there are much more offensive and contentious things that have been displayed publicly by off-campus groups, and I don’t believe that playlists should be “filtered” by the university before they are used for campus events.  I am not interested in preventing off-campus establishments or companies from advertising themselves, nor am interested in suggesting that on their own time, and in privately-owned spaces that they choose to attend, students can’t listen and dance to whatever music they choose. I’m not trying to hold “UBC” responsible for anything. To be clear, I am also not suggesting that songs about “bitches and drinks” are the CAUSE of rape on college campuses.

That being said, I would like my university (an ostensibly PUBLIC space) to be a space where I feel safe, and where I can walk across campus without being reminded LOUDLY that as a young woman, my value to many people is still just as a “bitch” (or a “ho,” or any of those horribly derogatory terms). I want my university to be, as its slogan proclaims, “a place of mind,” where all community members and, especially, campus guests, are mindful of not perpetuating sexism.  When I heard “bitches and drinks” repeatedly for several minutes—at a location right near the Sexual Assault Centre, the Equity Office, and Counselling Services—I started to feel like I wasn’t really on campus at all.

Play whatever you want in your club: people pay to be there willingly with the knowledge that it is a particular kind of environment. But I attend my public university with the not-so-unreasonable expectation that I won’t have to listen to  misogynist lyrics when I’m just trying to walk across the quad.

Resources & Information 

Canadian Federation of Students Factsheet on Sexual Violence on Campuses

UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre

List of Local Vancouver Sexual Assault Resource/Crisis Centres

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19 comments

  1. Well put. And thank you for assigning blame where it belongs: with the club that chose to play such lyrics in a university atmosphere. Just because an action is PERMITTED does not make it acceptable. As a society, we need not to be more controlled by legislation forbidding … whatever offends others. We need to be more self-vigilant: where has a sense of individual responsibility and respect for all other people gone? I find it so diminished in our world today, and we all suffer for that.
    So like your own music, have your own opinions, exercise your human rights: but please, as individuals, make good, social choices. Think–in an intelligent, respectful way–of the audience that might be passing by…

    1. I wish I had the answer. But it’s definitely the reason I stopped listening to popular music radio stations many years ago….

  2. Well Lucia, Lots of men came to university for:

    the bitches and the drink
    the bitches and the drink
    the bitches and the drink

    and I don’t think your a drink…

    1. Please tell me, Equality4Men, your thought process for leaving comments like this. I’m going to give it a go:

      “Hmm, how am I going to make my point here? Call her a slut? No. A bitch? Oh, that’s good, but a little worn. I should think of a way to incorporate a thing she said in her post thereby making my anonymous comment seem not only witty, but also to prove that I read most of this post. All of this, while the height of a nuanced critique, also serves the dual purpose of legitimating the Men’s Rights movement, in which personal attacks and misogyny of this sort serve only to strengthen our appeal and win over hearts and minds to the plight of the privileged male. Yes, that will do nicely. Eat my manly dust, misandric feminists.”

      Did it go something like that?

    2. You’re an idiot in more ways than one: you are = you’re, you moron. Bad enough that YOU’RE a whining, sniveling, pathetically threatened dude, did you have to add grammatically challenged to the mix as well?

    3. Well, gosh, you’re terribly clever aren’t you? My guess if you went to university for the education you might find yourself better off.

  3. I`m sorry but how is that a rape chant? It’s certainly rather class, but it’s only celebrating a love of “bitches” and alcohol, not forcible rape. I’m not sure how the term bitch encourages rape of women anymore than the word bastard encourages rape of and assault of men.

    1. I certainly never called it a rape chant, and I do not believe that songs/chanting causes rape. However, given the climate on campuses, where alcohol-facilitated assaults are fairly common (as I mentioned), I don’t think it was an appropriate song to play at a frosh week. I agree, I don’t think that calling women bitches encourages folks to rape them, but it certainly does reflect a certain attitude towards women. Mostly, my critique was that campus culture isn’t club culture, and that while certain songs are fine in the club, as you said, their crassness isn’t exactly well-suited to a public space on campus.

      1. Generally the people who sing those sorts of songs are too brain dead to belong in a “higher” institution in the first place.

      2. Forcible rape, as opposed to non-forcible, you mean?

        In any case, we know that the severe, and constant disrespect of women – both on and off campus – can lead to increased sexual assault. And whilst this chant wasn’t outright promoting rape, it certainly was promoting the lack of disrespect which can lead to SA.

        I also think it’s a cop out to say that they’re too braindead. I think we’re underestimating the force of peer pressure, especially on people so young. I’d love to say “but at 18, 19…20 they should know better, they know to stand up for what’s right”, because they do. But we also know that the compulsion to fit in often overshadows that – and for some, they really do see this as a bit of harmless fun, and have never really looked into how things are linked together.

  4. @KR Journo You should look up david lisak’s study on forcible rape. 90 percent of campusrape is commited by roughly 4 percent of men, most of whom are repeat offenders. This roughly coincides with the rate of sociopathy. Thus I don’t think it’s a cultural matter.

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