York Region binge drinking ad causes controversy

A poster in the women’s washroom at the York University Student Centre has caused controversy as some students say it carries a sexist message.

The ad is part of a safe substance use campaign launched by York Region and has been seen in bar washrooms around downtown Toronto, according to CBC Toronto. York Region is a regional municipality that stretches from Toronto to Lake Simcoe in Southern Ontario.

The poster depicts a shocked woman looking down at her phone with her hand on her head. The ad reads, “don’t try to keep up with the guys.”

Overlaying the picture are three Instagram photos from accounts called “collegegirl” and “collegeguy.” 

The “collegegirl” Instagram photos show the woman meeting a guy and binge drinking the night before. The last photo in the row is from the account “collegeguy” where the woman is lying on a bed with a bottle of alcohol in her hand, and the hashtag reads, “my kind of party.”

The bottom of the poster warns, “It’s not just about keeping an eye on your drink, but how much you drink.” CBC Toronto verified that no similar poster existed in the men’s washroom in the same building.

Maija Duncan, a York University student who shared a photo of the poster on Facebook, said in a Facebook message that she felt disbelief when she initially saw it.

“There are several aspects of it that are questionable, and I thought it was at least in bad taste before I stopped and looked at the Instagram posts and realized just how bad it is,” she said. 

“My friends and circles have all agreed that this ad is disgusting and needed to go. We’re all rather pleased that it was removed so quickly,” she added.

Several people who commented on Duncan’s Facebook post were outraged, claiming that it was an example of “victim-blaming” by insinuating that the woman was taken advantage of because she drank too much.

However, not everybody was outraged by the poster’s message. University student Brittney E., who commented on the Facebook post, said in a Facebook message that she thought the reactions to Duncan’s post and the ad were unwarranted.

“The things people were saying weren’t true in my opinion, which was that it was placing blame on women for rape. It wasn’t. It was just saying that people need to look out for themselves,” she said. “I would give the same advice to girls going to their first high school party.”

Janice Walls, advisor and deputy spokesperson for York University, said in an email the university was troubled by the content of the advertisement when they were made aware of it.

“We have a strict postering policy that applies to all buildings operated by the university. Since the Student Centre is operated independently we were not consulted about the advertisement. We have been informed by the Student Centre that they instructed that the ad be removed,” she said.

Rawan Habib, president of the York Federation of Students, told the Toronto Star he was critical of the poster since it “plays into and supports, rape culture, rape myths about women and sexual violence.”

York Region also released a statement on Twitter apologizing for the poster, stating, “Our intent is never to offend. Instead, the intent of this campaign was to raise awareness about the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking.”

According to the statement, “The campaign was primarily targeted towards women because we want to raise awareness that even when women drink the same amount as men, women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently. They often weigh less, have more fat tissue, less water in their bodies and lower levels of enzymes that break down alcohol.”

Duncan said she believes everyone has a share of responsibility for their actions while drinking alcohol, including guys who prey on drunk women.

“What I would really love to see is a campaign that actually addresses the health implications of binge drinking, but without the awful sexual shaming element,” she said. θ