‘The spotlight is shining:’ Calgary Stampede revellers grapple with #MeToo

CALGARY — Jessica Littlewood was returning to her downtown hotel room after a night out with friends during the Calgary Stampede when she had an unsettling encounter.

It was 1:30 a.m. and the NDP member of the legislature was riding alone in the elevator with two men who seemed drunk. As the pair were about to exit the elevator, one asked Littlewood to go back to their room and give them oral sex.

Littlewood wondered if anyone would be awake to hear if she were attacked, or how quickly she could access her phone.

“It was just an offhand remark, but I didn’t know if I was going to get back to my hotel room in one piece,” she said in an interview. “They saw me as easy pickings.”

The men left, and Littlewood got back to her room safely. She tweeted about the incident on Tuesday to highlight an all-too-common reality for many women: “Sexual violence is real. Please help us fix this.”

Years before #MeToo, a group of Calgarians launched a social media campaign of their own to tackle some of the less savoury aspects of Stampede, an annual celebration of cowboy culture that for 10 days every July seizes the city with a party atmosphere.

Office workers trade suits for bolo ties, checkered shirts and jeans. Bars and patios are packed and there are corporate shindigs aplenty.

“We started talking about the not-so-great parts of Stampede, where for years and years the culture of sexual harassment and ‘anything goes sexually’ was rampant and no one was really talking about it,” said Pam Krause, CEO of the Centre for Sexuality.

The group started the #SafeStampede campaign on Twitter in 2015. It has since expanded to training Stampede staff, including those who work at the rollicking Nashville North music venue on the festival grounds, on how to respond to any untoward behaviour they witness.

“As #MeToo came along, I thought we started something really small along same lines locally a few years ago,” said Krause, referring to the social media movement that has inspired women to speak out against sexual misdeeds.

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