Student Housing Billboard encourages gender stereotypes

A family friend of mine recently moved from Ottawa to Toronto. Her Ottawa house fit in the parameters of where University of Ottawa students find off-campus housing, so she put her house up on the university’s Student Housing Billboard.

However, despite having three nephews — all smart academics, all introverted and neat freaks — she listed her house as:

Gender preferred: Female

Her reasoning was that girls are quieter and more studious, they don’t make the messes boys make, are far less lazy, and most importantly, they don’t throw the wild parties boys do. After her brother spoke to her, appalled that she didn’t think his son would be good enough to live in her house, she has since changed her ad to gender indifferent. But I fear many others have not.

It is much more difficult for boys to find student housing than girls in Ottawa, and there have been many excuses for this. One of the more common ones given by my family friend, and people posting on the Student Housing Billboard, is that girls find the places first and are more uncomfortable living with the opposite sex than boys are, so they list their preference as female preferred. I am currently living in a situation in which my female roommate was there first, and we have a healthy living situation.

Even more troubling than these cases are the many one-bedroom apartments and completely vacant houses that are female preferred. There is no reasonable explanation for this other than sexism.

The erroneous notion that women are quiet and love to study; shy away from boys, drugs, and alcohol; and will leave your place spotless is ridiculous and sexist. Boys are no more likely to be focused on partying or being slobs. The implicit belief behind gender preference is that men and women are inherently different in behaviour, and that is just plain wrong.

Our university recently made the sexism easier. When you create an ad on the Student Housing Billboard you are now given the option of which gender you feel should live in your house. It is very easy just to click the button and participate in gender stereotyping. The U of O should not have that button there. If you are a girl or boy placing an ad and you feel uncomfortable living with the other sex, it should be stated in the comments. Placing that button there prompts users to ask themselves, “Is there a gender I should exclude from my house?” And what about those who don’t fit into traditional ideas of gender? This only makes them more prone to discrimination.

With the university currently offering housing for 3,000 students out of the 42,000 enrolled and with housing difficult to find, encouraging off-campus housing to discriminate by gender only worsens the situation for young students looking for a home.