Last Friday was a day of importance that many outside of Canada, and even many within Canada are not aware of. December 6 marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action On Violence Against Women, where memorial vigils are held across the country.
The day, which was established in 1991, marks the anniversary of the Dec. 6, 1989 murder of 14 young women at l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, by a young man who killed them for one reason – they were women. As he ran through the school, murdering these fourteen women, witnesses say he screamed about how much he hated women.
In his suicide note, 25 year old Marc Lepine, claimed it was because of political motives, as well as blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note included a list of a number of known feminists whom he hoped to kill.
The Montreal Massacre, as it’s been called over the years, came at a time when people who were not connected to women dealing with violence in any way, did not know just what was going on under the surface. Young women of that generation were beginning to believe they could have it all. Families and careers, education, women’s rights – they were all moving forward.
With the massacre, all of that changed, forcing a nation to come to terms with the fact that while all seemed well on the surface, there was so much more going on below.
“The viciousness and deliberateness of the act, the vitriol against feminism, the ugliness of the hatred of women – not people but women – because women ‘dared’ to be enrolled in programs that a man had been denied entry to, shattered that little fantasy world once and for all,” said executive director of our local women’s shelter at a vigil on December 6.
Today, despite so-called progress in social, political and cultural views, there doesn’t seem to have been a major victory in the battle on violence against women.
From the recent allegations facing former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi of violence and sexual assault, to the public denials of rape culture, attacks on feminism, and groups such as the MRA (Men’s Rights Activists) who believe that women need to be ‘put back in their place’, it can be hard to see if there has been any real progress in that battle.
Earlier this year, a massive controversy in the gaming industry broke out when media critic Anita Sarkeesian spoke out about the sexism and ethical issues facing the treatment of female gaming developers and the portrayal of women in video games. While the controversy seemed to be run in the name of ‘ethical journalism’, Ms. Sarkeesian, along with a female game developer, received death threats, rape threats, and other attacks targeted not at their ‘failure’ in ethics, but at their being women in the industry.
On the day of the massacre, 14 women had gone about their last day on earth, not having any idea that it would be their last, or that such a violent, anger filled act would silence them.
The depth of violence against women is not as far removed from our small town, either, although sometimes it seems people are oblivious to it. In the last ten years we’ve had several aggressive attacks and murders against women – some that were already facing issues of domestic violence, others that were not. Last week, our women’s shelter sent out a letter requesting help from the community, as their resources are low and the shelter has been full, with a waiting list, for far too long.
But the key to change isn’t just reflecting and providing a safe-haven, although that is a part of it. As most women’s shelters across the country will gladly tell you, it’s about working to educate youth, adults and community about the need to build healthy relationships, where violence isn’t even an option. It’s a slow-moving social movement, one that needs to focus not just on helping girls and women get the confidence to walk away and get help, but by redefining masculinity, educating men and boys that they do not need to lash out in violence, and that they do not need to be threatened by women wanting equality.
Because at it’s root, feminism – true feminism – isn’t about women trumping men, it’s about equality. Equal opportunities, equal voice, equal respect. It’s about recognizing that both men and women should not have to fear gender based violence, abuse or assault.
While this years 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence have ended, the theme of that message should not. I’m asking that anyone who reads this today pledges not just to take a stand against gender-based violence, but to speak out against all facets of it. To not take sexist jokes lightly, to speak out, to share, to take a stand.
This year, take the time to learn about what feminism is really about, and how it contributes, not takes away from this fight. And if you need a place to start, check out this awesome and powerful article written by Free the Children founders Marc and Craig Keilburger.
It’s time we stop staying quiet, and we stop letting the radical portion of women who claim feminism but seek superiority use a word that was meant for something more, meant for equality. It’s time for those of us who have shied away from speaking out, to speak up, speak louder, and help to ignite change.