15 years after the Montreal Massacre, what's a guy to do?
Thursday, December 2, 20040 Comments
The killings at L’Ecole Polytechnique were not isolated incidents. They were part of a continuum of violence against women that includes at least one Canadian woman per week being murdered by a partner or ex-partner. They differed only in their magnitude and in the fact that the perpetrator was up front in his motives. He separated the women from the men and killed as many feminists (which he defined in part as women aspiring to be engineers) as he could. His suicide note contained the names of prominent women whom he had hoped to also assassinate. He may well have been mentally ill, but he definitely knew what he was doing.
Just as my parents’ generation can remember exactly what they were doing when JFK was shot and just as others have vivid recollections of when they heard about the attacks on the World Trade Centre, I remember the day of the killings very vividly. It was clearly a defining moment for my generation. I had just returned from Winnipeg where I had helped elect Audrey McLaughlin as the first woman to lead a national political party in Canada. It was a heady time for those of us who believe in and want to work toward women’s equality. We really believed at the time that a major stride had been taken toward achieving the feminist goal of electing a woman as Prime Minister.
As the horrifying news of the killings began to filter in, I had to wonder whether the two events were related. I heard that the killer had targetted women and that he had screamed his hatred of feminists. To me, he seemed to be saying, “Not so fast. If you get out of line, you’ll be killed (or raped or beaten).” It was a sobering dose of reality.
Given that reality, and the reality that violence continues to be a reality for far too many women, what can I, as a pro-feminist man, do on December 6 – and every other day – to combat the problem? First of all, I’m determined that I will respect the right of women to mourn privately and to organize their own actions against male violence. Moreover, any action that I and other men take does not deny women the leadership role on this issue that is rightly theirs. Thus, while I will wear a white ribbon and a button this week, I can’t accept that men wearing ribbons – however laudable their objectives – should be the focus of any memorial. My role is to support the work that women having been doing for decades in the struggle against male violence, not to steal the spotlight from them.
In addition to wearing ribbons, supportive men can reject sexist language and behaviour where we live and work – even if that leads to a backlash from their peer group. We can examine and re-assess our own assumptions. We can reject sexist stereotypes in the media and popular culture. We can watch for signs of violence or harassment and challenge the perpetrators to stop. We can use the power that we still disproportionately enjoy in business, government and broader society to ensure adequate funding for anti-violence programs, shelters and second stage housing. We can make donations to help our local shelter and rape crisis centre.
And, most importantly, we can simply shut up and listen to women for a change. The last thing the anti-violence movement needs is to be “rescued” by men, trying to be “supportive”. Offer to help, but let women define how and when that help might be needed.
In Waterloo Region, the December 6 Coalition (which includes the YWCA, Women’s Crisis Services, the CAW Women’s Committee, Mary’s Place and the K-W Sexual Assault Centre and others) has organized a remembrance gathering at the Victoria Park Pavilion in Kitchener, starting at 6:30 pm on Monday. The Bluevale Chamber Choir, under the direction of Nancy Kidd, will perform several songs. Teacher and musician Nan Thompson will perform Stolen Tomorrows, a song that she wrote especially for these gatherings. Marcia Smellie is our speaker. She will focus on what has changed in 15 years. Marcia is a teacher at KCI and president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada, Waterloo Region. She is also a founding member of the December 6 Coalition.