by Tricia Dower
Today’s post has ended up being a companion piece to Andrew's, below.
Colin and I attended a ceremony yesterday at the University of Victoria, in memory of 14 women who were killed at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal nineteen years ago this Saturday simply because they were women. On that day, a 25-year-old gunman entered a classroom of engineering students, separated the men from the women, and shot the women with a .22-calibre rifle. He then roamed the corridors killing and wounding others before shooting himself. Katie was a student at Montreal’s McGill University when it happened and we had a heart-stopping moment when the initial reports came through.
Yesterday’s ceremony was part of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada, established in 1991 by Parliament. Debbie Yaffe, Senior Instructor Emerita of the Department of Women’s Studies, spoke movingly of her personal response to the event. How it made her realize it was dangerous to be a woman, especially one with aspirations. The killer, Marc Lepine, claimed he was teaching feminists a lesson, because they had “ruined his life.” He resented women who went into careers he thought should be reserved for men. This resentment appears to be just one facet of a deeper misogyny he may have inherited from his father. (You can read a thorough description and analysis of the event in this excellent article.)
In his post, Andrew writes that he was beat up as a child because he was perceived as acting “like a girl.” This may be transphobia, as he notes, but it’s also misogyny. Some males can’t imagine anything worse than being a female: vulnerable, powerless, the one on the bottom. If one of them acts like a girl, they feel threatened: could they actually turn into girls?
Tomboys are rarely battered. In fact, girls who act like boys are quite often encouraged in it. It’s usually only as women that they arouse fear and anger in some people if they choose “gender non-conformity” roles. I would like to see parents and teachers stop communicating (even subtly) that there’s something wrong with “girl” things. The USA’s First Father-elect, for one, could apologize for saying on a televised interview that he doesn’t want to get his daughters a “girly dog,” one that sits on your lap and yaps. I admire the man for many things, but that isn’t one of them.
According to StatsCan, half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one violent incident since age 16 and four in ten have been sexually assaulted. The photos on this page offer glimpses of The Clothesline Project, dozens of t-shirts that illustrate the range of violence women experience, including sexual assault, child abuse, incest, physical assault, violence because of sexual orientation, and violence because of race or culture. The shirts were decorated by assault survivors and their allies as a cathartic exercise. Their collective display is intended to give us a sense of the scale, the epidemic nature, of violence against women.
Yaffe didn’t hold out much hope that such violence will disappear. But, even so, she and others on the program asked that we speak out against it, refuse to accept that it’s inevitable, and continue to fight for every woman’s right to live an unrestricted life free of violence. In light of Andrew’s post, I suggest we fight for everyone’s right, male, female, trans, or other to live such a life.
Right: Robin Tosczak and Sinan Soykut of UVic’s Anti-Violence Project, hanging shirts for the Clothesline Project at yesterday's event.