The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Remembering Montreal

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.


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

It was a horrible night, and an even worse morning when all the papers came out with their photos, some of which were snapped through windows -- there was so much chaos and disbelief. It took us all a bit too long to fully understand what had happened. One lone man went a little bit further than what the rest of us deem to be acceptable, just a little bit further than what's allowed. That's how I eventually understood this horrible event, and that's probably why I walked around with my head hung in shame for the longest time. I'm glad for the yearly reminders, this post - we should never forget. And yes, I agree with you, Tricia. Love and respect and appreciation for everyone equally. It's the only way.

Thu Dec 04, 05:05:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thank you for the remind, Tricia. With all the other ballyhoo going on, I heard nothing of this day, not even on the CBC. That the day of remembrance was overlooked just seems to underscore how insidious the apathy, how little has been achieved. Nearly 20 years, and a bunch of spoilt, bombastic men in Ottawa supposedly speaking for the people of Canada get all the attention for their antics. I guess Lepine won; we remember his name, and not victims'. Tragedy every way you look at it.

Thu Dec 04, 05:49:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Oh, of course you would remember that night, Tony. You were right there in the city. And it must have been difficult for you to reconcile as a man. It was after this event, I believe, that the "Men against violence against women" campaign began.

Tamara, you're right that the palace coup attempt is getting all the press and it's hard to sustain interest in something that happened 19 years ago. But I read somewhere that Lepine didn't win in one respect, because the enrollment of women in engineering studies continues to rise.

Thu Dec 04, 07:54:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Tamara: I just got this in an e-mail:

Dr. Gabor Maté and writer and filmmaker Amber Dawn will mark the week between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with a reading. Thursday, December 4 at 7:00pm, free. UBC Bookstore Robson Square (Plaza Level, 800 Robson).

Can you make it there tonight?

Thu Dec 04, 08:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

What a great post. I've never ever connected male homophobia with misogynistic behaviour, but it so is! Some wonderful insight in here, Tricia, as well as a great reminder of that horrible day.

Fri Dec 05, 12:40:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Steve. Glad I could help you see something new.

Fri Dec 05, 01:26:00 am GMT-5  

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