December 10, 2014 · 0 Comments
Members of the community, local businesses, dignitaries and officials joined together outside Family Transition Place (FTP) last Friday to participate in the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women vigil, held at the shelter annually.
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 man who blamed women for the negative things in his life.
“When the Montreal Massacre took place, there were few of us who were adults at the time that did not hear about it,” said Norah Kennedy, Executive Director of FTP, during her address at the vigil. “It shocked the nation. But for the women living with violence or working in the Violence Against Women movement, the moment they heard about the murders is probably indelibly burned into their memories.”
She shared her own story, how, prior to the devastating event, while she spoke passionately when asked about women’s rights and equality, outside of the ‘normal’ sexism and objectification most young women face, she hadn’t focused or thought deeply about misogyny or violence against women.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I suspect I was like many young women of my generation; we were starting to believe we could have it all. Families and careers; universities were open to us, career opportunities were expanding, and women had had control of our reproductive rights for some time. Life was good.”
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 Ms. Kennedy.
Today, she said, 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.
“It is too easy to dismiss a particularly horrific act of violence like [the massacre] as the “snapping” of a madman,” said Ms. Kennedy. “But there is a cultural context that allows the violence to happen. It seems like a big stretch to say that the comments and catcalls from men as a woman walks down the street are precursors to shooting 14 women in cold blood, but the connection is there. It is in fact all part of a continuum.”
She added that the roots of violence run deep, and the continuum is long, especially with how women’s bodies are still portrayed as sex objects in advertising, music and video games.
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.
“I may seem to be straying far from the event that occurred in Montreal 25 years ago, but in reality, I’m not,” said Ms. Kennedy. “All these events are linked by a common denominator – an unequal distribution of the balance of power.”
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.
“December 6, 1989 should have been another normal day,” said Ms. Kennedy. “It wasn’t; it was far from normal. But it wasn’t, impossible. The news has been relentless these past months; sexual assaults, beatings in elevators, famous father figures in the headlines.”
The depth of violence against women is not as far removed from our small town, either, as many might think. Last week, FTP 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.
“The emergency shelter at FTP, here in small-town rural Ontario, is full to bursting and has been every day this year,” said Ms. Kennedy. “Children and their mothers will be spending their Christmases at the shelter instead of in their warm, safe homes.”
The letter, which was sent out to all of the shelter’s subscribers, thanked the community and their partners for their help, financially and supportively throughout the year, and requested that they consider donating to assist FTP meet the needs of the women they serve.
“Sadly, as we approach our 30th year of operations, we have to report that the emergency shelter is full and our counselling programs have a waiting list of women to be seen,” the letter says. “Because of this sad truth, we continue to work to educate our youth and our community about the need to build healthy relationships, where violence plays no part.”
A large part of FTP’s work over the years has come from their recognition that the way to make a difference comes through the need to change the culture.
“This is a social movement, and a movement, because it is so massive, is slow,” explained Ms. Kennedy. “As our friends on the MENtors committee will say, we need to ‘redefine masculinity’. We have to educate men and boys that they do not have to be threatened by women wanting equality. We are all better off when we share the responsibilities of this world equally.”
Attendees of the vigil were asked to take a moment to reflect on the topics discussed, on those lost and those who face violence, and then tie a ribbon on the tree outside FTP. The act represented a commitment to do something this year to contribute to equality between the genders and to ending violence, whether it is speaking out against sexist jokes, or taking action.
“On behalf of all the women in Dufferin and Caledon who have lost their lives to violence, I pledge that as long as violence against women exists, as long as women are not safe in their homes … we at FTP will continue to work with women, youth, men and boys to educate them and help them grow,” said Ms. Kennedy. “As long as women need refuge and support, we will not give up working to support them and keep them safe. We will not despair, we will not walk away; we will go on.”