December 6, 1989
I was a first-year university student, living in residence at the University of Toronto when the news of the Montreal Massacre reached our house's common room. It felt very close to home. These were women very much like me who had enraged a murderous man by their decision and ability to go to university. He exorcised his wrath on them. He made them pay for his rage and frustration. Because he could. And because he felt entitled to do so.
It feels hard to believe that that was 25 years ago.
I'm sure many people are spending this anniversary assessing how much the world has changed and how much it hasn't. The past couple of years have seen an increasing dialogue about sexual violence against women. High-profile, tragic cases like those of Rehtaeh Parsons, Jyoti Singh Pandey, Steubenville, the Chibok schoolgirls abduction and the recent charges laid against Jian Ghomeshi have all brought greater attention to the issues of rape, sexual violence and inequities between men and women and girls and boys around the globe.
This is a good thing.
It's another step on our journey together.
We have a long way to go.
It isn't only the extremes of rape and sexual violence that we are fighting. It's a long enculturation of both men and women that dictates how we feel, what we do, what we say and how we treat one another.
Sexism on a continuum
To my eye, sexism exists on a continuum including (but not limited to): unexamined male privilege > sexist attitudes and jokes > insults > hate > non-lethal sexist violence > sexist policies > rape > murder
I feel lucky that I have not directly experienced much on the violent end of the sexism spectrum. Most of the sexism I experience is on the merely emotionally demeaning end of the spectrum, ranging from cultural urgings to be skinny and spend a fortune on beauty products in order to enhance my sexual attractiveness for men to sexist jokes/comments to the folksy sexism of our local mayor (and the majority view he represents in my community):
I look in my own heart and see that I am still often afraid to stand up for my feminist principles. Me! I would like to think of myself as a fairly strong and brave person. But I know that often I am not. I back down from things I want to say because I am afraid of being mocked, disliked, scorned, misunderstood (with the ever-present threats that sit further down the continuum: shunned? hit? raped? shot?)
It's a long journey for all of usI'd like to think that it could be easy for everyone to simply decide to be motivated by kindness and respect for all other people, regardless of any perceived differences between us. To follow the golden rule. But I know it doesn't work like that. Humans' love of power and control is greater than our love of justice and peace. And there is so much water under the bridge that fresh starts feel impossible. Our attitudes are passed down from generation to generation and coloured by our own experiences.
I wish it were easier to shift my own thinking. I want to develop more courage to be myself and to make larger contributions. I've fought off some aspects of my enculturation, but others are more stubborn, harder to relinquish. I often take the easy route. I "go along to get along". And I often take for granted the way that my privileges of being white, university-educated and middle class insulate me from many of the harshest realities of sexism. I don't do everything I could to stand up for what I believe in or to try to make the world a better place. I get frustrated and discouraged. I have given up more times than I can count – telling myself that it doesn't matter or that it is futile.
On this anniversary, the memory of the 14 women shot at École Polytechnique calls me to do more and to do better.
I am a woman.
I believe all human beings are equal.
I am a feminist.
This post is dedicated to:
Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk, finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing studen