I was thirteen when I learned what a dangerous world it is for women. And not just because of my personal experiences with abusive boyfriends and sexual bullies at school.
The year was 1989 and on December 6th of that year Mark Lepin went on a shooting rampage at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. He was angry at “the feminists” for taking up spots in a school that he thought rightfully belonged to men. He killed 14 women. Those events quickly came to be known as the Montreal Massacre.
When I heard it on the news I cried. I still cry every time I think about it. Not just for the women who died or were terrorized on that day but because I understood in that instant just how dangerous it could be to be a woman.
|Plaque commemorating the victims of Mark Lepin|
In 1992, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy were abducted and killed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, it was later discovered that Bernardo had also been the Scarborough rapist. As a teen girl living in St. Catharines this was constantly on my mind. I had friends who had known Kristen, I knew someone who had known the Homolka family. The tension in the air was palpable. Those of us who were living in St. Catharines at the time all bear a collective scar from those years.
In 1993 Kara Taylor, a student at my school, was raped and killed by an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. Once again, I had friends who had known her, some of whom had begun escorting her to her car in order to protect her from her ex.
These events, partnered with my own experiences with abusive men, shaped my understanding of what it means to move about the world as a woman.
If you’re a trans woman, belong to a racialized group or have a disability you’re at even greater risk.
Do you think that Robert Pickton could have abducted and killed women for so long if his victims had been white, middle class women?
Do you think the McDonalds staff would have been so indifferent to the beating of a cis woman?
Of course not.
Every time I hear about a woman being killed by her male partner it feels like a punch in the gut. For every murdered woman there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are daily subjected to emotional and physical abuse. From partners, from employers, from friends and family members; we watch our backs as we walk the streets at night but deep down we know that it’s not the strangers on the streets that pose the greatest threat.
Statistically, we are told, a woman stands a 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted in her life. My experience is that more than half of my female friends throughout my life have been victimized in one way or another.
In the aftermath of the Montreal massacre there was a lot of heated debate over the significance of the fact that Mark Lepin targeted women. Some made the point that it was an extreme example of the misogyny and violence that rests in the hearts of so many men. Others said that he was just a deranged madman, as though that precluded his delusions from being shaped by the dominant culture’s antipathy towards women. In the midst of all this, some men decided that it was high time that men take on the responsibility for ending male violence against women. Of all the things that Jack Layton did in his life, this is the one for which I am most grateful.
We often talk of the negative impact on girls of being inundated with images of women as sexual objects. But we forget that they are also absorbing the much more visceral lessons about what it means to take up space as a girl or woman. Walking through life in a heightened state of vigilance, worrying about being called a slut, a tease, a whore. Hearing boys and men brag about “hitting that” in yet another conflation of sex and violence. Watching as friends or loved ones take hit after hit (physical or emotional) from abusive partners.
I don’t have any pithy comments. I don’t have a stunning conclusion. I only have this: If I’m rude to a man who makes a pass at me it’s because I have learned that a man showing interest in me is one of the most dangerous things of all.
Some stats on violence against women in Canada
Padded bras and victim blame: it’s always your fault
Silence means no
And at my other blog: Sexual harassment is bullying