Showing posts with label violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label violence. Show all posts

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fatal Attraction or how I learned to fear men

Dedicated to the memory of Racquel Junio, and every other woman or girl who has died for the sin of being female.

[trigger warning]

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

Related posts:
Padded bras and victim blame: it’s always your fault

Silence means no

And at my other blog: Sexual harassment is bullying

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crazy Bitch: silencing women 101

Sometimes when you bring together two already loaded words you wind up with something so much worse than the sum of its parts.  Case in point: crazy bitch.  People throw this around all the time and if you call them on it they react as though it’s just an adjective paired with a noun and damn it, why don’t you get a sense of humour you over-sensitive feminazi?!

So let me break it down for you.  First let’s talk crazy.  Before I go any further let’s be clear, using the word “crazy” is always loaded because there are real people suffering from mental illness who feel the brunt of the overuse of the word.  In this context, however, it takes on special meaning.  Women have been silenced, invalidated, and outright abused with accusations and diagnoses of insanity for the better part of the last few centuries.  In the Victorian era women who expressed dissatisfaction with their repressive environment were diagnosed with hysteria.  To this day male abusers claim “she’s crazy” when faced with allegations of assault.  Women who openly express their sexual desire have been pathologized as nymphomaniacs with low self-esteem and women are still widely believed to be more unstable than men.  Men can often be heard to utter the phrase, “bitches be crazy” and The Urban Dictionary has thirteen entries for “crazy bitch” (there are only two for “crazy asshole”) here are some highlights:

One of nearly 5 million images for "crazy bitch"
“a woman who gets mad at you when her man slaps your ass. She is also know to threaten to kick everyone’s ass but never does anything. If you see one please take a screwdriver to her forehead and let all the demons crawl out.
Run these woman are CRAZY BITCH and mad at all times !!!”

“A woman who after a break up slashes the tires on your car, burns your clothes, and tries to get you fired from your job then calls you the next day wanting to reconcile.
That crazy bitch keyed my car and then called me for a booty call!”

“A sexually crazy girl who loves to screw dirty, but will drive you mad otherwise through her bitchiness and insanity, you'll find many women fitting this description in hot night clubs.”

There are a few common threads here.  First, she’s sex mad and second, she’s jealous and possessive. 

So here we go again, women who like sex, who advocate for their interests and desires and are not ashamed of their bodies are crazy.  Here’s a history lesson, in Victorian times young girls were at risk of having their clitoris removed or they’re labia sewn shut if they were caught masturbating.(1)  A woman’s desires were pathological then and their pathological now.

And second, while I’m not denying that some women get jealous and do irrational things it is also true that women are far more likely to be victimized by controlling, possessive men, “Spousal violence makes up the single largest category of convictions involving violent offences in non-specialized adult courts in Canada over the five-year period 1997/98 to 2001/02. Over 90% of offenders were male.” (2) Clearly something else is going on here. 

This notion of the “crazy bitch” as possessive and vengeful is that much more problematic in the way it is used to characterize black women.  Images of black women in particular going “crazy” and breaking shit, slashing tires etc are common place in film and on TV and this stereotype is used to legitimize violence and threats of violence (see quote above which implores you to ” take a screwdriver to her forehead and let the demons out”). 

In my web searches I have come across a video of a man slapping a “crazy black woman” for the crime of singing loudly along with her computer; commenters described this as hilarious and referred to her as a “crazy fat black bitch”.  This is violence pure and simple and it is this kind of language that is used to dehumanize women and keep them “in their place” if you have any doubts I invite you to read these two moving posts about sexual harassment from the perspective of a black woman:

Okay, moving on from the crazy…I’m not going to rehash age old arguments against the use of the word bitch.  I am, however, going to say that when you pair crazy with bitch it becomes bigger, it invokes a particular gendered and sexualized image of a special kind of crazy.  At best it is used to silence women, at worst it used to justify violence, both personal and systemic, against women.  So when I get all ‘het up’ about someone being called a crazy bitch it is not because I am humourless, it is because it’s not fucking funny.  Hate never is.

1)    Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.  New York: Harper Collins. 1983.
2)    Canadian Women’s Foundation:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The end of the world is nigh, and I forgot my gas mask

vi·o·lence adj.
1. Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence.
2. The act or an instance of violent action or behavior.

I have been dreading the G20.  For the last week or so I've been listening to news coverage of all the security measures they've been putting in place downtown.  On one hand I was worried about overzealous riot cops geared up to "show those activists a thing or two" and on the other hand I was dreading the inevitable reports about violent protesters.  Ten years ago I would have been worried about the media exaggerating the violence of the protesters and  invalidating the very real issues at hand.  Now, with this new(ish)wave of anti-globalization activism it seems we can't get through an international summit without some faction of the protesters getting belligerent, offensive and flat out violent.  This pisses me off so fucking much that I struggle to get the words out.  So before I continue with that rant let me give you some of my background.

I grew up with a real hippy mom.  Not a pot-smoking, free loving "groovy" hippy, no.  I mean a strongly political, true pacifist who taught us to speak out and stand up for what we believed in.  I went to environmental rallies and talked openly with my mom about sex, drugs and being weird.  When I was in high school I joined the Environmental Youth Alliance and helped organize a peace rally during the first gulf war.  Later, when I moved to Guelph I got involved with an activist teen 'zine.  As a result of joining the 'zine I got involved with the International Socialists (if you know them I can only say I had yet to learn what they were really about).  I joined this group thinking I had found a group of like-minded activists.  It didn't take long for me to see that they were mostly bullies dressed in activists clothing.  I never doubted their commitment but they were rigid, unimaginative, and frequently unkind.  They believed that their way was the only way and there was no room for real discussion and exploration of the issues.

After I left I.S. I stayed in Guelph and went to school there.  My years there, always in fairly close contact with "activisty types" I got more and more frustrated and fed-up with this brand of activism.  Put simply I have no tolerance for violence, I have no tolerance for hate, and I have no tolerance for the belief that the ends justify the means.  And let there be no confusion, violence is an act of hate.  There can and will not be any positive change as a result of hateful actions. 

I've heard a few people say about the madness that hit Toronto today that "There was no violence, only property damage.  That can be fixed with money."  Let's be perfectly clear, throwing bricks and rocks through store windows is violent.  Throwing shit at a store (literally, they actually threw feces into a store) is violent.  Destroying and setting on fire cop cars is violent.  This is not something you do because you believe that it will create real change (if you do, you're fucking deluded).  This is something you do because you like to "fuck shit up" and activism and anarchism give you some kind of thinly veiled excuse to be an asshole.  And by the way, what kind of anti-capitalist use the argument that it's okay because "money can fix it." Last time I checked that was the attitude that got us into this fucking mess.

So let's break it down.  A small faction (and I do mean small, like 1%) of the protesters broke off, fucked some shit up, and then tried to blend back into the crowd so they wouldn't be arrested.  If you're going to disrupt an otherwise peaceful protest with this violent bullshit the least you can do is fucking own it.  But no, you use the presence of the people whose protest you thoroughly fucking undermined to escape arrest.  That's not courage, that's not commitment to the cause.  The kind of activists I was raised to admire were the ones who were willing to get arrested and used passive resistance to emphasize the excessive nature of the police reaction.  With morons like the "Black Bloc" running around it's pretty  bloody hard to make the argument that the security measures are out of line. 

Okay, so now that we've established that these people have no clit to speak of let's move on to the fact that they have completely overshadowed what the other 9,900 people had to say.  Or how about the fact that the actions of the clueless few are endangering the safety of all those other protesters.  Tear gas, sonic cannons and rubber bullets are indiscriminate and when the shit hits the fan it's not only the shit disturbers that get hit.

Simply put: if you don't want to live in a violent world, don't live a life of violence.  If you don't want to life in a hateful world, don't act out of hatred.  And if you think the ends justify the means, you're missing the point.  Because one thing I know is that we are defined by our actions, the ends don't justify the means because the means are and end in themselves. 

To paraphrase Forest Gump's mother, "violence is as violence does" so put down your rocks and bricks and chill the fuck out.