More than a ribbon

By Melanie McNaughton

On Dec. 6, 1989 Marc Lepine stalked the halls of L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal muttering sexist epithets. He murdered 14 women that day because he felt that they were taking away places that rightfully belonged to men. Recently, I heard these events referred to as the actions of “one idiot with a gun.” In our attempts to deal with the socially and psychologically distressing events of Dec. 6, 1989, it seems we have ‘forgotten,’ what actually happened, trying to hide from the uncompromising, uncomfortable reality that Marc Lepine was more than just “one idiot with a gun.” Marc Lepine was a product of our society. A society which calls prioritizing men’s right to view women in objectifying, demeaning, degrading positions freedom of speech and freedom of choice. A society where in every corner store dozens of glossy magazines are marketed to women, emblazoned with snippets on their slick covers about “How to Land the Job You Deserve,” then feature tips on “How to Please Your Man,” and how wearing a size four Gucci dress is the epitome of all that is good about being a woman. A society where 671 of 6064 (9.04 per cent) board seats on Fortune 500 companies are occupied by women. We have forgotten, nine years later, that Marc Lepine did not raw his hateful patriarchal ideas from a vacuum.

I watched a movie the other night about racism. It was an exceptionally difficult movie to watch: partly because graphic violence makes me squeamish, more so because the movie offered no escape from some of the brutal realities of life-it’s difficult to avoid reality on a 20 to 30 foot-wide screen. It’s difficult to avoid the uncompromising truth that people are brutally slaughtered every day in corporate, sanitized America because of their skin color. The events of Dec. 6 should make it difficult to avoid the uncompromising reality that people are slaughtered every year in nice, quiet, suburban Canada because of their gender.

It was not the violence in the above movie which made me sick: there were only three incidents of violence. It was not the graphic nature of the acts depicted in the film that made me sick: the violence depicted was not exceptionally gory. It was the harsh, uncompromising truth of the reality presented through those violent acts that made me sick. It was that reality which, for a moment, made me ashamed to be a person. It was that reality which made me wish I did not live in a world where things like that happen. It was that reality which made me glad it was ‘only’ a movie and I could turn it off and walk away.

The difficulty with life is that it is far too easy to turn off disquieting realities. We label those realities with warm and fuzzy titles about national days of action and remembrance, pin something to our shirt proclaiming that we stand for and speak out against (fill in your cause here), feeling we are a better person. We sanitize the systematic murders of 14 people who were killed because they were women, an event which should be etched in our memories for its appalling significance, by naming Dec. 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

I am not demeaning, degrading or diminishing the importance of days of remembrance. I am not stating that it is inappropriate to choose that day as a reminder of events linked to significant issues in our society, or that it is inappropriate to use national days of remembrance to publicly call for change. I am stating that it is inappropriate to only remember Dec. 6 as a day of action. I simply don’t think we should forget why we remember.

Take a stand against violence against women. Wear a white ribbon during Violence Awareness Week. But instead of simply pinning on that ribbon and walking away, feeling a better person for doing your bit for humanity, remember why you wear that ribbon. Remember that we live in a world where women are still less than equal. When you talk about creating change, remember the reasons why.

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