National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:

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I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, too unreal and removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident, a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

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