The following are some of the thoughts I shared on Dec 6 at Royal Roads University as part of their ceremony to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The second half of this presentation follows in a separate post.
Dec 6, 1989. What a shock to hear the news. 14 women were dead. People who were leading their regular lives, just going to class, were shot. Not just because they were women, but particularly because they were women who stepped outside of their gender roles.
Although I was familiar with sexism, discrimination and harassment, the shape that it took that day was so very extreme. Shock doesn’t really describe the feeling.
Additionally, as a woman, a university student, and a feminist, it had a deeper impact – that could have been me! The degree of vitriol directed at those women felt aimed at me too. The world felt very much less safe.
What I understand more thoroughly now, is that many people live that every day. As a white, heterosexual, cis gender (my gender identity aligns with that assigned at birth) person with enough privilege to make it to university, I hadn’t been the target of such blatant hatred simply for who I was.
The conversations across the country that followed the event explored how it was not simply an isolated act of an individual who had gone off the rails. It was part of a greater system. People spoke of how misogyny and rigid gender expectations are integrated into our culture and our laws, and how this fostered violence against women.
The creation of a National Day to not only remember this event but to work for change validated the important message that violence against women was a systemic problem. This violent situation was not the only example of women losing their lives because they were women. Something was wrong with the system.
I have been involved in anti-violence work, in various forms for many years. In that time, I, and those I work with, have developed a greater awareness that systems of oppression intersect and complicate the story. I understand more fully that some groups are at even greater risk of violence than others.
For example, Transgender folks experience greater violence than those that are cisgender, and Trans women are at even greater risk than Trans men. Not only is stepping outside of one’s assigned gender perceived as a problem, it is devalued more so to become increasingly feminine. That is misogyny.
Indigenous women experience more violence than non-indigenous women. I am learning more and more how that is a result of colonization and the misogyny that is woven into colonial attitudes and laws.
Of course colonization influences and is relevant to all of us, even if some us have the privilege of not having to be aware of it. At a workshop I was at recently, we were exploring how to challenge rape culture and how we can create a culture of consent. A whole new layer of understanding opened up when the facilitator (Vikki Reynolds), referring to the work of Sarah Hunt, pointed out that our very Nation is not founded on consent. How can we address consent without acknowledging, and working to change, such fundamental issues? Systems of oppression intersect. We need to pay attention to that.
You have heard me talk a lot about systems. I’m a social worker. There is a joke about us: How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?
The light bulb doesn’t need changing, the system does.
So, back to Dec 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
The rallying call is: First we mourn, then we work for change.
This is a day to grieve. In my work as a trauma therapist at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre I hear about sexualized violence, and I witness how it plays out in people’s lives. I mourn for the ways in which my clients have been wounded. I could speak to you about their resiliency and all the amazing ways that people survive and resist violence and oppression but that doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have had to experience those things. This stuff shouldn’t be happening!
I am sad that our legal system rarely provides justice for survivors of sexual assault. I grieve for the fact that anti-violence services are under-valued and under-funded.
We need to grieve – there is much to mourn. But grieving is not enough.
If we want something to change, we have to change what we are doing.
Want to know more about effecting change? See: Then We Work for Change – Dec 6, Part 2.