Today is December 6. Twenty four years ago, 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”
Today is also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Though some have been commenting on “gendered violence” or “gender-based violence” today, I prefer a more specific description. This is about male violence against women.
Indeed, this violence is gendered, but to talk about “gendered violence” is too vague. What this term signifies is fear — and that fear exists with good reason. Feminists are targeted because they name the problem. We target patriarchy, male dominance, female oppression, and male violence against women. Men are threatened by feminism because we refuse to mask the problem with ambiguous words, tepid critique, and polite requests.
On December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered because a man was afraid to lose the power and privilege he believed he was entitled to. He was so angered by the notion that women might usurp that power and privilege, that he resorted to violence.
He is no anomaly.
Male violence happens to women on a daily basis, throughout the world. Depending on our various locations, economic status, class, and race, we may be more vulnerable. Our Indigenous sisters, for example, are prostituted, abused, and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. Poor women are trafficked daily to satisfy the desires of Western men. Here in Vancouver, on the Downtown Eastside, women with few to no other options are forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive and are subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions as a daily reality.
To be sure, all women are vulnerable to male violence. We know this, as women. We feel it every day when we walk down the street at night, listening for footsteps behind us, assessing the men walking towards us, planning our defense. We feel it when we take public transit and wonder whether we will be harassed or assaulted, trying to plan our response should the man next to us turn out to be a perpetrator. We guard our drinks at the bar, we avoid eye contact on the street, we wonder whether someone will crawl in our windows at night, we fear the cab drivers who we rely on to get us home safely at night. Many of us fear of the very men we live with — our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our boyfriends.
The feminist movement is our response. The feminist movement names men as our attackers and our oppressors. Perhaps not all individual men, but many individual men, and certainly men as a class.
“Gendered violence” is polite. It doesn’t offend. It doesn’t point fingers. It isn’t enough. Male violence against women is the truth.