Who knew that the Fox Network, home of Bill O’Reilly, the man who has been known to accuse the United Nations and the country of France of being terrorist organizations, would pass up the opportunity to sell retired football star O.J. Simpson’s “hypothetical” account of the killing of his ex-wife and her friend.
“If I did it, here’s how,” was the Juice’s working title, a crass attempt to squeeze more money out of his infamy. Now well into the 21st century, men are still “doing it,” as in killing or abusing women. How they get away with it, I would argue, has something to do with the continuing structural inequality and sexism prevalent in society.
It has now been 17 years since the Montreal Massacre, December 6, 1989, when Marc LÃ©pine entered an engineering class at L’Ecole Polytechnique, separated the women from the men, and then murdered 14 women with a semi-automatic rifle. LÃ©pine, in addition to killing the young engineering students, had a “hit list” of an additional 19 women he identified as feminists, including the first female firefighter in Quebec, the first female police captain, a president of a trade union, a sports radio host, the immigration minister at the time, a prominent journalist, as well as a transition house worker.
The massacre, rather than being just a random attack by a madman, was an expression of attitudes toward women that are still evident today and seek to hold women back. LÃ©pine’s own mother spoke publicly this year about her son’s actions for the first time. She recalled the violence she experienced at the hands of her son’s father, and how LÃ©pine blamed her for the violence that was inflicted upon her and for leaving her batterer.
My generation of young women has not lived through an attack as singularly traumatic as this one, but we know that rates of violence against women in this country have remained essentially the same. In the last few months, taking only the sensational cases (most violence against women is never reported), we have seen the murder of five girls at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, where a gunman again let the male students go.
Closer to home in BC, there have also been the recent high profile murders of Manjit Panghali and Navrett Kaur Waraich. The often misleading, and implicitly racist discourses heard in the media need to be questioned, as evidence shows that male violence is present across all ethnic groups. Robert Pickton — charged with 27 counts of first degree murder of sex workers in Vancouver — should serve as a constant reminder of the seriousness of violence against women. There are, furthermore, still over 60 women missing from Vancouver’s downtown eastside and over 500 missing Aboriginal women across Canada.
On the political level, especially with the current federal government, we can see the need not just to remember the dead, but to fight for equality for the living as well. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is brazenly attacking Canadian women’s fight for equality. In fact, the mandate for Status of Women Canada (SWC) has been drastically changed, with the word “equality” being taken out and replaced with “participation.” Harper and his tightly controlled cabinet minister, Bev Oda, are brazenly maintaining that fighting for women’s equality is no longer necessary in this era.
Funding to Status of Women will also be cut by 40 per cent by April 2007, with the terms and conditions once used by equality-seeking women’s groups changed to prevent funding going to groups for lobbying, advocacy and research. Of course, nationally, most feminist groups are working on issues of women’s poverty, violence and health, and will no longer receive Status of Women money to fight for women’s equality.
These new changes to the terms and conditions of funding will not only force the closure of feminist organizations across Canada, but will also allow private corporations to apply for funding, as long as they claim to be committed to women’s “participation” in society. Meanwhile, it is expected that the cuts and changes in language will likely mean a shut down of regional Status of Women offices across the country.
Although women make up slightly more than half of the voters in Canada, sadly women are far from equally represented in Parliament. Not to mention that when women do gain access to these very male dominated spaces, they can be openly called dogs in the House of Commons and bitches on talk radio, by the likes of Foreign Minister Peter MacKay and former ambassador and newspaper columnist Norman Spector — seemingly without repercussions.
With the spectre of male violence still hanging over us in Canada, women across the country are fighting back. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, a new campaign will be launched to save Status of Women Canada. And today, December 6, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, women’s groups across the country will be holding rallies to remember and to demand equality in our generation.