Where I’m Coming From
I’m not sure if where I’m coming from makes me the best person to write this piece. As a white male of privilege, what do I know of violence? What can I share about hate? And about discrimination? I come to you, not as an authority, but as a man hoping to help shed some light on existing conversations on violence against women. To shed light on the people who would rather make jokes about rape than speak up against them. And to shed light towards those who think that, since they aren’t the ones committing the violence, they can live as if ignorance is bliss.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 83 per cent of domestic assaults are toward women. There are over 40 000 arrests due to domestic violence each year, which only makes up 22 per cent of the actual number of cases, since many are not reported. Within the shocking number of sexual assaults, it is believed that only 10 per cent of cases are actually reported, and that number in 2009 was at 460 000. If we all can resist hatred, and resist violence—there can be change. It is undoubtedly in our hands to stop this extremely high number of domestic violence cases.
The Origins of the Day of Remembrance
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (RAVAW) started after the horrific acts committed on Dec. 6, 1989 at L’École Polytéchnique in Montreal. A gunman went into the school, separated the women from the men and opened fire, killing 14 women and screaming his hatred for feminists. It is enough usually to reference this event as “l’École Polytéchnique,” and even people like me, who weren’t alive yet when this happened, will understand. It is because of this tragedy that each year since the early ’90s events have taken place across the country, in remembrance. UVic holds events each year, and this year was no different.
Buttons for Change
You may have seen the pins: red with black lettering, informing those who notice about what the wearer is resisting. Maybe you even made one yourself. Button-making stations were set up in the Fraser Building, Cadboro Commons, as well as the Student Union Building, on Nov. 25. At the station, people were able to write what they were resisting (for example, hate, homophobia, colonialism, violence, racism, bullying) on the button to show their support. “What the idea around the button was,” said Renay Maurice, a RAVAW organizer, UVic student, and a survivor of violence, “was that I was thinking about poppies. It’s just a visual that keeps hitting you.” The UVSS and ResLife both lent their button-making machines to the organizers of RAVAW to help get as many buttons out there as possible before the event. There is simplicity in the idea of the buttons, and it is safe to say that they don’t necessarily have to be worn just around this time of year. The organizers for the event stress that the buttons are important in getting the message across, and the hope is that the dialogue that comes from wearing the buttons will be kept alive throughout the year.
My Interview with Terry Forst
Terry Forst, one of the men on the RAVAW organizing committee, met with me to discuss these ideas further. “How do we stand up to violence in the day-to-day?” asked Forst, wearing a bright blue Vikes shirt. “If you came to our event and then the next day you’re in residence in the cafeteria, and you hear someone make that rape joke, and you don’t say anything, that’s the part where I hope people would be acting.”
Forst leaned back in his chair and exhaled. It seems this is easier said than done, but Forst continued, “It’s in those everyday moments where we can start erasing that culture of violence. I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of violence, but I think we always need to be diligent to observe it, and perhaps stand up to it, and that’s what I hope would happen.”
Forst is one of the few male members of the committee, and he is the only man who has been at nearly every single meeting. The committee began meeting in September and then started meeting every week throughout November. “I don’t know if I’ll ever really figure out the answer, but why don’t guys talk about it more? What is that barrier? Is it not wanting to be vulnerable? Do we think it’s shameful? Is it effeminate? Are we worried about those things?”
We both scratched our heads. A brief moment of silence rang throughout his office in the Residence Services Building.
“I can’t remember the last time I heard someone speak up against someone making a rape joke,” I said. Forst nodded.
This idea of standing up against someone making an offensive joke is hard, but Forst said the need for doing so was highlighted even more when he heard the stories concerning orientation programs at St. Mary’s University in Halifax and Vancouver’s University of British Columbia this past year, in which new students were led in lyrics that seem to reference rape. “When it came to the frosh chants, and even as a professional during orientation, I was really upset that this was what was happening, but it also kind of put things in perspective.” Forst then went on to say that, with one side saying that these chants weren’t a big deal, and the other side saying everyone involved was terrible, he realized there wasn’t a middle ground for both sides to open up a dialogue.
“And that’s why I like where the event went this year, because we have a dialogue. I don’t know if people really understand sometimes. They haven’t been asking the questions and we haven’t been having these conversations about what does this all mean, you know, so they don’t know they’ve been doing anything wrong. If you just tell them they’re bad, they’re evil, or they’re a horrible person, of course they’re going to get defensive.”
And with that Forst had hit the issue on the head. These remembrance and action events are important for many reasons, but I think there is one key reason highlighted here. If the people who are making these jokes, and who are perpetuating this culture, don’t see or hear just how it affects the people hurt by it, then why would they have a reason to stop?
Remembrance Around the World
On Dec. 6, universities across Canada recognize this day and hold events (usually on this day or the days slightly before it, depending on exam breaks) in honour of the women who lost their lives in Montreal in 1989. In addition, all federal buildings place flags at half-mast, and people are often seen wearing white ribbons. Canada also recognizes this day as part of the 16 days of activism against gender violence.
The first day of the 16-day period falls on Nov. 25, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day commemorates the assassination of the Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic. Three of the four sisters were tortured and killed in 1960 after speaking out against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Since then, the United Nations General Assembly has held this day in their honour and encourages governments and organizations across the world to hold events that raise discussion on ending violence against women.
The 16 days of activism against gender violence finishes on Dec. 10 with International Human Rights Day. This day commemorates the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10 of 1948, and is a fitting way to sum up the over two-week period every year where people of the world are reminded that gender violence must end.
The Student Body Coming Together in Support
It was beautiful to see the whole campus come together to commemorate this day of remembrance and action. Without the help and support from various campus groups the event couldn’t have been able to offer its variety of displays. Groups such as the Anti-Violence Project, which donated the clothesline display, the Society for Students with a Disability, which donated vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free food options, the Applied Theatre group, which contributed skits to the “pathways of resistance” exhibit, the UVic Equity and Human Rights office, which donated funds and was a strong voice in making the event happen, and the UVic Students’ Society (UVSS), which helped with funding, as mentioned before. Organizer Renay Maurice said, “There has been a hands-on engagement this year and a [UVSS] voice present every meeting. I think it’s very fitting that it’s the director of student affairs because this committee was created by students’ voices.”
My Interview with Renay Maurice
To know Renay Maurice is to know her as a headstrong and passionate person. She’s been involved with UVic’s RAVAW events ever since the school threatened to cancel it in 2011, and is now one of the main organizers for the event. She is a student and a single mother of two daughters.
We met in BiblioCafé for our interview, and she offered to buy me a coffee, even though I came with my own thermos from home. We discussed the details of the event, such as who was helping out and who was on the committee, and then she began to discuss the screening of Keepers of the Fire by Christine Welsh. I could almost see the passion flicker in the pupils of her eyes as she laid both palms on the table. “One of the wonderful things that’s happened in the past decade, in B.C. in particular, through the tremendous work of Indigenous women and their allies in the women’s movement and in feminist spaces, is that they’ve been able to bring to the surface the horrific ways that indigenous women have been targeted by the impacts of colonialism, and misogyny, and racism, and sexism, and a violent world, and because poverty and all of these things impact these women, they become easy targets.”
Maurice has taken a year and a half of Indigenous women’s studies courses, and is now majoring in Women’s Studies with a minor in Sociology. She makes sure to mention that she isn’t a feminist, but simply part of the women’s movement. “For every act of violence, there is an act of resistance,” Maurice continued, “whether it’s overt or whether it’s surviving residential school. Sometimes just surviving is an act of resistance.” This is one of the main things Maurice took away from her classes in Indigenous women’s theoretical and literary studies, a class taught by the creator of Keepers of the Fire, Christine Welsh.
“We’re featuring that film because we’re telling those stories about all of the work Indigenous women have been doing to survive and resist and transform our political system.” If you check the posters for the event you’ll notice they say, “The organizers wish to acknowledge that we will be gathering on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish and Straits Salish Peoples.” Maurice is nothing if not respectful.
The Future of Remembrance
“I would like to see it be another stat day, frankly,” said Maurice when asked about the future of this event. “When you look at the numbers, they’re quite staggering in terms of the amount of women who lose their lives globally every year.” Globally, 1.6 million people are estimated to lose their lives each year to violence. Maurice continues, “[They] are injured or assaulted in horrific ways under the rubric of violence against women, which is subjective, but it’s also systemic. There’s a lot of violence out there. Women are still horribly under-represented in political spheres. In Canada too, 22 per cent does not equality make, in our Parliament.” Maurice feels like, “there’s a lot of work left to be done,” but, “a national day where we stop and take time to think, about not just the violence that’s being perpetrated, but what kind of violence,” would be able to really make a difference.
So this is where I stand, as a man, as a son, as a citizen of this country. I realize I don’t have to be a survivor, or a victim, to have a voice. I can spread the word to those unaware of the tragedies that women across the globe face. There is an equality that we all can strive for. Wear a pin whenever you can and let people know what you’re resisting. Through greater understanding and working towards a collective conscious we can find the peace that the survivors of violence seek.