In Canada, every 4 days a woman is killed by a family member, usually a male family member. Let that sink in for a moment – every 4 days a woman dies. We have a serious problem. Indigenous and LGTBQ women are over-represented.
All weekend we have been hearing about David Wayne Bobbitt and the alleged assault he committed by tying a woman up for 12 hours, repeatedly beating and assaulting her while her 2-year old child looked on. He has been described as dangerous someone the public should not approach. With all of the descriptive words the CBC could have chosen to refer to him on the radio, today they chose “Penticton business owner.” When I heard this I was completely incensed that they would dignify him with a respectable title.
As a feminist, I should not be surprised that the patriarchy is alive and well and almost always willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Clearly the crimes he is alleged to have committed do not befit the description of ‘Penticton business owner.’ In fact, by referring to him in this manner, the media is minimizing his alleged crimes. He is not in anyway being shamed for what he may have done instead he is a business owner.
When society allows men a free pass to abuse women we all suffer. It also sends a message to other men that nothing really bad will happen to you if you assault your wife or rape a prostitute. This culture we live in is steeped in the idea that women and children are chattel. In fact, up until the last century women did not have rights or legal standing. Even today, although we have ‘equal’ rights in principle things are hardly ‘equal’ when men can choose to physically over power us and do whatever they want to our bodies. Consent? What is that?
It seems like there has been an inordinate amount of violence against women lately. UBC student and Fullbright Scholar Rumana Manzur, beaten by her husband in Bangladesh has now returned to Canada for medical treatment. He gouged her eyes and bit off part of her nose. She will never see again. Another South Asian woman was killed by her husband last week. The Crown had to have murderer Johnson Aziga declared a dangerous offender because he continued to have sex with women without telling them he was HIV-positive.
I wish I had answers and prescriptions for change. What I do know is that we must change the discourse that surrounds women and how some men perceive us. Men must educate their sons to treat women with respect. Men have to learn that women are not there to serve their needs. Women have free will and, like men, can do or wear what they want, go where they please and have the right of agency. Anything less than this is unacceptable.
Today is the 21st Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. Today is about remembering Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Annie St-Arneault, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; Maryse Laganière, 25; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 28; and Annie Turcotte, 21. Killed simply because they dared to be women; killed because they dared to go to a technical university. This day is also about action – that is what I want to address.
Lately on Facebook there has been a campaign to have people change their profile pictures to a cartoon from their childhood as a way to combat childhood abuse. There are many of these campaigns on the internet be it for cancer or other diseases and issues. There is no shortage of causes to support and petitions to sign. Now there are large corporations offering money to charities by getting them to vote – like the Pepsi Challenge. Thousands of people go to these sites to vote. Every time people vote they see the logo of the corporation. Blogs and charities use the name of the company while getting their supporters to vote. It costs the corporation a small amount of money for huge advertising spin-off.
All of these activities can collectively called ‘slacktivism.’ Basically slacktivism is a term that describes actions like the ones I mentioned above which take little effort and do nothing except make the person doing them feel good. Slactivism is not the way to address the very serious issue of violence against women or any other issue.
I have a challenge for everyone – the next time you are thinking of doing a slactivist action try to think of something active you can do. Donating money is great but not the best solution. Becoming involved is a great way to actually do something. If you have a cause you are passionate about find an agency doing that work. Join their board of directors or volunteer in some other way. You will make great connections with other like-minded people while you are making a contribution. Try it and see how good it feels!
Another school year begins and so do the warnings for women on the UBC campus. Apparently there is yet another predator on the campus strikes when feels like it traumatizing young women while they pursue higher education. So much for studying late at night at the library. A woman’s time in university is about learning new things and expanding her horizons. It is not about being assaulted and traumatized for life.
I can tell you that sexual assault alters a woman’s life forever. As a woman who has been sexually assaulted, I can tell you the effects are there all the time. Through counselling healing can occur however, traumatic events can re-ignite old feelings. Sometimes a scent, a picture or an event can all trigger intrusive memories of the assault.
What annoys me about all of this is that it is the women who suffer. Women have to walk in twos, go to court if they are assaulted and ultimately incur the costs of doing all the work to recover from an assault. What happens to the man? Unless they are arrested for asexual assault nothing happens. Even if a man is arrested, charged and goes to court penalties for sexual assault are nowhere near in line with the costs the woman bear.
I think we need to make men pay properly for the costs of their crime. They need to go to jail for a very, very long time. Their lives need to be destroyed by their crimes. Their names need to be made public. The consequences for sexual assault need to be so steep that men would not do it. The likelihood of something like this happening is slim and none. As long as mostly white men are in charge of making the laws the chances of this happening is not very great.
We need to work together to make substantive change. We need to educate our young boys to respect women and themselves. Sexual assault must become a crime that is treated with seriousness rather than a wink and a nudge by men. Our culture continuously sexualizes women it is in our discourse, our TV shows and our popular culture. We must start to demand better.
Today on BC Almanac, Mark Forsyth was interviewing an historian. Being one myself my ears always perk up. This woman was talking about a female immigrant to Canada who walked great distances. I didn’t quite catch all of the information but it is not really germane to my issue. As this historian was describing her subject she stated that we have a picture of her so we know she was thin and attractive. I was shocked.
What does her physical appearance have to do with her accomplishments? This focus on appearance as a measure of a woman’s value is the root of all that is wrong with how women are treated in our society. Women are judged, even by other women, on how they look. It does not matter how accomplished we are or what we achieve it is only valid if we are thin and attractive.
This can be taken a step further without too much difficulty. If thin and attractive women are valued more than those women who are not what is the likely outcome? Women who do not meet expectations of thinness and attractiveness can have many problems in our society. These problems can stem from finding a mate, to employment even to credibility when reporting rapes. The focus on outward appearance and its presence in the popular discourse endorses the expectation that is ok to judge women this way.
As an historian, I bristle at the presentism in this historian’s work. It is a faux pas within the discipline of history to apply the values of today to the past. Certainly in the 1800s women were not judged on appearance to the same degree they are today. Women in rugged British Columbia needed to be strong and resourceful. They needed to be able to endure hard winters and work all summer to prepare. Women who were on their own for whatever reason had to look after themselves as there was no social safety net. In fact, the woman she was talking about had walked all the way from the lower mainland to Prince George. She was clearly a survivor and able to look after herself.
Personally, I am sick to death of this stuff. We need to start questioning this focus on the appearance of women as it is this that allows women to be commodities. As women, we must stop judging each other on appearance. We need to change the discourse. Talking about women in positive ways, focusing on accomplishments and personality rather than dress and bra size. Women together are a strong and powerful group. Let’s use our power and see if we can cause change.
In yet another day of stellar BC news we are informed that, yet again, the RCMP have fucked up. This on the heel of news yesterday that sexual assaults in Vancouver are up 21%. Yet again women are victims of crimes that completely and utterly change their lives by being exploited by men. I am completely and utterly disgusted. You will note, however, that I am not surprised.
Let’s take the first incident. Apparently some RCMP officers and some civilian employees decided to watch two women having sex in the drunk tank. Given the possibility that they may have a medical crisis requiring assistance they were being watched on CCTV (closed-circuit television). The last time I checked monitoring for ill heath effects did not include watching people have sex.
What kinds of beliefs about women would allow these men, in positions of authority, to watch two women having sex? Clearly they needed to objectify these women. Women are treated as commodities in our society. Often used in advertisements, women are the purveyors of sex used to sell so many products. We are also inundated with images of women in popular culture where women are portrayed in all sorts of roles: wife and mother, slut and whore.* Women are viewed as incompetent. If a woman is in a position of power she must be a bitch, emasculating or a shrew. Women cannot express any strong opinions without being suspected of having ulterior motives. Strong intelligent women are not allowed to simply exist and be successful. Instead women ‘go under the radar’ by being good wives and mothers and staying within proscribed roles.
Women who are not viewed as successful have a much worse experience. Likely women who end up in the drunk tank are not women from the upper classes who drank a little too much wine. These women enjoy privilege safely in their warm houses. If statistics hold, the women were likely Aboriginal and/or women of colour, came from abusive backgrounds and may have been survival sex trade workers. Of course I am generalizing here but traditionally these are the women who get picked up by police for being on the streets drunk and causing a disturbance. These are likely the same women that Robert Pickton targeted and we all know how important those women are to police and society in general.
So how does all this tie in with the 2 women having sex in the drunk tank? For many men, lesbians and lesbian sex is the ultimate threat. Lesbians don’t need men which some men find insulting and the flip side is that every frat boys’ dream is to watch 2 women having sex. So here we have 2, most likely disenfranchised, women having sex. I find it somewhat insulting that the RCMP are bringing up issues of consent given that both women have been released without charges. Is it not possible that these women might have been lesbian? Maybe they were seeking comfort with each other in a world that provides very little of it for them. Perhaps they felt valued with each other. They may have even known each other. I think the whole thing about consent is a bit of a ruse to deflect from the fact that seven men watched these women have sex for several minutes. In those moments what was going through their heads? One does not need to speculate too much. Clearly no one was thinking they needed to stop it.
It is no wonder that these kinds of things happen. After all the day before Jim Chu, Chief Constable of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced a 21% increase in sexual assaults. Chu then goes on to ‘reassure’ people that the increase is not in violent sexual assaults. Instead the increase is in ‘groping.’ Somehow ‘groping’ is less traumatic than straight on sexual assault. All I have to say is ask a woman how sexual assault has impacted her life. Chances are you won’t have to go too far out of your living room for an answer. Flash back to the incident in Kamloops and you have to wonder if the comments about consent were specious. Clearly, if something looks consensual it just might be. I am sure they are throwing the ‘consent’ issue up as a way to deflect from the fact that RCMP and city employees watched the video. Now, apparently, the tape will be “reviewed,” no doubt by more men, to determine how long each employee watched. At some point the women stopped it is unclear if the staff stopped them or they finished? At what point does the exploitation stop? Will the people tasked with reviewing this video do it from a respectful place or will it be just another round of free lesbian pornography.
I am angry about this situation. I have been angry for a very long time. I am sick and tired of the acceptance and the making excuses for men’s behaviour towards women. Almost all violence perpetrated against women is committed by men. I know that not all men are rapists. There are many good men in the world who are amazing fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. However there are still far too many men who rape and assault women. We must do better for the next generation.
*Interestingly, our discourse does not have similar words for men with the same connotations.
So, let me see if I understand this properly: Jeffrey Paul Emery was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for lighting his common-law wife on fire. He sprayed her with hair spray and used a barbecue lighter to set on fire. In a report I heard on CBC Radio One today, the first fire was put out so he did it again and a fireball was the result. Apparently, she lost all of her hair and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over her body. Oh, and to add insult to injury, he was released on bail to visit family over Christmas and he disappeared. He has been convicted in absentia.
Where to start? There are so many things wrong here. First of all, why was he only charged with aggravated assault? It seems to me that if you are going to light someone on fire you probably mean to kill them. I am sure that the woman involved felt like he was trying to kill her. If you light someone on fire, especially using a highly flammable accelerant like hairspray, I am fairly sure that you mean to kill someone. If reports on CBC Radio One are correct her lit her on fire twice. How can this be aggravated assault? There must have been some planning going on.
Why on earth any judge would think that this man deserved leniency is beyond comprehension. This is the problem with our judicial system which is mostly populated by straight, white men who do not understand the experience of minorities in the justice system. Here is a man who has shown, at the very least, that he has serious tendencies towards unthinkable violence, but we think he should spend time with his family. Perhaps if there had been an adequate charge laid, for example attempted murder, then maybe they would not have let him go.
He has been convicted in absentia but what does that really mean? He is living somewhere, free for the last 4 years while the woman he tried to kill is still trying to recover from her injuries. Her name has not been released. I wish her the best in her recover. I hope they catch the bastard who did this and lock him up for a very long time. However, I suspect it will not be nearly long enough given what he did. The even worse prospect is that he will do it to another woman.
We watched Milk last night and I was struck by the power of political activism. The energy generated by injustices and a clear solution is amazing. But it left me wondering what would it take to have that kind of energy coalesce around an issue in our time. What would have to happen here to have 30,000 people march?
There are many issues right now that demand this kind of energy and activism. Here in Vancouver we have had 2 gay bashings in a short amount of time yet the community is unable to muster more than 2-300 people to come out and protest. We had over 60 women go missing from the Downtown Eastside over a period of years yet it took the better part of a decade to arrest someone and try him (I refuse to write his name). Even then, justice has been denied. He was only tried on 6 counts of murder. The other 20 women, whose DNA was found on his family’s farm, have not gone through the courts. The community also believes that he did not act alone as there are questions about his mental capacity.Then there are the gangland shootings which have plagued Metro Vancouver this year. Twenty people have died and they deaths have not garnered any response from the community in spite of the fact that innocent people are being killed. The police response is pathetic – they want parents to turn in their children.
Even the world-wide economic crisis is not enough to push us out of our apathy. Our systems are broken, our governments corrupt and we sit by letting it all happen around us. In other countries like Pakistan, for example, many people, mostly lawyers, braved severe repercussions to protest the suspension of the Chief Justice. How can we forget the images that came out of Myanmar when monks protested against the ruling Junta. Why do some countries in other parts of the world seem to be able to create social change while we cannot.
I suspect the answer lies in the fact that for most people in North America our lives are pretty comfortable. Yes there is grinding poverty in many areas of Canada and the US but people are not so uncomfortable that they are able to rally and demand change. The other impediment, as I see it, is one of definition. The issues affecting us are extremely complicated and deeply rooted in discourse. We have been indoctrinated in so many ways that we are unaware of why react the way we do. I have discussed the response to the poor in North America before – one only needs to look at the Protestant roots of our society to see where a great deal of our prejudice comes from. The religious idea of predestination underpins our reactions and judgments against those who are less fortunate. Until we are able to dissect our core beliefs, questioning the status quo is impossible.
Even when we can examine our beliefs and define the issues how are we going to solve the problems. Personally, I am at a loss. I can identify an issue and examine the discourse surrounding it yet I am unable to see what change could look like – this is the power of discourse. I think until we are pushed out our comfort zones and forced to suffer a bit not much is going to change. This makes me very sad.
I have written before about Scott Young, now the former mayor of Port Coquitlam. He was convicted for assault after he attacked his former girlfriend and her new partner. Then he got off with a slap on the wrist.
Mr. Young seems to feel that the city of Port Coquitlam cannot survive without him and apparently 2178 people agree with him. He didn’t run for mayor this time but he did run for city council and he received over 2000 votes. What is that about?
The message this sends is horrible. Basically the 2178 people who voted for Scott Young are saying that it is ok that he assaulted his former girlfriend. Normalizing violence against women means that it will happen more often and be more severe. Those men in society who are pre-disposed to committing violent acts will look at this and come to the conclusion that there are no real consequences for violence against women – and they would be correct. How many times do perpetrators get off with a slap on the hand and a wink, wink, nudge, nudge from the ‘old boys’ club? It is disgusting and it needs to stop. Shame on those 2178 people in Port Coquitlam who have told Scott Young that assaulting his former girlfriend in an alcoholic rage was just fine.
So, Scott Young, Mayor of Port Coquitlam was convicted for harrasing and stalking his former girlfriend. He pled guilty to two charges of assault and one charge of breaching an undertaking. He was arrested after assaulting his former girlfriend and her new partner at her home over the Easter weekend in 2007. He also breached an undertaking he had signed to stay away from her. And what did he get for his crimes? A 12 month conditional sentence and an 8 pm curfew which he does not have to obey if he has a council meeting!
It is no wonder that we, as a society, cannot curtail violence against women. Here is a public figure, a mayor of a reasonably sized city in the Lower Mainland who is guilty of assault and all he gets is his hand slapped. There is no deterrent factor. He also has not really lost anything besides a bit of pride (and one could argue that this situation did not really seem to affect him at all) at having to spend the long weekend in jail. He has continued to preside over city council despite many, many attempts to get him to resign. He has refused. I get the sense that he does not think he has done anything wrong. He cops to having a drinking problem (boo hoo), has been in rehab and has stopped drinking. He doesn’t think his ‘personal problems’ should have anything to do with his day job. He is a narcissitic asshole who should be in jail not running a city.
There are much bigger implications here. What does this say to young men in BC who may follow in his footsteps? It says that women are less important and that you can do whatever you want and nothing bad will really happen to you. This kind of behaviour has its roots in misogyny and the out-dated belief that women are chattel. Unfortunately, our justice system has not caught up. There is still mostly a ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge” attitude towards violence against women. Male privilege at its ‘finest.’
Until we get serious about punishing men who commit crimes against women the problem will only continue to escalate. There must be a zero tolerance policy with regard to this kind of violence. We need to communicate this expectation to our politicians. We need to have had enough of putting up with this kind of whitewashing violence against women.