White Ribbon Day – Calling for an End to Violence Against Women

Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 20 comments

On December 6 1989, a 25 year old man named Marc Lépine entered a classroom at École Polytechnique university in Montreal, and wielding a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and carrying a hunting knife, and opened fire in two classrooms before turning the rifle on himself. Claiming he was “fighting feminism”, he separated the men from the women, and systematically began shooting people, specifically targeting women, leaving 14 women dead and 10 women and 4 men critically wounded. Apparently, he had left behind a suicide note in which he blamed feminism for ruining his life, and listing 19 women he considered to be feminists and whom he wished to kill. A number of the survivors later committed suicide because of the horrible nature of this crime, and the scars it left on  their lives.

This page gives a full account of the event, but only read this if you have a strong stomach, or are a glutton for punishment. I warn you, it’s not pretty.

The people of Canada were profoundly affected by this massacre, and as a direct result, a group of men initiated a campaign to urge men to speak out against violence to women, and to commemorate those hurt and killed by this awful event. On the second anniversary of the “Montreal Massacre” (as it came to be known), the first “White Ribbon Campaign” was held. The campaign sought to motivate men to stand up against, and speak up about, any forms of violence against women.

This year, the White Ribbon Campaign is now supported and represented by countries in every continent including Australia. The White Ribbon Campaign Australia is this year supported by an advertising campaign called “Hey Mate“, focusing on the attitude that many have about intervening when sexism and violence against women rears its ugly head. It is backed by a pledge that man can make, and publish, publicly proclaiming:

I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is my oath.

Over 50,000 men have made this oath, and knowing that they “have got your back” helps enforce the attitude that men too, are sick of violence against women. The “Hey Mate” campaign is made up of four advertisements, and highlights four scenarios; “At the pub”, “At home”, “At work” and “At the party”. It highlights the fact that it is not only okay to point out when someone else is acting inappropriately or violently towards women, but that it is okay to intervene because men are not alone. These kinds of campaigns can only work if they have support of the people. In this case, over 50,000 men have made the oath, but with 22m people in the country, this is but a small percentage of the potential supporters of this campaign.

I have made the oath, and I have seen a relatively positive response by those who I shared this with, but there were some other topics which came to light as a result of the discussion of this campaign. If enough men commit to not acting violently against women, or not standing by when an act is being perpetrated, then these acts of violence could become a thing of the past.

The first was along the lines of “individual violence against anyone should not be tolerated, whether male or female, so why single out the violence against women?” To answer this I point to a report from April 2012 by the Australian Human Rights Commission titled “Visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women” which states the following as it pertains to Australian women and violence (in part):

Violence against women is one of the most prevalent manifestations of human rights abuse in Australia.

  • One in three women in Australia has experienced physical violence since reaching the age of 15. Of those women, 85% were assaulted by a current or former partner, family, friend or other known male. Three quarters of these physical assaults occurred in the woman’s home.
  • Almost every week in Australia one woman is killed by her current or former partner, often after a history of domestic violence. These intimate partner homicides account for one fifth of all homicides.
  • Almost one in five women in Australia has experienced sexual assault since reaching the age of 15.

(This is just the first 3 points of several. The full report can be read or downloaded here.)

I agree that individual acts of violence should be condemned, no matter who is involved; Individual violence is not a way to conduct yourself in a civilised society. But the fact that acts of violence against women are most commonly at the hands of men is a symptom of a much larger problem, and one which will require a paradigmatic shift of attitudes to change.

The second point brought up was “What about violence against men?” For this question, the Australian White Ribbon Campaign website states in a downloadable PDF fact sheet:

While this campaign focuses on violence against women, it is important to acknowledge that men too are often the victims of violence. Many of the victims of murder, manslaughter, and serious physical assaults are male.

Men are much less likely than women to be subject to violent incidents in the home and are more likely to be assaulted in public places. Violence against men is far more likely to be by strangers and far less likely to involve partners or ex-partners. Of all the violence men experience, far less is represented by domestic violence (less than 1 percent, versus one-third of violent incidents against women). Boys and men are most at risk of physical harm, injury and death from other boys and men, but small numbers are subject to violence by women.

Yes, violence against men at the hands of other men is a problem also, but this campaign seeks to end violence against women.

On November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, show your support of ending violence against women by making taking the oath, and not only showing your support for women, but for other men who also support women. There is strength in numbers, and power in unity, and this campaign offers a way to show support for shifting the paradigm away from the seemingly accepted practices of violence against women, and toward a unified stand against it. So get involved in your area, and help to change the attitudes of men who think it’s okay to hurt and demean women.

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20 comments
ZachsMind
ZachsMind

Call me when we get to the day where every day is an end to violence; not just against women. I'm not sexist in my abhorrence of violence. I'm an equal opportunity "stop hitting each other" kind of person. 

AdrianaHeguy
AdrianaHeguy

Martin, thanks for posting this blog. I had actually never heard of White Ribbon Day, not even sure if there is such a thing in the US. 

There is one thing I don't get: why is it that every time there is a campaign against sexism or violence against women there are people who say but what about men? There are specific campaigns for every single issue on our planet and this kind of reaction just doesn't happen. Like, if there is a campaign to end the killing of unwanted dogs at animal shelters, I don't see people complaining about why there is no campaign against cat killing. Cat people just go ahead and have a campaign of their own, and we all win. 

Jaros
Jaros

I  have a question for you, Martin. You quote this: "One in three women in Australia has experienced physical violence since reaching the age of 15". According to the same study this finding is taken from, "Since the age of 15, there were an estimated 3,065,800 (39.9%) women who experienced violence compared with 3,744,900 (50.1%) men" (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey Australia 2005 (Reissue)). So, given those numbers that clearly show men being at greater risk from violence, the priority should be, in your opinion, to target violence (general, not just domestic, because that's the focus of this campaign) against women?! Why? It's clear from the study that men are more victimized by violence in general. Maybe if the campaign were "calling for an end  to domestic violence against women", that would make more sense given the male/female ratio of domestic violence victims, but as it stands it actually seems callous towards the  male victims of (all kinds of) violence. Even the male/female ratio of domestic violence victims isn't as clear cut. From the same study:

"The location of assaults varied between women and men during the 12 months prior to the survey:- Of the 195,300 women who experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator, 64% (125,100) of incidents occurred in a home- Of the 79,500 men who experienced physical assault by a female perpetrator, 77% (60,900) of incidents occurred in a home"

As you can see, there are plenty of men who experienced physical assault by a female perpetrator (about 40% of the number of women victims).

Anyway, even if men are at greater risk of being victimized by violence, I still don't think there should be a campaign to end violence against men. It just doesn't sound right, just like the campaign to end violence against women doesn't sound right. We really should have only campaigns to end violence against human being. Anything else smacks of indifference towards those not included in the campaign and runs the risk of minimizing their worth as human beings. That sort of thing should be repulsive from a humanistic point of view, I think. 

OpheliaBenson
OpheliaBenson

I've been trying to. It's uphill work though.

IntellectualsAreSexy
IntellectualsAreSexy

My French teacher last year told us about this event. I'm a Canadian and I had never heard of this shooting before then. It's not very well-known here, or at least among my fellow high schoolers.

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

Very well put. Racists complain about campaigns to curb racism. Misogynists complain about movements to end violence against women.

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

@Jaros

This is a very typical response from someone who is completely out of touch with the nature of the world around us.

For thousands of years women have been beaten, abused, murdered and had horrendous torture and suffering inflicted upon them at the hands of men. A bar fight between a couple of drunks has nothing to do with the systematic oppression of women over several millennia. Your response is typical of someone who has no concept of the plight of women. Had you ever been considered less than human by half the population you might have a slight inkling of what women have been subjected to.

It is still true that although women comprise 51% of the Earth's population, they own less than 2% of the available property. Their salaries are a fraction of those of men for equal work. In fact, in the US alone, salaries from the highest to the lowest are in this order - white men, black men, hispanic men, white women, black women, and at the bottom hispanic women. With the rampant racism that is obvious in that country, this fact should provide you with some information regarding the status of women. In third world countries, these statistics are much graver.

If, during the civil rights movement, someone had said, well white people are abused too, I would have thought they were as idiotic as you appear to be with your comments. A good rule of thumb - think about reality before spewing your vile fallacies.

And just in case you missed it, I am a woman and I'm offended by your utterly insensitive and uniformed opinion.

martinspribble
martinspribble moderator

@Jaros There is no doubt that individualised violence against all people should stop. But this campaign fights at a dual level against sexism and misogyny AND violence. Men are the ones causing the problems in most cases, so to say "It's not alright" to men, and to have men stand up, sometimes against what their society and upbringing might have taught them, is of paramount importance.

I think this campaign, given its origins in the Montreal Massacre of 1989, highlights not only inequity between the sexes, but the fact that women are treated like second-class citizens from the outset, and that many could feel threatened by empowered women, or equal women, or women garnering respect.

I see your point, and I agree to the premise, but that is not what we are talking about here. What's the old adage? "Think global, act local"? Women have been disenfranchised worldwide, but I cam make a larger difference here among people I actually come into contact with than with people in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

So I take it that you think the issue of ending violence against women excludes men? It does the very opposite, since most violence against women comes from men. Change the attitude toward violence toward one, and I think you'll find the change is carried on to other areas of a person's life.

Latest blog post: WhiteRibbonDay2

AdrianaHeguy
AdrianaHeguy

@AtlanticCanuck That is true, racism seems to be another issue that gets a lot of push back too, of the "what about reverse discrimination?" type. Campaigns for gay rights, too. Homophobes will say that gays are demanding "special rights" or "special treatment".  Prejudice operates like that, unfortunately. 

Jaros
Jaros

@AtlanticCanuck So then... campaign to end discrimination of women (not "violence")? Just a thought. ... PS. If you think white people were victims of violence in greater numbers than black people, back when blacks were enslaved, I think you're wrong.

As for "vile"... Check out her comment, Martin. See if the message of your campaign has had its intented effect... Someone thinks violence against men is "a bar fight between a couple of drunks". Way to go! I suppose violence against children is "a few slaps for their own good".

This is exactly the reason why having campaings of the sort you're supporting is morally wrong: people like the commenter above make light of violence suffered by non-women because... something that happened two thousand years ago, or something that happened twenty years ago, or the amount of property they own. That's an insane idea which could be used to support almost any sort of violence against non-women, but my comment is "vile".

I wish I could say I enjoyed this discussion, but this last message has done it for me. 

Jaros
Jaros

@martinspribble @Jaros I'm not sure I understand you correctly. It seems to me you are conflating several issues, butI'm afraid I'm unable to do them justice in a comment. I will point out what's obvious to me: if the true purpose of the campaign is to fight sexism and misogyny and their violent manifestations, why not reflect that by calling it what it is, namely a campaign against sexism, misogyny and their violent manifestations? By calling it something else, you do send the wrong message, which is that one gender's suffering is more important than the other. This is what I was talking about when I said that "it smacks of indifference".  That could've very easily been avoided by stating the goals directly, instead of bridging them  surreptitiously (as I'm guessing you're suggesting it's being done now) by means of an unclear theory.

I didn't get your last paragraph... Sorry, English is not my first language and maybe that's the reason. Anyway, I think you might have misunderstood me: I'm only talking about "exclusion" in terms of public message. If there are no public messages that condemn violence against men, why would people think violence against men is as unacceptable as violence against women, which is publicly condemned through campaigns like this one? They clearly don't think it now, given the male/female victim ratio (50% male victims of violence vs. 39% percent female)!!!  It seems that you're saying that we should place our faith in some mysterious effect which will ensure that, once abusive misogynist men stop beating their partners, somehow other men will stop beating strangers and the abusive vomen stop beating their partners and so on... But why not send a direct public message to that effect? Here's an example: "I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against child, woman or man. This is my oath." How about that?

I apologize for any mistakes I might have made. It's late in my neck of the woods and it's been some time since I've  had the most recent opportunity to write in English to such an extent.

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

That list could go on for a very long time but I’m hoping you got my point. And last but certainly not least, did you experience your 4'11" grandmother coming to stay with your family for the weekend because she had black eyes from being punched in the face by your 6'2" alcoholic abusive grandfather? If not, then you have no concept of what I am talking about. You either deliberately refuse to see what's happening to women NOW in this world, you're extremely ignorant of current events OR you’re the type of person who would argue if someone said the sky was blue and you piped up and said, "No you're wrong, it's a bright azure."

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

That list could go on for a very long time but I’m hoping you got my point.

And last but certainly not least, did you experience your 4'11" grandmother coming to stay with your family for the weekend because she had black eyes from being punched in the face by your 6'2" alcoholic abusive grandfather? If not, then you have no concept of what I am talking about. You either deliberately refuse to see what's happening to women NOW in this world, you're extremely ignorant of current events OR you’re the type of person who would argue if someone said the sky was blue and you piped up and said, "No you're wrong, it's a bright azure."

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

Tell me, with your brilliant knowledge of statistics:- How many parents sell their sons into slavery in this century?- How many parents sell their sons to brothel owners in this century?- How many men are brutally raped by women in this century?- How many men are beaten daily by women in this century?- How many boys are shot in the head for the crime of wanting an education in this century?- How many boys have acid thrown in their faces for showing an ankle in this century?

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

People protested in the early 20th century for women to have the right to vote. If the campaign had been a fight to have women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and countless other groups of people to have the right to vote in 1920, do you think women would have won the right to vote at that time? Throwing several issues together does not address the specific problem that exists. It merely serves to muddy the waters.

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

If you want to start a campaign addressing "discrimination against women", be my guest. But supporting this specific issue doesn't take away from any other issue in the world. Do you want to throw in violence against children? How about violence against minorities? Or violence against dogs? Keep heaping on the issues and I’m sure this specific one will get addressed (that’s sarcasm in case you missed it).

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

My point in referencing the Civil Rights Movement was to suggest that African Americans in the US would not have the rights that they have today had it not been for that movement. Also, that movement did not eliminate racism in America. They still have a very long way to go. And as far as your "violence against men" goes, where are you getting your stats from, that men suffer domestic violence at the hands of women in equal (or greater) numbers than the other way around? You need only watch a documentary from PBS called "Half The Sky" to realize that violence against women is current. My history lesson to you was merely to point out that this violence and attitude towards women has been continuing for thousands of years but if you don't have solid interpretive skills, I suppose you would have missed that. My references to the “discrimination” towards women were to point out that those attitudes are the underlying causes of violence against women.

AtlanticCanuck
AtlanticCanuck

Are you really so naive as to think that "discrimination" is equivalent to a pervasive hatred of women and the violence that is perpetrated against them by men?

Jaros
Jaros

@AtlanticCanuck Oh, Martin, you actually liked Atlantic's comment?! Dude, why even answer me then, if my opinion is vile? WTF? I thought Atlantic was just some crazy radical ideologue who just happened to drop by, but man, I stand corrected. You're an enabler of them... Well, good thing I know who I'm dealing with now.

martinspribble
martinspribble moderator

@Jaros No I'm not conflating issues, simply showing my support for this campaign. It is not my campaign, I didn't start it. I am merely showing support. If you want an anti-violence campaign of your own, go ahead ans start one. I will support that too. You act as though this is the only campaign I support. I don't get it. I agree with your version of the oath also, but this is *specific to this campaign*.

Latest blog post: WhiteRibbonDay2

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  1. [...] the Montreal Massacre of 1989, where 14 women were gunned down and a further 10 wounded at their university for the crime of [...]

  2. [...] an end to violence against women is warranted. Just to recap, here is a brief explanation from my first blog on the subject of the event which spurred men into action in Canada to start the campaign, and why I stand behind [...]

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