White Ribbon Day – Calling for an End to Violence Against Women
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:
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):
- 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:
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.