I tried to write about the triple homicide that happened in Eastern Ontario on September 22nd but it just wasn’t coming out right. With the federal election looming and with new mass shootings in the news, I think the time is ripe to try again. (So here’s a much too long piece on things I think a lot about).
The triple homicide that happened in rural Eastern Ontario has me feeling pretty raw. I try to soak in the hope watching Take Back the Night videos (the city marches I so miss living rurally), and in being reminded that so many people are committed to supporting, to organizing and to speaking out. But I am tired. Tired of all of the #NotAllMen, of these heartbreaking stories being so numerous and so ignored.
(Meanwhile, party leaders in an election campaign can’t be bothered to make a debate on women’s issues happen, they debate the niqab as though we can measure equality by the number of women who do or don’t wear it. And one party leader went so far as to say that violence against women is the result of music and absent fathers. How can we collectively be so far from getting it?)
A crisis worker in Pembroke was interviewed about rural violence against women. When asked about issues specific to rural women where gender-based violence is concerned, she said,
patriarchal and religious values […] are so entrenched. The access to weapons — many men here are hunters. There’s a lack of daycare, and because of the economic crisis, [women are] forced to remain in abusive relationships even when they would like to leave. [There is a] community denial that violence against women is even an issue.
The issues are multiple and the key word is entrenched. So many things need to fall into place if we want to even begin to address this epidemic. Voting in a government that is committed to providing affordable daycare. A government committed to pay equity (instead of income splitting where there’s no family incentive to having those who make less, often women, also work if they choose to). A government committed to calling an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and committed to acting on its findings. A party that’s committed to supporting and running diverse candidates so that a diversity of issues see the light of day in parliament (whether that be women, Indigenous, LGBTQ, or visible minority candidates). A government committed to the census so that we know what’s happening in our communities and who’s most vulnerable. A government committed to gun control. Et j’en passe. But we need a huge shift in culture.
After the Oregon shooting, author Rob Okun wrote,
Activist-colleagues and I have written tens of thousands of words in scores of op-eds and blog posts going back to before Columbine. And those killings happened in 1999. Our message could be boiled down to a single phrase: “It’s the masculinity, stupid.” We cannot afford to wait another minute to move the gendered aspect of mass killings to the center of the national debate.
In recent years, the media has occasionally made note of the killers being male, and the topic of how boys are raised in this society made the news for a cycle or two. Then it has been back to gun control and mental health. Where is the sustained inquiry into how boys are socialized in deserts of emotional constriction? Where is the Frontline report on a society regularly producing crops of psychologically stunted, angry, isolated men? Where are the clergy sermonizing about men growing up in emotionally arid soil without exposure to the sunlight of compassion or the waters of connection?
Imagine if things were different. Imagine if right now school nurses were charged with tracking moody 8- and 9-year-old boys; if homeroom teachers were trained to spot them as alienated middle schoolers; if guidance counselors identified shut-down, high school-age young men; if university health center staff counseled loner male college students; and if community social workers and human resources staff helped unemployed and underemployed 20-something at-risk men.
Another piece, ‘Men and Mass Murder’, stressing the dangers at the intersection of hegemonic masculinity, a sense of entitlement and wounded pride, is also worth a read.
Closer to home, three men were arrested over Thanksgiving weekend for driving motorcycles 170, 190 and 230 kilometres per hour. My partner’s first reaction? « They were men » and « they must be single or childless. » Maybe the link is weak here, this isn’t violence per se, but the recklessness and antisocial quality of driving 230 kilometres per hour on a public road to me is astounding. And if it’s clear to men that the presence of women (or the care of children) keeps males from endangering themselves and others, maybe we need to start taking seriously the job of reimagining masculinities.
I’m trying to fight the powerlessness by reminding myself of the ways we do (or can) have impact (even though we live off the beaten path and spend the bulk of our time caring for young children and herds of cattle). The letters we write. The organizing we partake in. The uncomfortable issues we bring up. The way we interact with children. The way we raise our own. And the relationships we try our best to model for these young ones.
In an Australian article about violence against women, the author Sarah Gill touches on a campaign called ‘No Gender December’ that was launched to raise awareness about the impacts of gender stereotyping in children’s toys. Researchers supported the campaign stressing that
belief in traditional roles is the most consistent predictor of attitudes towards sexual violence.
And another piece on the gender stereotype fight, written by Audra Williams and published in the National Post, underlines that
If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture. There is such a devaluing of anything traditionally feminine that we’d rather chuck it out triumphantly than ever demean our boys with it.
So there you go. I appreciate that ending violence against women will not happen overnight by us giving dolls and pink colour schemes to all of the children but this cultural shift requires us to take a good look at some of our most anodyne practices and we need to appreciate that this is about so much more than lyrics and sentencing and absentee fathers. We’re going to have to start questioning the gender rules and the quiet pernicious disregard for all that is ‘feminine’ in ourselves, in our boys, and in our culture. In our interpersonal relationships and in our interactions with children, we’re going to have to stop excusing with « boys will be boys », stop calling boy children and girl children who are friends ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ as though males and females can’t have relationships that aren’t sexual in nature (and in so doing sexualize kid friendships in a pretty gross way), stop calling girls « tomboys » when they step out of the ‘girly’ as though there’s only one way to be a girl and one way to be a boy. We’re going to have to start teaching empathy to boy children just as we do to girl children.
And we need to vote in progressive members of parliament on October 19th.
Please do vote.