Strength that does not hurt

The Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre and Les EssentiElles are taking steps to END Violence Against Women.

The all-cap version of “end” is theirs, via a press release I have just read. After all, “reducing” violence against women is just not a worthy goal.

On so many levels, I was glad to see the many great ideas in this 12-day campaign that ends Dec. 6, the 20th anniversary of the Ècole Polytechnique massacre in Montréal.

First of all, it is a 12-day campaign and not just one day to mark the killing of 14 women who, only within one depraved mind, were guilty of being smart and accomplished and female. One day to mark this tragedy gives you only enough time to feel the pain of loss and injustice.

But with 12 days, you can begin to change the aberrations in society that relegate half of the population to second-class status and who can be preyed upon through mis-applied strength.

With 12 days, you can re-enforce lessons we should all know by now.

It is wise, too, to include men in this campaign. Having women learn self-defence is necessary, in much the same way shelters are, but it is profoundly unsatisfying on a societal level. Men need to step up and accept their role in ending violence.

Borrowing from the Canadian White Ribbon Campaign’s My Strength is Not for Hurting, men are being asked to sign a pledge that they will never “commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women”.

These pledges are on postcards and it is hoped that 521 of them will be signed during these 12 days. It is a number that represents each of the Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered over the past 30 years.

These first two pledges—commit and condone—are obvious. But it is that third one that we all need to work on.

As a young man, I listened to jokes that involved “cuffing around the wife”. They were told by men much senior to me and the laughter sent a signal that I knew was wrong.

Ten years later, I heard a similar joke. This time, I had more maturity under my belt. “That’s not funny,” I said flatly. There was shock in the room.

“Any joke that that involves hurting women is just not funny.”

That was it. That was all I had to say. There was some embarrassed stammering, but mostly silence. There were some minds that I would not change, but there were some younger men there, too, that I hoped I influenced. I hope I drew a line in the sand for them.

Yet it was only a few months later that I was not so noble. From a store window, I watched a man and a woman argue loudly. The woman hit the man several times until he slapped her across the face.

I was shocked and I paused to decide what to do.

But there was someone else there who was much more of a man than I was. He flashed out the door without a second of hesitation and he yelled at him, “You don’t hit a woman!”

Do you see what I meant, earlier, about re-enforcing? If “ending” violence against women is the goal, I needed to be reminded that there is nothing to decide.

I am certain I was not the only one on that street who got that message. And because it was the good example of another man, it was powerful.

So, guys, let’s all show our support for this absolute standard in our society by attending the Polytechnique commemoration at the Elijah Smith Building on Friday, Dec. 4, at noon.

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