My fingers were bitten by the cold air as they clasped the candle. My breath blew out in white clouds that dissipated quickly in the night. Snow was falling softly, quietly, passively among the gathered crowd. It was almost too cold for the tears wiped quickly from our eyes. Here, in Minto Park, in Ottawa, we gathered to remember.
20 years ago, on December 6th, fourteen women were murdered at L’École Polytechnique in Montréal. They were murdered by a man because they were women. Because they were women who dared to pursue a university degree in engineering, a field that continues to be traditionally dominated by men. The man in question, Marc Lepine, blamed his own failures on feminism. On women’s “intrusion” into men’s privileged world. We remember these women and the tragedy that happened 20yrs ago. And we come together to address the continued perpetuation of these attitudes today.
Other names were mentioned, but it’s their stories that hit home. Distinct, despite their similarities. A woman, murdered in her driveway, by her estranged husband. A 5yr old girl, murdered, by a 20yr old man. The most horrific, three young girls and a woman, found in a submerged car. Their father, mother, and brother charged for their deaths. The woman had been their father’s first wife. Their lives were too inconvenient too be spared. We also remembered the most vulnerable in our communities. The names of First Nation women who are murdered or disappeared are added weekly to a list held by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. And so rarely do their stories appear in our media. It has been called Canada’s greatest human rights crisis.
These women died because our society perpetuates violence against women as acceptable, and even humourous. They were murdered by men who bought into the idea of defensive masculinity. That it is somehow okay to treat women as less than human, as unworthy of respect. That they don’t deserve it. That they don’t deserve life. These are not isolated incidents. These attitudes exist on a broad scale and are systemically enabled through society’s tolerance of patriarchal norms.
But, there is hope. I stood, shoulder to shoulder with my male friends as well, the candles we held lighting up their frostbitten cheeks too. They stand with us, and for us, in recognition that these are not isolated incidents, and that they are part of the solution. I am so proud of all of them, those who came to the vigils held on campus, at the University of Ottawa, and at Minto Park, for the entire city.
One of the speakers, shared his story about growing up watching his father repeatedly abuse his mother and the other women in his life. I was especially touched by his description of his identity: feminist masculinity. I like this description for our male allies. It gives them a place within the movement for change. Violence against women is an issue so huge, that we need to work together if we’re going to construct a better future. This is why we are feminists. Because this matters.
We can all be part of the solution to end violence against women. Remember December 6th, but remember the women who live this every day as well. And actively work with us for a future where they will never have to.
- Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
The Star: Lessons of the Montreal Massacre
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