Friday, 5 December 2014

I Am a Feminist - December 6th, 2014

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Important link:

My heart hurts. 25 years since the massacre of 14 women at the Université de Montréal. There has been some change - and there has been little change. A young woman student at the Ecole Polytechnique said on the radio this week that the number of women in engineering is 25%. Improvement. That sexism continues both in the school and in the workplace for many of the women who graduate. That the days before beginning a new school year are not only geared towards male students, but the songs and some activities are reprehensible.

On CTV this week, Mutsumi Takahasi interviewed three women including one who survived four bullet wounds that night. Consensus: there is a long way to go for equality. One woman said that while the deaths of two soldiers recently - one in Quebec and one in Ottawa were immediately politicized (terrorism), the massacre at the Université de Montréal is still de-politicized by many. I just heard the brother of Hélène Colgan say on the radio, "There is only one reason Hélène died. That reason was M... L..." Shock. Disbelief. I refuse to name the gunman, btw. Others say, well, he was crazy. A one-man act in other words. It was not a one-man act in a vacuum. It was one man singling out feminists and executing them in a society where violence against women continues on and on. Oh - we can see it out there in other countries and cultures, but when will we fully own it in Canada? 

I'm angry. Yes. I'm also terribly saddened. Still. 

I remember that evening. Which of us who was old enough to remember doesn't know precisely where he or she was when the news hit. I had been at l'UdeM for classes in Etudes pastorales. It was dark and wet when I reached home unaware of the tragedy. The telephone was ringing. My brother, Jim, who had already heard wanted to know if I was safe. I was safe - but never as safe again in my core being. The world shook. We woke up that this kind of violence can happen right here - in our supposedly civilized society. That evil rage is just below the surface in our world and can erupt at any moment. The massacre was a horrific tragedy in and of itself. Add to the tragedy: it was aimed at strong, creative, competent, intelligent young women who had dared to cross one of the barriers in education and enter the men's world of engineering. With the killer's suicide note was a list of 15 women whom he wanted to kill because they were/are feminists.

I remember the funeral - the seemingly endless line of coffins at Notre Dame Basilica in Vieux Montréal. Young women whose lives were just beginning.

It's been troubling to see some young women these last few decades distancing themselves from the word feminist. It's sad that when a science building at John Abbott CEGEP (college for you outside-Quebecers) was dedicated this week to Anne Marie Edward, many students had no idea who she was. 

May we remember. May our young women and men learn. May we gain equality in all ways. It's not about hating men. It's about changing the paradigm. We are of equal value, every single one of us.

There was a beautiful, powerful event yesterday at our Quebec national Assembly. All 33 women MNAs participated in reading a poem and the names of each of the 14 women. There were 14 white roses, and many wore a white ribbon.

I am a feminist. I stand for equality. I am sometimes afraid. I am committed to speaking up and speaking out. I am lifted up by women who went before me, who gained us the vote, who have fought for equality in the classrooms, in the streets, in the office buildings, in politics, in the church and other religious institutions, who have created cracks in glass ceilings... I'm proud to stand with many strong women today. 

Meantime, I cry and remember.

Photos and information from the CBC website:
Fourteen women were murdered and 13 people were injured when a gunman stormed Montreal's École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989.
The victims included the following:
Geneviève Bergeron was a second-year scholarship student in mechanical engineering. She played the clarinet and sang in a professional choir. In her spare time she played basketball and swam.
Helene Colgan  was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to do her master's degree. She had three job offers and was leaning toward accepting one from a company based near Toronto.
Nathalie Croteau was another graduating mechanical engineer. She planned to take a two-week vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with Colgan at the end of the month.
Barbara Daigneault was expecting to graduate at the end of the year. She was a teaching assistant for her father Pierre Daigneault, a mechanical engineering professor with the city's other French-language engineering school at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Anne-Marie Edward, a chemical engineering student, loved outdoor sports like skiing and diving, and was always surrounded by friends.
Maud Haviernick was a second-year student in metallurgical engineering, and a graduate in environmental design from the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz was a first-year nursing student. She arrived in Montreal from Poland with her husband in 1987.
Maryse Laganière was the only non-student killed. She worked in the engineering school's budget department. She had recently married.
Maryse Leclair was in fourth-year metallurgy, had a year to go before graduation and was one of the top students in the school. She acted in plays in junior college. She was the first victim whose name was known, and she was found by her father, Montreal police Lt. Pierre Leclair.
Anne-Marie Lemay was in fourth-year mechanical engineering.
Sonia Pelletier was the head of her class and the pride of St-Ulric, Que., her remote birthplace in the Gaspé Peninsula. She had five sisters and two brothers. She was killed the day before she was to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. She had a job interview lined up for the following week.
Michèle Richard was in second-year metallurgical engineering. She was presenting a paper with Haviernick when she was killed.
Annie St-Arneault was a mechanical engineering student from La Tuque, Que., a Laurentian pulp and paper town in the upper St-Maurice river valley. She lived in a small apartment in Montreal. She was killed as she sat listening to a presentation in her last class before graduation. She had a job interview with Alcan Aluminium scheduled for the following day. She had talked about eventually getting married to the man who had been her boyfriend since she was a teenager.
Annie Turcotte was in her first year and lived with her brother in a small apartment near the university. She was described as gentle and athletic, enjoying diving and swimming. She went into metallurgical engineering so she could one day help improve the environment.

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