On Saturday, December 6, 2014, women, children, and men gathered across Canada in a national day of remembrance and action on violence against women. It was 25 years from the day a lone gunman stormed L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men, and killed 14 women simply because they were women.
The Toronto Star ran an excellent article about the commemoration, including interviews with two women who were on the killer’s hit list, but avoided harm on that fateful day. You can read that article and see a video about the event here.
Here in Owen Sound, a small group gathered outside the Farmers Market to “remember, reflect, and re-think.” You can read a summary of the Owen Sound event here.
I have been attending events like these since the very first vigils held after the massacre in 1989, first in Vancouver, then in Toronto, and in recent years, in Owen Sound. Recent accounts of previously unreported sexual assaults in Canada’s national parliament, and as attributed to celebrities such as Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi and the actor Bill Cosby, have shaken me out of my complacency somewhat and reminded me that it isn’t enough to just be a decent man. There is a conversation going on in this country and around the world, and the question is being asked of men, what are we saying to other men to stop violence against women?
Four men in our community were asked to speak to that question at the vigil on Saturday. I found the remarks of one man particularly cogent and moving. With his permission, I am reproducing his remarks here, very slightly edited for the sake of context.
My thanks to Sergeant Ted Kitto of the Owen Sound Police Service for bravely sharing his insightful remarks through this forum. He started with a look at song lyrics and popular culture through the past half century, starting with appalling lyrics from a very surprising source:
I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,
You’d better keep your head little girl or I won’t know where I am,
Let this be a sermon, I mean everything I’ve said,
Baby I’m determined and I’d rather see you dead.
Run for Your Life (1965), by John Lennon
Let’s fast forward 20 years to see if lyrics depicting violence against women continues:
I used to love her, but I had to kill her,
I had to put her, 6 feet under,
And I can still hear her complain
She bitched so much, she drove me nuts,
And now I’m happier this way.
(I Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her, performed by Guns & Roses – 1988)
Oh my goodness…So let’s fast forward another 20+ years. The millions of lyrics referring to women as “ho’s”, “bitches”, etc., is sickening.
Which brings us to the present day. I check out the fastest selling entertainment product of all time – a Video Game called Grand Theft Auto. Donald Trump is a major investor.
The game’s goal is to steal cars, wreak havoc on highways, and be violent. The lead characters are all men – no women. Women are portrayed as “strippers to throw money at” and “prostitutes to picked-up”. They have SKANK tattooed across their backs. I ask myself, “Don’t the gamers feel dirty…don’t they feel wretched when this game coerces them to fondle a stripper…to degrade women…to normalize such an awful reflection into the real world?? Apparently not: Gaming critics and gamers applaud this game with a 98% high satisfaction rating. I remind you: it is the fastest selling entertainment product of ALL TIME. (which just goes to prove how far we still have to go to achieve a world of gender equality – ed.)
When I see men and male teenagers duplicating the female degradation in popular media, I’m sad to say, “It comes as no surprise”. After all, look what they’re watching, playing and listening to. We all know the difference between right and wrong, so why do we allow ourselves, our sons and daughters, to be negatively influenced through such media?
Today, I’m speaking to you as a middle-aged man who has seen life through a police officer’s eyes for the last 28 years. I’ve seen women become victims of domestic related homicide, sexual assault, assault, threats, and the use of sheer and utter terror as a way to control women. It’s horrifying that the majority of these crimes are too often committed by the persons a woman should trust the most: husbands, former husbands, boyfriends, and dating partners. I’ve spoken to the mothers and the fathers of the disappeared, I’ve seen their tears, and in a few cases, I still carry the ghosts of the disappeared in me. Even if this happened only once, it’s one time too many.
In 1973 John Lennon declared “Run For Your Life” as the worst Beatles song ever, and he deplored the fact the he wrote those lyrics. John Lennon grew to respect and love women, as evidenced in the 80’s with his lyrics:
Woman, I can hardly express
My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness,
After all, I’m forever in your debt.
And woman, I will try to express,
My inner feelings and thankfulness,
For showing me the meaning of success,
I love you, I love you…
“Woman” by John Lennon (1980)
So what am I, as an individual, going to say to men to stop violence against women?
- MEN, LISTEN UP! THIS IS IN NO WAY UPLIFTING or EMPOWERING. Don’t encourage violence and aggression against women. Encourage loving and healthy relationships.
- Turning intolerable, inappropriate media into real-life behaviours, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
- Aggrandizing and uplifting the male identity – your identity – so you can “take charge” of your woman is UNACCEPTABLE. That behaviour is NOT being a man.
- Be a good Dad. Keep your children away from such deplorable and dehumanizing entertainment. It’s your job to never ever demonstrate deplorable and dehumanizing behaviours to your loved ones, or in front of your loved…or strangers. It’s your duty!
Again, my thanks to Sgt. Ted Kitto for sharing his insights through this blog post.
And now, since Ted cited the lyrics to this song in his remarks, and to reflect on another shocking act of violence which forever changed the cultural landscape on this date, December 8, 1980, let’s pause to remember the man himself, John Lennon, with his song of female empowerment, equality, and love.