Today is for you, you lucky people who have not experienced violence.
Today is the day for you, who do not know what it is like to be harmed for being a woman, to remember the victims of l’Ecole polytechnique, 14 beautiful young women who were gunned down for being women, accused of being feminists. As if that was a trait worth being murdered for.
Today is a reminder for you, that every day women are raped, beaten and murdered. This happens in Canada; this happens around the globe. 1 in 6? 3 in 4? I have to admit that the specific numbers are less relevant to me. They are simply too high.
Today is for you because I, like all women who have experienced violence, don’t need a day of remembrance. I remember every single day. I remember the violence, rape and abuse that has been inflicted on me by my husband, family, friends and strangers just because I am a woman. Well, I feel pretty confident that my being a poor, fat, First Nations woman from a hard background has something to do with it too. Indigenous women in North America are almost 3x more likely to experience sexual violence. This I know, this I have experienced. And those intersections matter, but for me, right now, I believe I experienced these forms of violence just because I am a woman.
I also know that binary systems of gender harm all of us, whether we’ve experienced violence or not, whether we identify as man, woman, or somewhere on the range of gender. Those are important conversations. But today, just for once, asking “what about the men” is a derail. We know about the impact of gendered violence, and we know enough about power and privilege to know it hurts everyone, but it hurts those who have violence inflicted on them more particularly: women, trans people, and people with non-binary genders.
It happens around the world, and it happens at home. The stigma, shame, difficultly accessing social supports, loss of friends and family as a result of disclosing are all very real in this community, in Toronto, which is my community, and in your community wherever you may be. I am a survivor, and when you tell me how great North American women have it vis-à-vis violence, I dismiss your perspective as naive and uninformed as you are ignoring the reality of my experiences.
Because I survived my experiences of violence, every day is a form of activism to me. The bruises heal but the emotional damage is ongoing and impacts every facet of my life on a daily basis. Every day that I can get out of bed, interact with the world and voice my story, I am surviving and moving towards thriving. Every day, I struggle with systems that silence me and deny my experiences. Every day, I see the ways in which privilege reinforces privilege. Every day I act to end violence towards myself and all women. I don’t need to be reminded, because I have lived it and I feel it in my body, my heart, my mind, every single day.
So, this is a call. If you’ve experienced violence yourself, it is a call to solidarity. I have experienced it too; you are not alone. Again: you are not alone.You have survived so far. You will get through this. The antidote is in the venom – I am finding healing through community, love, trust and physical connection with myself and others. It is a long, slow, ongoing process with many ups and downs. Your process may be different. Trust yourself.
If you have not personally experienced violence, it is a call to action. Rapists are not suddenly going to stop raping, and men who want to hurt you may be difficult to identify; staying home doesn’t keep us safe, because that is where we are most likely to be harmed, by men we know. Silence and ignorance are complicity in this violence; we are all responsible for change and every one of us is responsible for ending violence in our communities. We are responsible for shifting our culture so violence is no longer acceptable. It is a gift we can give ourselves, a gift we can give our children.
What can you do? If you are a survivor, tell your story. The statistics need faces and names. Do it in a way that feels as safe and as comfortable as possible (I’m not using my real name here. I’m not ready, and I’m not sure of the implications I would face professionally and personally. But I’m doing what I can).
What can you do if you are not a survivor and you want to help? Get in touch with local organizations. Give money to the YWCA. Make a commitment to call-out rape jokes. Decide to respect women’s bodily autonomy and don’t hit or rape us. Talk with your sexual partners and friends about enthusiastic consent. Consider the impact of media messages on your understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman (and consider who isn’t being included in those messages). Talk about these issues, and when you do, be aware that you may be speaking with people who have survived violence. Understand violence as part of larger cultural constructs, but hold the perpetrators responsible and do not victim-blame. Educate yourself. Think about these issues in a critical way. Listen to and BELIEVE women who tell you about our experiences. Shift our culture in broader ways and contact your local politicians about supporting prevention initiatives. There is so so so so much you can do and there are no excuses. You have the privilege of not having been harmed (yet), so you can have the energy to act.
Use today as a day of remembrance and action and engage in this issue throughout the year. It starts here. It starts with you.