I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school. Our teachers were compassionate, bright, funny and most importantly: encouraging. We were encouraged to speak up in class, pose questions and debate viewpoints. In other words, we were told our thoughts, ideas, and contributions were valid and necessary.
In hindsight, we learned in a very safe environment—we weren’t diminished because of our sex, and we weren’t held to gender-based stereotypes. This is probably why, when I took a few classes at the boys’ school across the road, I had no problems speaking my mind. I know the fact I didn’t automatically defer to post-pubescent male opinion ruffled some teenaged feathers. When my teachers thanked me for defending ideas and presenting a non-male point of view to classes of 30+ boys—I realized those chalkboard-lined rooms would be probably be training grounds for the real world. In fact, they were.
I was a student, technically in high school but taking University classes, when Marc Lepine screamed “I hate feminists!” as he killed 14 women at L'École Polytechnique. While that terrible day happened 25 years ago, I remember it as if it was yesterday: the outrage, the fear, the shattering sadness. Most of the victims were not much older than me.
Much has been written and broadcast this week about the anniversary. Some, by reporters who were first on scene, others trying to determine the progress (if any) in battle against misogyny and violence against women.
This happens at a time when the news is dripping with alleged assaults against women by Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and Canadian Members of Parliament.
This happens at a time when Gamergate encompasses long series of seemingly ingrained and systemic misogyny and harassment within video gaming.
This happens at a time when Canada’s Justice Minister doesn’t see harassment in Parliament or in his political party, and claims ignorance of Marc Lepine’s motives. (For the record, we have known Lepine’s motives for decades).
Although we’ve made strides over the past quarter century, we still have far to go.
We are still in a world where star or key employees get the kid glove treatment when accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.
We are still in a world where non-profits provide free labour to police a social media platform’s online harassment, instead of those platforms taking ownership their role in these issues.
We are in a world where an American magazine tries to ban the word “feminist” from pop culture, only to change its mind when the masses object.
Through all of this, there is hope.
Conversation is changing. Issues of violence against women, sexual harassment and other related issues are now openly talked about because of hashtags such as #IBelieveLucy and #BeenRapedNotReported.
Culture is still shifting. Although old boys clubs’ stalwarts can still hold power, a new generation of leaders are taking these issues seriously and taking action now.
Communities are reacting. As of time of writing, Bill Cosby is still slated to perform at my local performance space next month. My friend is spearheading a counter-event to support sexual assault survivors.
Every year I post the names of the 14 women who lost their lives in a horrible act of hatred. They should not be forgotten.
Geneviève Bergeron (1968–1989), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (1968–1989), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (1960–1989), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (1958–1989), nursing student
Maryse Laganière (1964–1989), budget clerk
Maryse Leclair (1966–1989), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (1961–1989), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (1968–1989), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (1969–1989), materials engineering student
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