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Comment: Abuse of women continues long after Dec. 6 Montreal Massacre

Dec 06 2012

My only personal experience with violence occurred when I was 10, and didn't always use my words. I beat up a kid named Earl, got into trouble and mended my ways.

In short, when it comes to discussions of serious violence against women, I have absolutely nothing personal to contribute. Like most women.

The fact is, gender-based violence is a minority phenomenon. Which doesn't make it any less horrific.

If a Canadian woman is killed by her intimate partner on average every six days, is that acceptable? If a half-million Canadian women a year report sexual assault (an estimated 10 per cent of actual incidences) is that insignificant? If 3,000 Canadian women are in shelters on any given day with their kids, fleeing abusive relationships, is that inconsequential?

No. Ask the people who patrol our streets and respond to emergency calls in the middle of the night. Violence against women - women, specifically - does indeed exist. And it is no less problematic or sickening because the majority of women are not abused and the majority of men are not abusers.

Today, on the 23rd anniversary of Montreal's Polytechnique massacre, there will be vigils across the country for female victims of violence. They will commemorate the misogynous mass murder by Marc Lepine, tying that event to all crimes inspired by hatred of women.

Predictably, some men will get apoplectic, raging that such observances insult men. We are not all Lep-ines, they'll say. We are not all violent. And that's true.

It also misses the point. Violence against women may be carried out by bullies, criminals and deranged individuals, but it exists because we all facilitate it.

Our evolved criminal and judicial systems now prosecute such violence, but that's not enough. If we don't change demeaning societal attitudes toward women, we simply feed the bullying, criminal or pathologically angry mind.

If the message of our institutional culture is an unwavering suggestion that women are, well, fine - just not quite good enough for starring roles - we keep our collective assertion of gender inequality cast in stone. In men already predisposed toward violence, that embrace of the imbalance can be dangerous.

If we were serious about reducing violence against women, we would be more aggressive in pursuing true equality in the ways we do business, hold governments accountable, respect each other, even pray.

In Canada, for instance, we wouldn't have RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wringing his hands over the systemic sexual harassment of female officers - or over the dismal fact, as he just admitted, that the force has operated with a "clear bias" against the promotion of women.

Globally, rape wouldn't still be a weapon of war. We wouldn't have to face the disturbing implications of those lopsided male-to-female ratios we keep seeing in the upper echelons of government and big business.

As for big religion? Whether it's Anglicans deciding women aren't good enough to be bishops, Roman Catholics deciding women aren't good enough to be priests, Iranian ayatollahs denouncing women, Taliban nut-bars stoning them to death, ultra-Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at them in Jerusalem - we have pernicious misogyny all dressed up with a halo of benign righteousness.

Then there are the insidious campaigns by social conservatives, who seem to think the full equality of women threatens hearth, home and, most egregious of all, men.

Conservative Suzanne Venker complained in an online Fox News column that men are no longer interested in getting married because "women aren't women any more." With their incessant complaints about inequality and their focus on such fripperies as education and careers, equality-minded women have turned the natural order upside down.

"After decades of browbeating the American male," she wrote, they've unsettled all the poor guys who used to be able to count on being numero uno.

The usual grumbling will be heard when the candles start flickering today at vigils across Canada. The usual men will be affronted by their misperception of insinuated guilt.

But here's something worth remembering. We are, all of us, context. And all violence has a context.

4janicekennedy@gmail.com

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