Julie Lalonde: “It’s Not Up to Women to End the Violence We Experience”

Trust me, we’ve tried

(Photograph: Rex Shutterstock)
(Photograph: Rex Shutterstock)

There is a photo that haunts me. Taken by photojournalist Allen McInnis on December 6, 1989, it shows a man taking down Christmas decorations. Out of focus in the foreground is a woman slumped over in a chair. The woman is dead; shot by a misogynist earlier that night in a targeted attack that took 14 women’s lives at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. The contrast of a plainclothes police officer taking down holiday decor with a woman’s dead body beside him is the most haunting metaphor for the mundane reality of misogyny.

Every year on December 6, we read out the names of the 14 women at vigils across the country and we add in the names of women killed by men that year. (There are always new names. So many new names.)

We now recognize what happened that day as misogyny in its rawest form. But it took years and countless debates for us to get there. People were deeply invested in writing it off as the actions of a lone wolf; a loser; a nut.

Canada had collective déja vu this past week.

He told us why he rammed a van down Yonge St. and still, we question.

Killers write manifestos, Facebook posts and lengthy blogs detailing their misogynist motivations and we still print headlines asking, “Is hatred of women to blame?”

Pundits twist themselves into pretzels trying to explain away what women have been screaming since the burning of witches in Salem: They hate us and it’s killing us. 

I, like every other Canadian girl I know, was raised on a steady diet of violence prevention tips and it seems that every year, the list grows. With advances in technology, we’re told to never share nudes, to download personal safety apps and hey, maybe try this new nail polish that can detect if there’s a roofie in your drink.

In response to the horrifying attack in Toronto on April 23, internet assholes and armchair experts have flooded the social media feeds of feminists, telling us that women need to consider sleeping with loners and losers so that we can avoid another massacre. “These poor men are sad and lonely because no one will date them. Maybe women should throw them a bone!”

I want to laugh at the absurdity of a “Fuck one, save us all” mentality, but I can’t even muster the energy to mock it. I’m too tired.

A myth that has existed for a long time and that flourishes in the dark corners of the internet is that women have the privilege of getting sex whenever and however we want. On Reddit threads, 4Chan and misogynist Facebook groups, we’re told that women need to be more empathetic because we will never understand the loneliness of men, and in particular, the isolation of unattractive loner men. “Alpha” males are getting all the dates and these poor, nice gentlemen who are only guilty of being kind and unattractive are relegated to being the beta fish in an alpha world.

Look, I’ve never met a woman who hasn’t been rejected by a man at least once. Yes, gentlemen. Even hot women get rejected, too. And we’re not just getting rejected on individual levels. On a macro scale, we’re told to lower our expectations all the damn time. Just ask any single women who is currently dating. We’re told to be grateful for men who care about consent, call themselves feminists or raise their own kids and don’t call it babysitting. What a catch, am I right ladies?!

So to say that men are killing women because they are rejected doesn’t fly because women are lonely all the time and yet we’re not murderers on remotely the same scale as men. Women have a laundry list of grievances against men from catcalls to pay inequity to rape. But we don’t take it out on men as a whole. We internalize it instead. It’s my fault. If only I was prettier, thinner or less demanding. If only I was chill and had my shit together.

They say “Hurt people hurt people” but really, hurt MEN hurt people. Hurt women most often hurt themselves. As women, we’re raised to believe our voices don’t matter, so it obviously, our pain doesn’t matter either.

We, as women, are truly incapable of preventing the violence inflicted on us. But trust me, we’ve tried. We’ve spent lifetimes trying to stop it. Suffragettes in the Temperance movement fought to ban alcohol so that women would be saved from beatings from their drunk husbands. Feminists in the ’70s handed out whistles hoping to ward off would-be rapists. We’ve taught self-defense on campuses and consent in schools and still, we die. As a public educator whose job it is to prevent violence against women, progress is slow. I’ll give a presentation to students that goes really well, only to wake up the next day to a complaint from a teacher who was offended that I didn’t talk about women raping men. My statistics are constantly challenged, as are my motives and even my appearance. Who knew that wearing lipstick and heels invalidates my ability to talk about violence? I didn’t. But people are more than happy to remind me.

I’m tired of reading the news every day and seeing another headline about another dead woman. In Ontario alone, we’ve had over a dozen women and girls killed by men as a result of intimate partner violence this year and it’s barely spring.

We live in a contradiction. We are both our feminist Prime Minister and our missing and murdered Indigenous women. We are our gender-balanced budget and a woman murdered by her intimate partner every six days. Women are the most active in the movement to end violence against women and yet Canada’s two deadliest massacres in the past century were caused by men who hated women.

It’s not up to women to end the violence we experience. It’s not up to women to convince men of our humanity. We’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked.

It’s up to men who are reading this with their back up to question why.

If you don’t hate us and don’t want us to die, prove it.

Julie Lalonde is an award-winning women’s rights advocate and public educator.

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