But if that's all we remember, we have failed.
Every single day, girls and women all over the planet, including in your own town, are beaten, raped or murdered because they are female. Femicide - the very word was coined in response to the Montreal Massacre - happens in outsized events that are seared in our memory. But more often, femicide and violence against women occurs within the banal rhythms of daily life. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, behind a closed door, against the backdrop of the television blare.
I remember when we in the feminist movement called "domestic violence" by another name: "violence against women". I fully understand the need for the inclusive and gender-free name-change. But I confess that I avoid the term, and when I do use it, it rankles me. For me the word "domestic" still conjures the old police expression "domestic disturbance" - those minor squabbles that happen at home, private episodes, none of our business. Feminists decided it was everybody's business, because the personal is political. Feminists set to work making the invisible visible. I can't help feeling that the word "domestic" de-politicizes the violence all over again. Because women have been removed.
There is intimate-partner violence against men, usually by male partners, and there is intimate-partner violence in lesbian relationships. And violence against children occurs every day, against boys and girls. But here are some things to think about. (I compiled many of these statistics for an old post, responding to a reader's accusation that I was "demonizing men". For more on that red herring, go here and scroll down.)
In the US:
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James sent me this gripping personal essay by actor Patrick Stewart, about growing up in a home controlled by violence. I have tremendous admiration for well-known people who speak out about abuse, like Joe Torre, whose Safe At Home Foundation, building on the foundation laid by generations of feminists, has helped make the fight against domestic violence mainstream in the US. Patrick Stewart:
My father was, in many ways, a man of discipline, organisation and charisma - a regimental sergeant major no less. One of the very last men to be evacuated from Dunkirk, his third stripe was chalked on to his uniform by an officer when no more senior NCOs were left alive. Parachuted into Crete and Italy, both times under fire, he fought at Monte Casino and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fellow soldier once told me, "When your father marches on to the parade ground, the birds in the trees stop singing."
In civilian life it was a different story. He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down. For those who struggle to comprehend these feelings in a child, imagine living in an environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation week after week, year after year, from the age of seven. My childish instinct was to protect my mother, but the man hurting her was my father, whom I respected, admired and feared.
From Monday morning to Friday tea time he worked as a semi-skilled labourer, and was diligent and sober. Often funny and charming, he was always rich in the personal stories of warfare and adventure that thrilled me. But come Friday night, after the pubs closed, we awaited his return with trepidation. I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. Certain songs were reassuring: I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen; I'll Walk Beside You . . . But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert.
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. ... [More here.]
Today, in Canada, people wear white ribbons to remember December 6, 1989. Every MP wears one, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. What is his white ribbon worth? This piece is old, but still horribly relevant. Ashifa Kassam, writing in Rabble:
2008 marked the year that women became equal to men - at least according to the Harper government. That must have been what they were insinuating when they attempted to axe women's right to appeal for pay equity to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The move came bundled in their ill-fated November economic statement.
Pattern would suggest that this move wasn't borne out of the belief that women in Canada have achieved equality to men, but rather is the latest blow in a series of attacks on women's rights by the Harper government.
This is, after all, the same government that killed plans for national childcare, drastically cut funding to Status of Women and ended the court challenges program that sought to help women and minorities fight for their rights. News recently leaked of a secretive, parliamentary anti-abortion caucus, touted by its chair Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, as opening a "new era" of advocacy for the unborn.
And just in case the Harper government's war on women wasn't obvious enough, a reminder that this is the group who removed the word "equality" from the Status of Women mandate.