Marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

This post was originally written for my local Women in Science and Engineering chapter’s blog. I’m afraid it’s not my best writing, as I found the experience somewhat upsetting, but I think the day we were marking is of particular interest to readers of Geek Feminism, so I’m cross-posting it here.

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses actual violence against women, specifically the story of the École Polytechnique Massacre. There’s little graphic detail here, but several of the links in this post contain fairly disturbing information.

In Canada, December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The day was chosen as a memorial to those killed in the École Polytechnique Massacre, which happened on December 6, 1989. On that day, a lone gunman walked into the school and killed 14 people, injuring more, before turning the gun on himself. He claimed that feminists had ruined his life and that the young women engineers he targeted must be feminists because of their non-traditional career choice.

Members of CU-WISE, GSA, IEEE WIE, Womyn’s Center, Foot Patrol, and MEN were out in the unicentre on Dec 3rd to raise awareness of the issues, and to raise money for a pair of women’s shelters in the area which burned down. At 1pm, we held a candlelight ceremony in the unicentre:

After the ceremony, we showed the new film, Polytechnique. I made the mistake of staying to watch part of it. Not that it is a poorly done film, but I found it quite deeply disturbing. Mark Lepine’s suicide note actually sounds too much like the death threats I, and many other women involved in the open source community, have received from another deranged individual (trigger warning: the link is to a post which discusses some of the vile stuff he says). And after watching part of the film, I then had to walk through Carleton’s halls, which share some of the same institutional feel to the hallways of École Polytechnique. I will caution that this film can be highly disturbing, and note that I will likely never watch the rest of it.

However, despite my misgivings with the film, and the unpleasant feelings that come with marking the date of the Montréal Massacre, I think it was a great opportunity to talk to some of our wider university community about the history and the issues.

13 thoughts on “Marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

  1. Pingback: annalist

  2. spz

    Don’t let the bastards grind you down

    I’m a long way off so it’s easy for me to say, but take it as my good wishes for your safety, peace and having the strength to keep going.

  3. Asad

    Can this be a mini-linkspam on the subject? Toronto Star journalist Antonia Zerbisias a blog post on the intersection of the massacre and contemporary politics.

    1. Asad

      Apologies if I misunderstand the term “linkspam” and it is actually trivializing the issue. I assumed it was appropriate to post topical links on ÉP massacre remembrance, links being the stuff of the blogosphere, and that the term for that in this community is “linkspam” (which I hadn’t heard until I started reading this blog).

      1. Mary

        Linkspam to me, on this blog, implies a request that a front page poster compile the links into a post for the community.

        In any event, when a poster leads with a note that they themselves are deeply distressed by the writing of the post, it makes sense to acknowledge that distress rather than respond as if this was generic distanced commentary. Your comment certainly bugged me in that respect, I can’t speak for Terri.

        For Terri: thanks for the post. I originally read about the massacre at the time of Mikee’s first activity in LinuxChix and it was very upsetting without, of course, the additional factor of being a female Canadian university student in a technology field.

    2. Terri

      For the record, I really wish people would quit giving Asad such a hard time for this. He’s known me for 15 years, and is actually quite adept at judging my tolerances and sensitivities.

      Anyhow, unsurprisingly given the lack of editing on this post, I guess I wasn’t clear: I was quite upset about my experience watching the film, and found talking about *that* really hard, to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to edit the post to the level of polish I expect from myself. I debated long and hard about taking that part out and then writing a less personal but more polished post, which would have been easy, but decided to leave it in because there are plenty of folk telling the story of the massacre — only I can begin to tell the story of how the re-enactment hit me so hard, even if I wasn’t able to tell the story well. As long as I don’t have to talk about how I feel about watching the film, which was a lot more of an emotional kidney punch than I’d bargained for, I’m actually quite comfortable talking about everything else.

      I definitely don’t mind having a linkspam talking about the massacre. I actually think it’s a great idea, especially as it is the 20th anniversary and I expect there is a fair bit of press.

      (Seriously: my first thought was “what a great idea!” when I saw Asad’s post. It wasn’t even until I got further through my mail and saw several messages suggesting he apologize that I even noticed that one might think that his suggestion was rude.)

      1. Skud

        Terri, I’m glad you’re OK with Asad’s comment, and didn’t find it uncomfortable. I know I was made uncomfortable by it, which is why I dropped him an email out-of-band, perhaps over-generalising my reaction when considering what yours might be.

        I guess that in a shared/mixed space where not everyone knows your interpersonal history, it’s hard to convey or to interpret a degree of shared trust, and stuff that is well understood between the two of you can (obviously, I guess, in retrospect) read very differently to other people. Just as I’d be uncomfortable seeing someone call a GF poster “bitch” in comments, even if they had a shared understanding that that was OK between them, I’m kind of uncomfortable seeing comments that seem insensitive, derailing, or painfully unfunny to most of us. When that happens, even if the comment is broadly speaking within the guidelines we’ve set, I do tend to get in touch with the commenter.

        1. Terri

          I totally get why people felt a need to comment to Asad both in and out of band, and it certainly was totally appropriate to say “hey, this could be really out of line as a response.”

          But I don’t want posters unaware of our private discussions to see this and assume I’m horribly traumatized and thus won’t want to see links, other reaction, etc. That seems likely to stifle discussion of an important event, which is completely the opposite of why I posted. Hence, the public post.

          Is our friendship relevant to this discussion? Yes, in this case, because mentioning it clarifies (I think) how little this bothered me, and maybe, just maybe, if something like this comes up again people will remember that when it comes to me, Asad’s likely an expert in judging my reactions. I guess what I should probably say is that his comment didn’t bother me at all, but having people demand unnecessary apologies on my behalf from someone I consider a good friend does bother me quite a lot.

          Edit: I think Mary’s post above is a perfect way to handle such a situation: she says explicitly that she can’t speak for me, but why she found his response insensitive.

      2. Asad

        As long as I don’t have to talk about how I feel about watching the film, which was a lot more of an emotional kidney punch than I’d bargained for, I’m actually quite comfortable talking about everything else.

        That’s kind of what I thought. I read it in “Terri-audio,” and figured that when you said you were uncomfortable about the film, that’s what you were uncomfortable about, and the rest was just matter-of-fact.

        I realize in much-belated hindsight that it is, indeed, possible to interpret my intervention in another way. Still, it requires bending my mind around a new thought: that on the internet, there are actually situations in which posting a link isn’t considered an appropriate reaction to pretty much anything, which is honestly pretty bogglesome to me but whatever, now I know.

        I took the link from a commemorative thread on a private forum which started with a reminiscence about the massacre, and which proceeded without incident as a group posting of links *as* a form of remembrance/commiseration, and I honestly did not anticipate the reaction I got here. A bit of cross-Internet culture shock. Apologies for causing a quite unanticipated derailment.

  4. Marna Nightingale

    This is a wonderful post; thank you for it. Twenty years, dear God. Feels like yesterday, feels like a lifetime ago. They were my age; they’d be in their forties.

    I’ve always found some strength in looking at the Dec 6 memorial at Carleton, in the Engineering building, actually: It’s simple. It’s even cheap, because it was paid for, I believe, by the engineering students of that year. I’m not sure I can find words to say, at this remove, what it felt like to see that. Not enough changed for women in non-traditional careers, that year. But something did.

    Linkspam (in no case do I recommend reading the comments):

    The CBC archives has a good round up BUT: 1) Some of it is potentially triggering. 2) ALL of it is potentially triggering to those who remember the massacre, as it is mostly archival clips of live coverage. 3) One of the videos – the original story form the National IIRC – starts automatically.

    They also have a piece, not IMO triggering, written this year, which focusses on the victims, with photos and bios:

    The Globe and Mail has a good piece by Stevie Cameron:

  5. koipond

    A huge frightening thing that comes around every December 6th are those people who completely and utterly deny that this was a misogynistic attack or even those who applaud it (MRA groups … looking at you).

    je me souviens.

  6. Mary

    Anna of FWD has a post (trigger warning) Not So Silent in which she talks about how the December 6 remembrances (or some of them) are now also about violence against women in general and memorialises women and children with disabilities who have been killed by their carers.

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