Humans are social animals who do best in groups. We are born into society; it shapes us, we shape it. The advancement of our species not only requires slipping in and out of societal structures but also creating circles of inclusion that require skillful navigation. Our goal in education is to advance individual knowledge and, as a bonus consequence, we elevate and push forward the collective that is our society. We strive to create environments that allow for sharing and experiencing of learning. We are keenly aware that ignoring actions, words, jokes and gestures implies consent of same and destroys those positive learning environments. As educators we know that one generation shapes the next through the messages they choose to perpetuate by action and by inaction.
It has been a generation since 14 women were killed at École Polytechnique, now named Polytechnique Montréal. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Montreal massacre. Knowing the significance of December 6 is the context within which an entire generation of Canadians has been raised.
We asked the question with 14 women members of OSSTF/FEESO: “Twenty-five years later, how has the Montreal massacre shaped you?”
We did not receive a definitive answer and the responses were very difficult to read: full of betrayal, anger and disillusionment. The 14 women injured and the 14 women killed on December 6, 1989 were and are representative of countless victims and survivors of violence against women. The 14 women we asked are representative of countless lives impacted by the actions of that day and the subsequent 25 years of action and inaction. In their words:
–being more conscious of possible dangers walking on campus, and if I was alone in a building, more afraid;
–being so much more aware of my surroundings;
–learning that some people have such little respect for women;
–being given a rape whistle;
–becoming a feminist;
–being taught about how I needed to protect myself because no one else would.
–anger and frustration every year when I see the names, faces and ages of these young women who would be in their 40s today;
–the events of December 6 came to represent everything I was working against;
–disheartened at the degree to which women are still targeted, used as scapegoats and abused, as they are around the world;
–we are moving backwards because although people’s awareness of violence against women has increased, unfortunately the responses to the issue have not.
–violence against women still continues;
–violence against women is just as prevalent today as it was in 1989 when the shooting occurred;
–violence against women is even more prevalent;
–we need to remember these women, and to speak their names, to defend the lives they could never live;
–we can’t stop thinking about the meaning of that day until every woman is safe from violence and every man supports that belief.”
Violence against women is part of our society. It is systemic in that it is everywhere: in the lyrics of award-winning songs, in the uninvestigated disappearances and murders of countless Aboriginal Canadian women, in the Photoshopped pictures marketing the products we use daily. But we, as a society, are beginning to truly recognize and know these truths. This knowledge is spurring action. Companies are choosing not to Photoshop in response to public pressure (Aerie, American Eagle, Seventeen); groups are protesting, writing letters and calling governments out on inaction with respect to women’s issues (Canadian Labour Congress letter calling for federal leaders to act, organizations partnering with women’s rights’ campaigns); people are choosing not to be scandalized by female nudity but rather by the invasion of privacy. Actions like these, by the public, to hold government and media to a higher standard are creating lasting changes that will shape a better future for all.
Those who work in education do so because of the shared belief we can help shape the future. We know our actions inspire further action. Please take a moment to look at the new rose on the December 6 poster. It is purposefully disturbing. Just as comfort breeds complacency, discomfort can incite action. We hope you are uncomfortable.
Fourteen women were killed because they were women. Remember them, feel angry and know you must act. Engage in the difficult conversations that will hold you, and all makers and policers of protocols, to the highest standards. We call you to remembrance this December 1-5. We call you to action every day.
Thank you to the following 14 women of OSSTF/FEESO who responded with brutal honesty to our question:
Diane Anderson, District 7, Bluewater ESP
Diane Bélanger-Brisson, District 35, Universities and Colleges PSSUO
Lindsay Chase, District 22, Niagara OTBU
Suzette Clark, Director, Educational Services
Jo Dean, Provincial Executive Officer
Sue Doughty-Smith, Provincial Executive Officer
Cindy Dubué, Provincial Vice President
Roberta Gamache, District 17, Simcoe EA
Kim Kruithof-Ray, District 1, Ontario North East EA
Thérèse Matteau, Provincial Office, Reception
Lori Foote, Associate General Secretary, Professional Services
Susan Melville, District 3, Rainbow TBU
Patricia Morneau, District 9, Greater Essex PSSP
Lauren Simmons, District 12, Toronto TBU