Mistress of My Domain

Violence Against Women

Blinking is Blindness

by Larry Jackson: Writer/Editor

Sexual politics is a minefield I hesitate to enter, but like many I want to salvage something from the slaughter of those 14 engineering students in Montreal.

Radio and TV reporters have talked to scores of men and women, and while most draw troubling lessons from this butchery, others strenuously deny that such an event has anything to do with ordinary life. The act of a madman can teach us nothing, they insist. It is exploitive to look for political truth in a random tragedy.

But if this act was truly meaningless, like death by a lightning bolt, then why all that fear and pain in the eyes of women? You could see it all week, in the faces of female students on other campuses and mourners in vigils and memorials all over Canada.

It was those women's eyes, above all, which defeated my own temptation to dismiss this as a meaningless act. Those women were not faking their pain. Admittedly, some leaped at this as people do at every tragedy, to illustrate points they have long been making. But most were spontaneiously hurt in ways that I was not, and they spoke of being chronically fearful in ways I cannot imagine.

How can we tolerate this?

The next temptation for us here in the north is to insist that such brutal insanity has nothing to do with us, in our quiet northern towns. Mass killings are a big-city, rat-race phenomenon. But brutality, harassment and sexism are not. And even the most complacent among us can't deny the incidence of wife-beating and sexual assualt in northern communities. Mark Lepine was apparently the son of a man who beat his wife and kids. We have many such victims among us.

For men, the last gate in our defences is to assume that we, ourselves, are free of the habits and attitudes which injure women. The chances are we kid ourselves. Power corrupts and men have long had most of the power.

For a lesson in that corruption we have few better models than Mount Cashel. Here, under the cloak of Christian service, men kept a harem of little boys for their pleasure. Suffer little children to come unto me. And when these abuses began coming to light, the hierarchy of the church rallied not to the defence of children but to its own defence. Someone smothered the investigation, and one result was another 15 years of abuse and suffering. How fully the departments of justice and social services, and the press, collaborated in that disgrace is still unclear. But what we know already will stand for years -- hopefully unsurpassed -- as a model of power corrupted. Male power.

What these ugly events point to is a dark side of men which few of us confront. Women don't do these things. Most men don't either, but that does not erase the fact that sex offenders are nearly always men. Mass murderers and serial killers are nearly always men.

I've yet to hear even the most "shrill" and "strident" feminist -- the ones we like to dismiss as "man-haters" -- say anything as hateful as that sign in a Queen's University residence window awhile ago. Women students tired of being mauled by their dates had campaigned on the theme, "No Means No". One Rambo jock, doubtless one among many, responded with a sign that read, "No means 'Get a Rope'." We'll know we're making progress when a jerk like that is mocked in the street instead of cheered by his buddies. I think we ARE making progress, but the jerks abound.

There is something in men or in the culture of men or in the raising of boys which fosters brutality, and we really must find out what it is. Denial is a self-protective reflex, like blinking, but there is a point beyond which blinking is blindness.

If we lack the insight to illuminate the dark side, we must at least acknowledge it. And we must stop nickel and diming its victims. Why is it that Libra House, sheltering refugees from violent homes here in our peaceful northern towns, must hold bakesales to buy bedsheets? Why are there only two men, a social worker and a Mountie, on the Libra House board? How many men have given thought to the work of the Rape Crisis committee, which comforts and counsels victims?" How many men are active in the Early Childhood Development Association? It is merely ignorance or is it an abuse of power when men -- who still have most of the power -- turn their backs on huge areas of human need and suffering, labelling them "women's issues" and brushing them aside?

It is too late to help those women in Montreal, but Canadian men owe them a close, hard look at our own attitudes.

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