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Let’s end violence against women

Dec. 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and, in an effort to get Upper Canada College Upper School students to appreciate its importance, teacher Carl Beaudoin delivered an impassioned plea to the boys as part of the assembly in Laidlaw Hall on Monday morning.

Here’s the transcript of Beaudoin’s speech:

“Good morning.

“For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique, a school in Montreal where our very own Sophia Berezowsky was a student at the time, an enraged gunman roamed the corridors, saying, ‘You women have no right to be here.’

“Entering a classroom, he separated the men from the women and, before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students, he screamed, ‘I hate feminists!’

“He then systematically killed 14 young women: Genevieve Bergeron, 21; Helene Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Anne-Marie Lemay, 27; Sonia Pelletier, 28; Michele Richard, 21; Anne St-Arneault, 23; Maryse Laganière, 22; and Annie Turcotte, 21.

“The ‘Montreal Massacre’ happened 25 years ago and immediately became a moment that transcended grief into outrage about all violence against women.

“Although attitudes have improved, violence against women is still a massive problem. I need only to mention the names Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, Ray Rice or Slava Voynov to highlight such violence brought forward by the press in the past few weeks.

“What happened at the Polytechnique was an extreme case. However, the behaviour cannot be blamed solely on mental illness. The killer learned that violence was the way to relate to women who, he believed, were responsible for his own pain and failures. He held a set of values that still many Canadians hold: that women are not worth as much as a man; that women don’t belong in certain jobs/places/roles; that women are somehow taking over things when men should be in control.

“Did you know that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime? Or that such violent behaviour often begins between the grades 6 and 12?

“Here’s a question. What image comes to mind when you hear the terms ‘feminism,’ ‘gender equity’ or ‘violence against women?’

“I bet you picture a woman. But are these solely women’s issues?

“As a father of two young girls, a husband to an amazing wife, a son to a loving mother, and a brother to a cool sister, I clearly see my role in confronting these topics.

“I think we need to examine the root causes of gender-based violence and create a cultural shift that helps bring us to a future without violence — a vision for masculinity that embodies the best qualities of being human. Where the comment ‘Be a man!’ refers to the freedom to cry, the ability to understand, communicate and self-regulate emotions, to be empathetic, nurturing and loving.

“As Ms. Watson reminded us during her speech to the UN: ‘Gender equity not only liberates women, but also men from prescribed gender stereotypes.’

“We need to think critically about how men and women are represented in the media. We need to know that sexist jokes, putdowns and verbal harassment create an atmosphere where women are degraded, where males learn that they are supposed to be in control, and where violence against women has been made socially acceptable.

“Immediately after the ‘Montreal Massacre,’ many Canadians felt there was no connection between the mass murders and the ‘the problem of male violence against women.’ But as discussion continued, most realized that this was an extreme form of what goes on every day. The Canadian parliament proclaimed December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

“The White Ribbon Campaign, which our dear Ms. Kouremenos supported dearly, does just that. When a male wears a white ribbon, he is making a public pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. White Ribbon’s philosophy is that, while not all men are responsible for committing violence against women, all men and boys must take responsibility for helping end it. Wearing a white ribbon is both a personal and a collective statement that our future has no violence against women. It is not an act of collective guilt, but rather an act of collective caring and love for women in our lives.

“I believe you don’t have to be sexist or violent to be a real man. I believe that our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and friends should never have to live in fear of violence at the hands of men.

“Please have the courage to join me in a collective moment of silence to reflect on our role in helping to end violence against women — in honour of the 14 women killed that day; in honour of your mothers, sisters, family members and friends; and in honour of all women — not just on December 6, but every day of your life.”

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