December 6th : tragedies we remember

So much sadness in history today, and it feels a little more sad because of Mandela’s death.

Here’s what’s on my mind today:

  • The Montreal Massacre, and violence towards women and girls in general
  • The Halifax Explosion
  • Nelson Mandela’s death

On December 6th, 1917, a munition ship collided with another ship in the Halifax Harbour. This resulted in a fire, which caused the munitions ship to explode. The blast was so powerful it blew a 2,000 kg anchor 3 km away, shattered most of the windows within an 80 km radius, and destroyed 1,6000 homes. And, though the city’s population was less than 50,000, 9,000 people were injured, 2,000 people died, and 25,000 were left homeless. According to this article: “the aftershock of the explosion was felt as far away as Sydney, Cape Breton — a distance of about 435 kilometres.

Basically it was a hell of a blast and a hell of a tragedy. For any readers not living in Canada, one of the issues was, of course, the fact that it was in December and it can get snowy and cold in December.

On the same day in 1989, gunman Marc Lepine walked into Ecole Polytechnique, in Montreal, and went on a shooting rampage, murdering 14 female engineering students. Nine others were wounded before Lepine turned the gun on himself. Yes, this was targeted specifically at women. The event’s Wikipedia entry notes:

He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was “fighting feminism” and calling the women “a bunch of feminists,” he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women was established by Canada’s parliament in 1991. I think that it was that same year that I participated in a Take Back the Night march in Halifax. We gathered to watch a documentary about the Montreal Massacre afterwords. Despite knowing the basic story and issues, it traumatized me to be confronted with all the details and realize that those women were only a couple years older than me (around a decade older) and just trying to get a decent education.

One thing I will say is this: though the Halifax Explosion was a tragic accident that shaped Halifax in many ways, it’s in the past. Violence and prejudice towards women and minorities, on the other hand, are ongoing issues.

As someone born and raised in Halifax, I do remember and feel a special connection to the story of the Halifax Explosion, but prejudice is something that we need to be working on today. Lepine’s massacre is, sadly, just one extreme* example of the violence and blame that women and girls suffer through on a regular basis. Thankfully, we’ve also had great people like Mandela, who was an inspiration on many topics to people of all colours and creeds.

More than anything, I want to live in a world where prejudice is a thing of the past. We’ve come so far in the past few generations, but I don’t think that people realize how much farther we have to go. Even in “developed” and “westernized” countries, prejudice (racism, sexism, etc.) are rampant and completely ingrained in our cultures. I feel like its hit a point where its coming from all directions against all people.

Of course, some groups bear the brunt of it. As a white person, I know that I’m in a position of privilege. The number of times I see men discounting a feminist issue by claiming that we’re over reacting makes me wonder just how often we white folk discount racism issues (I’m guessing a lot!). Remember when people declared that racism was over because a black man was elected as the US president? Bullshit! How many stories have we seen since then of minorities being harassed, bullied, deprived, or killed simply because they happened to be something other than white! I still see it regularly, when I see Natives treated like garbage on the streets of Edmonton.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: respect one another, stop being dicks to minorities, remember the past but strive for a better future, and remember what Nelson Mandela told us: “It always seems impossible until its done.

*Note: I get it. This is an extreme example. Lepine was acting on his own and clearly did not represent the opinions of Canadian men in general (as evident by the fact that women have the same rights as men and were encouraged to study things like engineering). And, yes, I do understand that using an event like this is both publicizing the violence and using scare tactics. I think this puts off a lot of men, but I also think that a lot of men are unaware of the things women put up with (not necessarily through active ignorance, but because it’s not something that they have to live with on a day-to-day basis and it’s often not something that they would consciously subject women to). I also understand that men are subject to prejudice too: they must be “manly” but sensitive, etc. But, we need to remember that many of us are coming from a point of privilege. I like to think about it like this: is someone being treated shittier than you’re being treated? Then you have a privileged position and ought to try and fight to help them be treated with at least the same level of respect that you’re treated. As we move up the ladder, maybe one day we’ll all treat each other with equal respect.

Bonus content: This is a really great Ted Talk about how violence towards women isn’t “just a feminist issue” – it’s also a men’s issue.


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