OTTAWA—“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them,” goes a quote attributed to Margaret Atwood.
A week ago, my family and I said our final goodbyes to a young woman who was vibrant, full of life, and taken too soon. I can see her smile and hear her stretch out two-syllable words into 10. “Ohmigooooooooood” is an example of how she could hold onto a note like Whitney Houston signing the American national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl. She leaves behind a son, who is the same age her father was when he lost his mother. As a survivor of Wilms’ tumor, she wasn’t supposed to make it past the age of five, only to be fatally struck down at the age of 29. On Tuesday, March 23, Rebekah Love Harry became Quebec’s seventh femicide victim in as many weeks, as the rate of domestic violence increases the longer the pandemic goes on. Bekki was my youngest first cousin and I will miss her dearly.
It’s hard to describe what one feels in these moments, especially someone like me who is quite aware and involved in feminist issues and causes. I started the Bad + Bitchy podcast with two feminist friends to educate and analyze policy with an intersectional feminist lens. This is exactly why I do this work.
Patriarchy kills women. Like racism, it’s systemic and systematic.
Mona Eltahawy, famed feminist writer and activist, describes an octopus with tentacles and the head is patriarchy. Each tentacle is a system of oppression: racism, homophobia and transphobia, capitalism, misogyny, ableism, etc. In an interview with CBC she specified, “I want people to understand that patriarchy is not men. I’m talking about an ideology that uses systems of institutions and oppressions to privilege male dominance.” Patriarchy is universal and is made up of systems to ensure male supremacy over everyone else. Male privilege is the benefit from those systems accrued to men, because they’re men. And women are expected to succumb and service men in their quest for dominance. That’s the key: dominance. We uphold social, political, and economic constructs that ensure male dominance, which leads to violence.
According to the United Nations, “Globally, 35 per cent of women have ever experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual violence by a non-partner. This figure does not include sexual harassment.” Since the death of Sarah Everard in the U.K., who disappeared while walking home at night in early March, women have been talking about their fearful experiences walking home at night on Twitter. A YouGov poll in the U.K. revealed that 97 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 faced harassment, and 80 per cent of those incidences took place in public. A report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) at the University of Guelph shows that Canada isn’t too far behind: a woman is killed every two and a half days, and 90 per cent of the perpetrators were male. #NotAllMen, but nearly all men.
Gender-based violence is normalized because the systems that govern behaviour, power, income, etc., are oriented to ensure male supremacy, which is powered by male dominance, which leads to violence.
Patriarchy can’t exist without foot soldiers and other women are eager to fill that role.
A woman wrote an article, reprinted by The Ottawa Citizen, that does just that. “Women are more independent, more educated and financially self-reliant than ever before. How do so many get into toxic relationships, and why do they stay in them?” You can identify internalized misogyny in women when the first comment they make is to blame women for the predicament they find themselves in. It goes on: “Asking women why they stay in dangerous relationships and suggesting they leave seems to be a no-no in these politically correct times.” Instead of blaming political correctness, which in itself is a memeification of ignorance that is unfathomable, the author failed to consult actual experts like those from Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver, who note that “the most dangerous time for a survivor/victim is when she leaves the abusive partner; 77 per cent of domestic violence-related homicides occur upon separation and there is a 75 per cent increase of violence upon separation for at least two years.” Women stay because if they don’t they could die.
This woman used to be editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, a woman’s magazine. Her attitude in relation to the power her influence wields is how patriarchy is re-enforced by other women. It is always the woman’s fault that she is being abused, rather than the man’s fault he uses violence to control her. So much for personal responsibility.
Many men feel like they’re “good guys,” which is a self-appointed title, rather than an earned one. The low bar of not beating up on women doesn’t mean there isn’t abuse, it means his violence takes on a different form. And it’s surprising how many “good guys” pop up when we bring up issues surrounding patriarchy, yet stay silent when the sexism and misogyny hits.
To all the self-titled “good guys”: it’s impossible to be a good person and be cowardly at the same time. Therefore, if you allow sexism and misogyny to manifest themselves in your presence, you are far from a good man.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.