Healing Gaia

On November 25, Wear Purple to Mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Whether you're a man or a woman, you can show your solidarity to eradicate all forms of gendered violence.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published November 19, 2014

In the winter of 2005, I was seventeen months into my separation and trying desperately to get a court date so I could divorce my husband and return to my children. I was living at my girlfriend's mother's home while my children stayed in the matrimonial home with their father.

A temporary order stated that I was to have the children every other weekend until the matter was settled. That order included instructions for the exchange of vehicles. Since we had a Windstar minivan and a Focus, whoever had our five children had the use of the van.

One Sunday evening at 7:00 PM, I returned the children and the van to their father. It was a very cold and dark night and I distinctly remember putting the key into the ignition of the Focus. When I turned it over, Sting blasted out: "Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take, I'll be watching you."

No, I had not left this CD in the player. My husband had strategically positioned this song to let me know that he was in control of my situation. At that moment I realized this was a stalker song - a song with a catchy tune that professed obsession, power and control but not love.

I continued to persevere through the separation, including the exchange of kids and cars until after a 19-day divorce trial in which the judge awarded me sole custody of my children and exclusive possession of the matrimonial home.

At that point, my ex-husband asked a neighbour to watch me and to keep him informed of what I was doing, who was coming to my home, when I got rid of things from the house or garage - in other words, my neighbour was now stalking me.

I refer to this as vicarious stalking, a pastime in which like-minded abusive men are more than happy to engage.

Somehow I naively hoped things would be different by the time my children grew up, but nine years later they're not.

Women still live in a culture of fear and inequality. Some boys and men still believe that girls and women are less than their equal, to be used, abused and discarded at their whim.

Should a girl or woman dare to think that she could possibly refuse to go out with a man who makes this request, or even consider ending a relationship that no longer works for her, abusive men shift into high gear, which often includes the crime of stalking or criminal harassment.

During the summer, my eldest daughter is home from university and all three of my daughters jog together. They prefer to run after dark, something I'm not all together comfortable with, but since they stay together I have a slightly better feeling about it.

I ask them to change up their route every few evenings and they do. However, it seems my own street is the source of discomfort for these young women.

Over the past few summers, we have had to endure the 'garage boys' - four middle-aged men who hang out in each other's garages on a nightly basis to drink beer, smoke, swear and otherwise be loud and obnoxious.

The group started in the garage of the neighbour who was vicariously stalking me for my ex. Some of the guys have taken to decorating their man caves with Confederate flags and neon beer signs.

But most disturbing is their routine of walking to the sidewalk to stand and glare at my daughters as they begin their nightly run and again while these young women do a cool down walk.

Whether these men pose a threat to my children is not the point. Their actions send a clear message to their own wives, daughters and sons, as well as the neighbourhood at large, that men have the innate right to mistreat and intimidate women.

Tuesday, November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Whether you're a man or a woman, you can show your solidarity to eradicate all forms of gendered violence by wearing purple.

Then, when someone comments on your lovely purple shirt, tie, socks or skirt, you can take that opportunity to tell them you're wearing purple to shine the light on violence against women. Whether it's covert or overt, it's simply wrong.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By ataloss (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2014 at 12:23:14

So what do we do about this problem to make an actual difference? People know about violence women already, and yet it persists, nay, seems to be getting worse. What practical change can we make?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2014 at 14:26:35 in reply to Comment 106347

It's somewhat difficult to say for certain due to the low report rates, but the available evidence strongly indicates that gendered violence has declined dramatically over the past several decades. Of course, sexual assault continues to be a serious problem and we still have a long way to go.

One thing that seems clear is that merely talking publicly about gendered violence has a positive impact on its incidence. Men are less likely to commit acts - along the full spectrum of violence from "micro-aggressions" through assault, sexual assault and murder - when it becomes progressively less socially acceptable.

Lest anyone object that sexual assault is already socially unacceptable, we need only look at the exploding issue of campus "rape chants" to see how normal rape culture continues to be among high-risk populations.

Another cultural challenge is what we might call the "jilted ex-girlfriend" blind spot: our collective eagerness to believe a man when he says a woman is accusing him of sexual assault out of sheer vindictiveness.

For some reason, the recent Jian Ghomeshi scandal seems to have blown open the floodgates on this particular levee. Thanks to the numerous women who have courageously spoken out, the #beenrapedneverreported hashtag on twitter has provided a harrowing look into the various pressures - cultural, institutional, legal - that conspire to keep women silent about the assaults they experience.

Those few women who do dare to report their sexual assault can expect to be humiliated, doubted, accused of malfeasance and re-victimized. Even when multiple women come forward, the overwhelming bias has still been to accuse the women of conspiring to ruin a man's repuatation - despite the huge barriers to reporting.

Again, getting this out in the open seems to be helping. Consider that Bill Cosby is only just now being confronted with the collection of rape and sexual assault accusations he has managed to hold at bay for decades.

Another thing related to the de-normalization of sexual assault: I want to mention the common tendency to blame the victim by thinking the right way to address sexual assault is to tell women to be more careful.

The City of Edmonton recently managed to reduce the rate of sexual assault in an interesting way: they ran a marketing campaign bluntly telling men not to sexually assault women.

Don't Be That Guy campaign posters

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim - an acquaintance, friend or relationship partner. These are social relations, and they're influenced by social norms. What is considered acceptable changes over time.

Just think: before 1983, Canadian law did not even recognize sexual assault within marriage as a crime. When NDP MPP Margaret Mitchell first proposed the change in legislation in 1982, the (male-dominated) House of Commons literally laughed at her. The outcry from organized womens' groups quickly forced the House to take the issue more seriously.

So change comes both from the top down through legislation and public communication and from the bottom up through people organizing and speaking out. Men have an important role to play in de-normalizing gendered violence by calling out other men who engage in sexist, disrespectful and violent conduct toward women. As the City of Edmonton demonstrated, this can be as simple as saying, "Don't be that guy."

The important thing to remember is that when a man remains silent, he misses an opportunity to communicate to other men that the spectrum of sexism and sexual violence is not okay.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2014-11-20 14:27:27

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 23, 2014 at 13:26:46

"The important thing to remember is that when a man remains silent, he misses an opportunity to communicate to other men that the spectrum of sexism and sexual violence is not okay."

Absolutely, and this is way more effective than wearing purple, so step up.

But it doesn't stop there.

The group of obnoxious garage ogglers need to be called out on not just their actions towards women, but their loud, obnoxious behaviour. I'd bet heavily that they also do other disrespectful things to the neighbours like have a wood burning stove (carcinogenic smoke factory) in the garage and fire up the leaf blower and straight piped motorbike at any opportunity, not to mention the barking dog chained up in the yard.

These behaviours are highly linked. They're all about selfishness and disrespect. You can't hope to improve their attitude towards women unless they change their attitude towards OTHERS.

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By Edwin (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2014 at 16:59:09

You're encouraging people to wear purple, but the link you provided in the second-last paragraph says to wear orange ("This year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites you to “Orange YOUR Neighbourhood.")

Is there some difference in nuance of colour that I'm missing, or are there different colour campaigns going on simultaneously?

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