Nevertheless, they persist

barefoot-beach-blonde-hair-1116613It’s been a while since I checked in. We’ve moved back into the cottage, planted the garden, dusted off the furniture, replenished the cupboards and can’t wait for company. I love this place. But politics, as usual, intrudes — even in this summer resort on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

Our council fired the fire chief, whose squad is standing behind him. There are ridiculous rumours of sabotage of the water treatment plant as an invasion of zebra mussels clogs pipes and litters the beaches. Another fractious election looms.

One province over, it’s anybody-but-Doug-Ford, unless you’re a Postmedia publication. Don’t get me started on the nutty old man running the circus down south. And as someone who has worked in Edmonton and Victoria, I’m torn by the pipeline debate, knowing how desperately much it matters on both sides of that border. (But I laughed at Maclean’s Paul Wells’ quip on Twitter: “Weird week. Suddenly I own a pipeline and I can’t afford mayonnaise.”)


Meanwhile, the Canadian Femicide Observatory continues to quietly, grimly, inexorably do its job, counting the number of women killed in Canada. The number goes up every second day. Today they cite 70 women and girls killed since January.*

I’ve written about this group before; it’s a game-changer for those in the domestic-violence trenches. We’ve never had these kinds of statistics before; as a society we’ve refused to acknowledge femicides as anything but aberrations, crimes of “passion,” random acts of violence.

We can do that no longer. The observatory, which launched just before this year began, is keeping track of each femicide in this country, and its Twitter feed is a wake-up call, a voice for those who no longer have a voice, a grim reminder that violence against women continues.

It calls for more transparency from police forces who are inexplicably beginning to refuse to release homicide victim’s names. It links to news stories on femicides, often with brutally similar lead-ups. It offers unsolicited advice like this:

Media tip: Media often refer to male jealousy to explain men who kill female partners/ex-partners. Terms used are ‘love gone wrong’, ‘from love to murder’, ‘crime of passion’. It’s a crime, but it’s not passion or love.


It is showing us what we suspected for years — that more women are being killed than ever before recorded.

My stats when I wrote Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists were a vague “every five and a half days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner.” So far, in 2018, the observatory has recorded a death every second day. And we’re not halfway through the year.

Feminists in this country and elsewhere need to support and amplify this ground-breaking initiative’s work. It’s a reality check for us all — even those trying to bury their heads in the sands of summer.

Follow them at @CAN_Femicide

*This statistic was earlier posted on their website as “at least 57.” It is now at 70. At the end of June, the observatory will post a six-month list.

A huge step in the right direction

As powerful as they are, no social media campaign will ever save a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Battered women facing escalating violence in the home do not, dare not share their stories online.

But a new and comparable media-savvy force has emerged to speak for those who have no voice.

It’s the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, based out of the University of Guelph’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence. 

After decades of inaction on violence against women in Canada, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

The project has begun counting femicides across the country for the first time ever, and tracking each case as it proceeds through our courts and the media. How many women are killed every year? What were the warning signs? How did the community respond? Who are these people?

It will focus our attention on a problem Canadians seem to think long-solved, ‘fixed’ by a string of women’s shelters dating back to the early 1970s. But those shelters continue to be built and filled. They’ve become part of our landscape, numbering more than 625. And still, about every five or six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner.

We don’t know how many because we’ve never conducted a national count. 

For some reason these crimes have always been treated as random tragedies, spontaneous crimes of passion. Unpreventable.

That’s not what those on the front lines of domestic violence believe. They know that femicides are most often the tip of an iceberg, the tragic end result of prolonged violence in the home. 

Sgt. Dave Dunbar of Hamilton’s domestic violence unit told the Globe and Mail recently that they get 18 calls a day. And Dunbar warns his officers not to dismiss even those calls that seem innocuous. Because what may begin as a ‘harmless’ verbal dispute often turns into something more toxic, more violent.

“I can tell you right now that there is always an escalation,” Dunbar said.

For every woman who ends up dead, countless more are abused every day. Professor Myrna Dawson, the spokeswoman for this ground-breaking project, says its ultimate goal is to find a way to prevent the killings from happening; to stop the violence before it becomes fatal.

“The reality is these are not disputes,” Dawson told the Globe. “Intimate femicides rarely occur out of the blue.”

That’s why putting numbers, and faces, to this issue, is so critical.

The founders of Canada’s first women’s shelters learned this lesson long ago. Back in the early ‘70s — when almost no one believed we needed shelters at all — there were no statistics on violence against women. It was a personal shame, a private affair between a husband and his wife. Police didn’t track assaults according to gender, and were loath to intervene. It wasn’t their business. 

If a woman chose to leave an abusive partner, she and her children had nowhere to go. 

So they stayed. And some died.

Faced with such ignorance and complacency, the first shelter founders pulled statistics together as best they could, keeping track of the women they helped, and widely sharing what they knew. Their data, meagre as it was, fuelled a remarkable series of changes.

Governments started funding shelters and rape-crisis centres; rewriting property and marital laws; creating laws to deal with criminal harassment. Police and courts changed how they operated. There was widespread public awareness, and reason to hope that change was coming.

Unfortunately, a 1993 Stats Can survey was the first and last of its kind. No more attempts were made to measure the problem on a national scale, and it dropped off our radar. 

And if you don’t measure a problem, if you can’t clearly delineate a problem, then you have no problem. Problem solved.

The issue itself was neutered. Politicians started calling it “family” violence and “domestic abuse,” effectively killing any need for uncomfortable conversations about male behaviour.

And so ended our public conversation, briefly rallying once a year on the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. 

Which is why this new project offers such hope.

For the first time in our history, we are counting, coalescing and combing through what to date have been treated as disparate and isolated events.

Just as the #MeToo movement exposes how commonplace sexual misconduct is in our society, so, too, will the femicide project change the way we look at male violence against women. The collective weight of these womens’ stories promises to challenge attitudes and shine new light on a very old issue.

Make no mistake; this is a game-changer. Follow this project on Twitter at @CAN_Femicide

It won’t save the lives of those it studies. But it may well save the lives of those who follow.

#MeToo, marches and mudwrestling: what are we learning from all this?

I just read a brilliant opinion piece in The Guardian by Sarah Solemani. “The Aziz Ansari furore isn’t the end of #MeToo. It’s just the start”

Older feminists are dismayed and fretting that #MeToo has become a ‘witch hunt’ that is tarring too many men with the same brush, threatening to dissipate the movement itself. They are speaking up, cautioning that women need to respect due legal process, that we risk alienating all men in our rush to indict all. Seemingly unfettered and empowered on social media, younger women need to take care or risk losing all of their hard-won gains.

Younger feminists like Lalonde have come rudely roaring back — stand back and shut up, older feminists, you no longer have the mic. Your years of catering to and accepting men’s behaviour are over, you have been complicit, ignorant and oh so privileged. It’s time to recognize that your experiences and your perspectives add no value to today’s discussions.

And I’ve been watching all this fallout, mostly just pissed off that women are fighting each other again.

Maybe it’s the middle child in me. Can’t we find a way to get along better, or at least argue better in public? We’re supposedly on the same team.

It’s the same reaction I have to women dumping on last weekend’s women’s march for not being inclusive enough, or for being too political, or (OUCH!)  too full of white women trying to take credit for the repudiation of a president 53% of them voted for.

What makes us turn on each other like this, when solidarity is so vital at this time in our history? How can we move forward if we can’t even get our own act together?

When I researched Runaway Wives, the great divide cropped up a few times. The shelter founders were deeply hurt that many younger feminists view the whole second-wave movement with contempt. They didn’t ‘get’ intersectionality; they didn’t ‘get’ how privileged they were. I hoped the book might bridge that gap, show younger feminists how and why these women did what they did. They were in their twenties once, too.

But having read Solemani’s essay, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed time for older women to shut up and listen and learn. We need to support those now on our front lines, unreservedly and with love.

The future is in good hands.

Read the whole thing. Then read again the last paragraph and know that this is true:

Let’s at least permit ourselves to picture life in a new reality, wandering the spaces men roam freely – a strange pub perhaps, or India, or the nighttime. Imagine going to a nightclub on your own just because you like the music. Imagine boarding a bus, not noticing it was full of men, because you were enjoying the view. Imagine a really good orgasm as standard. Imagine the decent bloke you know being the norm, not the exception. Imagine the movement you were a part of that changed everything. Imagine. Imagine. I dare you.


Yes, there’s a story behind ‘runaway wives’



A few (OK a lot) of people have commented on the title of this book. Rogue feminists, they get. But isn’t that ‘runaway wives’ line rather demeaning?

Yes it is. It’s so demeaning it stuck with the group who founded Canada’s first battered women’s shelter for more than forty years.

Four of them told the story over dinner one night in late 2012, still infuriated by a headline and story that they felt was a sly smackdown of their work, not to mention an odd take on the issue.

They had just opened on Spadina Street in Toronto, after months of planning and lobbying and hard work. Their families were all wondering what these 12 young women were doing (and they weren’t so sure themselves). So when the reporter from the Toronto Star, Sidney Katz, called and said he wanted to write a story about the shelter, they were pretty excited.

They invited him down for the day, showed him around, explained who was in the shelter and why, earnestly explaining the need for a temporary place for women to escape violence or crisis in the home. After he left, they could hardly wait for the feature to appear in the big metropolitan daily. And then it did. With the headline “The rising wave of runaway wives” and the subhead “Women are liberating themselves — they say to heck with it and leave.”

The story begins with a so-long-toots note pinned to some poor man’s pillow from a runaway wife named Sharon, who says there’s no use in going on with their stupid marriage. He makes her sound so cavalier and liberated.

“Add one more man to the brotherhood of deserted husbands, a fast-growing group,” Katz continues.

It takes a few paragraphs before Katz reveals the details behind this marriage. Sharon’s husband has become a heavy drinker, and the constant verbal and emotional abuse that began after the birth of their first child has escalated to physical abuse. The night before she left, he slapped her across the face while the couple next door were visiting.

“Before the days of women’s liberation many of those women did not leave home,” Katz pointed out. But now in 1973, he writes, there are places they can go. And “a growing number of women are unwilling to remain part of an unhappy union.”

He describes a number of ‘runaways’, including one who was thrown down the stairs for forgetting to take her husband’s suit to the dry cleaners. Another whose husband was so jealous he would stand guard — inside the bathroom — while she took a bath. He weaves in a few words from the Interval House women, but his bias shows through even from their answers. “It’s simply untrue that women are deserting their husbands because of the ideas put forth by the women’s lib movement,” Lynn Zimmer says.

He ends with the tale of one abandoned father who is looking after three children all by himself. After getting them off to school and day care in the morning, he works and after that, it’s “get supper. Talk to the children and find out what’s been happening. Wash them, get them to bed. By now it’s 9 o’clock. If not too exhausted and he wants to go out, get hold of a babysitter somewhere.

“Somehow, time must be found to shop for groceries and clothes, do the laundry, to take the children on an outing and visits to the doctor, etc. etc.” … “I’ve been living this way for eight months,” says the father, “and it’s hell.” (“The deserted father’s job could be simplified by hiring an efficient housekeeper,” Katz says, “but few men can afford that.”)

Forty years later, the women who founded Interval House are able to laugh just a little over this depiction of their work from the other guy’s perspective — their aiding and abetting of a ‘rising wave of runaway wives.’ So how could I resist stealing this very inside joke from my favourite rogue feminists?