I was deeply saddened to see the news headlines about Rehtaeh Parsons’ recent suicide. I ache for her teenage sufferings that made death more attractive than life and for her poor family, left behind and feeling sick about losing her. Even more, though, I feel rage at the thought that we live in a world where violence against women is commonplace. From faraway places like India, Congo, Afghanistan, and Syria to our own backyards in Canada and the United States, the bottom line is that women aren’t safe. Women and female children are being desecrated, abused, and tortured in sickening ways and, even though the headlines turn our stomachs and make us grieve, it just keeps happening.
Why is this pervasive, evil misogyny allowed to proliferate? How is it that young males think it’s appropriate to treat any woman in a less-than-respectful way and why do they keep getting away with it? Rape is one of the ugliest acts that a man can commit against a woman. It attacks the very essence of her female being and just because she possesses a vagina, she becomes a target. Rape destroys a woman’s soul, taking what’s meant to be a fulfilling act and turning it into torture. It demeans her, destroys any positive associations with sex for the rest of her life, and makes her feel worthless. And all for what? So a guy can create the illusion of power and pleasure for a few brief minutes at the cost of her lifelong happiness.
The front cover of the Toronto Star last weekend described a rape in Syria where the women were screaming, “God, all we have is you.” But I’m left wondering, where were the people? It’s time for governments and courts to take a stand against all forms of misogyny. Men who rape should be punished, shunned, castrated – whatever it takes to make them realize that this isn’t some kind of fun game they’re playing. Rape is a slower, perverse kind of soul-murder, so they should pay for it accordingly.
On an international level, our leaders need to stand up against countries whose policies on gender equality are lacking and protest using trade embargoes and boycotts in order to pressure countries to change and modernize. I’m tired of people excusing sub-standard treatment of women as, “Oh, it’s a cultural thing and that’s just how they do it over there.” Well, guess what: apartheid was also a ‘cultural thing’ that was once accepted as the norm in South Africa. How is black and white segregation any different than male and female segregation in many countries? It’s not. And when Mandela and his supporters stood up against apartheid, the world stood with them and demanded that the system fall. Many countries imposed economic sanctions and gradually, painfully slowly, the South African system disintegrated. (It’s far from perfect now, but at least it’s improved.) Now imagine if the West stood up to Saudi Arabia and demanded that its women be given equal rights to men before any more business deals are made? Somehow I doubt that would ever happen.
Back to Canada and this one tragic loss: I hope that Rehtaeh’s death is not in vain. Let’s not forget about her by next week, once the headlines have changed, but rather use her memory to drive us toward change, toward demanding equality and insisting that rape no longer be tolerated on any level in our society, whether it’s underage drunken frat boys to middle-aged child predators. Women need to be allowed to live safely and securely, without fearing the possible repercussions of attending a party, riding a bus, or walking down the street. We have just as much a right to live our lives on this planet in peace and assurance as men do, and there are enough threats out there that we don’t need to fear our own classmates, acquaintances, and neighbours. As for us mothers of sons, we have a big task ahead of us, to ensure that our sons are raised to be respectful and honest men. Anything less than that and we will have failed not only them, but also our own gender.