Technical Writer - Alysha McLeod
***Trigger warning: While there are no graphic descriptions contained in this post, it does mention sexual and gender-based violence. Please take care and if you can’t read this, I completely understand.***
For my birthday, I’d like to fundraise for White Ribbon, a male-led charity that works to combat violence against women and girls by teaching men and boys to express masculinity in healthy, non-violent ways. White Ribbon began in Canada after the Polytechnique shooting in Montreal, and now spans multiple countries. It includes men and boys in the conversation surrounding gender-based violence, challenges social conditioning, and holds men and boys responsible for being the solution to this problem by learning positive tools to change their behaviour, words, and actions about and towards girls and women. It also teaches about the importance of men and boys not condoning or remaining silent about violence against women and girls. A counter-argument is often that not all men are bad. This is definitely true; there are so many good men in the world, and I know this firsthand. But the point is that it isn’t okay for girls and women to feel powerless and scared because of the men who choose not to be good and because of the ones who choose to be silent about it, and that these same men just keep saying there isn’t a problem in the first place. Any society that condones or allows an entire gender to feel unsafe through disproportionate violence and inaction seriously cannot call itself civilized.
I recently learned about White Ribbon’s work and about the rape and murder of a woman named Jill Meagher, whose life was taken by a man who was known to be a violent sex offender. Jill died in 2012, but I’ve only recently heard about her death and it viscerally affected me. I find any type of injustice towards anyone abhorrent, but the attack on Jill was amongst the gravest of its kind, and the inhumanity of it filled me with grief.
After her death, Jill’s husband, Tom Meagher, dedicated his life to combating violence against women and teaching men and boys what it means to be a good person, and how to be an advocate and ally for girls and women rather than an assailant. He’s an incredible, inspirational person who chose to transmute his unfathomable grief and rage into something so powerful by being a national advocate for White Ribbon Ireland and Australia. He could have fallen apart and remained shattered his whole life after the severe trauma he endured, and no one could have blamed him, but he picked himself up and decided to fight and do good work in the world. Apart from the amazing work this organization does as a whole all over the world, I would really like to honour and support Tom’s work, which shows truly breathtaking courage, resilience, and willingness to be a beacon of good even after he came face-to-face with evil. I believe that he deserves a medal of honour. Tom and all men involved with White Ribbon constantly remind women who have been victims of gender-based violence that there are good, kind men in the world, and they are positive role models for boys and other men.
I emailed White Ribbon to offer Tom my condolences, to explain how Jill’s story touched me, and to ask how I can best help. A man named Sean from White Ribbon responded to me on Tom’s behalf with a very kind email, and told me that they would be thankful for any support that I could gather for the cause by raising awareness and donations—and so this is what I’ve decided to do.
Many women all around the world experience gender-based violence every minute of every day, and I in no way wish to undermine this truth. Everyone’s experience matters equally. However, Jill’s story in particular is one that deeply triggered me, for reasons that I find hard to explain, and because, unfortunately, there are some startling parallels between her own experience and something that I endured in the same month and year that she was killed, when I was accosted by a man who was a stranger to me in a dark parking lot, who made me genuinely fear for my life. Years before this event, I was also violated while I slept in my dorm room by a guy who was fun and funny and who everyone loved. I’m mentioning these things because sadly, so many girls and women experience similar things, whether by strangers or people they know. I’m sharing this because at first I felt ashamed to, and I edited it out of my post. For that reason alone I think it’s important to talk about it. It shouldn’t be shameful. It’s a horrific societal failure that so many women and girls have been completely let down in this way. We make up a huge portion of humanity, and yet violence towards women has become so commonplace that as a society, we barely bat an eye when we hear about it.
When I was reading about Jill’s story, I felt that I could acutely relate to the fear, panic, and powerlessness that she must have felt, because I felt those things, too. It broke my heart to know that she had to feel that way at the end of her life, that clearly her killer regarded her as less human and worthy than himself. Jill’s ordeal was obviously much graver than my own; tragically, she is no longer alive or able to speak about her story. But I am, and I feel that it would be helpful to re-direct the anger, sadness, fear, and overall trauma that was brought up for me in the wake of hearing her story. I’ve found it consuming and impossible to stop thinking about, and so I’d like to do some good by leveraging it into something positive that will help fix this problem and contribute to the world being peaceful and safe for women and girls.
I think transmuting something devastating and painful into something hopeful is a kind of alchemy. If you feel moved by this cause, would like to honour Jill and all victims of violence against women, and help contribute to the solution in celebration of my birthday (incidentally, October is also Women’s History Month), I would be so grateful. I’m donating to honour victims of gender-based violence, including my family members and friends. I’m also donating to further the work of people like Tom, and to honour the memory of Jill, whose story affected me deeply and has a place in my heart. May you rest in peace, Jill, and may you be remembered with love.
Thank you very much for reading all of this. I know this was a long and difficult post and I appreciate the time and mental space you’ve given it. I felt like I had a lot I wanted to say because this is so important to me, and I think that brevity would have done it a disservice. I really admire White Ribbon for addressing violence against women at its core and trying to create healthy social change. Everyone deserves to feel safe and valued and cared for without exception, and White Ribbon really aims to make that a reality now. I believe that we can dissolve the darkness by flooding it with light and hope, and I’d be really honoured if you’d join me.