The same day I published the posts Keep Off and Coming Out, the story of Rehtaeh Parsons broke. I didn’t know it at the time. My good friend David asked me not to read the news until the next morning. He’d seen the story and knew that it would hit me hard. Since then, there has been an explosion of public rage. As there should be. It is one of the most horrific, heart-breaking stories ever. Rehtaeh’s story is making us look in a mirror. Not the slightly warped flattering mirrors they put in change-rooms at clothing stores. No – this is a crystal clear mirror with that harsh neon lighting, pointing out all the blemishes we’d rather not see. The mirror is showing us that we fail to protect children. Every single day. It is showing us that we are a society of bullies, rapists, acquiecsents, child-porn viewers, incompetents, misogynists, and the list goes on. We need to own up to this and we need to make some heavy decisions in the coming days. We need to walk out of the Coliseum, and choose not to be celebrators of violence and oppression and spectacle. Hell, we need to dismantle the Coliseum all together. (Just in case it’s not clear, I’m not suggesting that Facebook or Twitter or any other kind of social media or technology is the “Coliseum”….)
Because here’s what I know about our society. We are also a people of compassion and justice and empathy. We are people who care deeply about the suffering of others. We are people who stand with those who cannot stand by themselves. We are people who give time, money, space, and our own hearts. We are people who can listen. We are people who will hold hands for as long as we need to. We are people who write letters to politicians, who design and legislate laws that protect the oppressed. We are people who want to understand.
But we are human. So we make mistakes. And we get angry. And we get overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all. It can be paralyzing. I feel paralyzed by it right now. I don’t know where to start. What I want to do is call Rehtaeh’s parents and apologize to them for the way we failed. I want to visit the boys who violated Rehtaeh that night, who are now young men, and tell them that I’m sorry we taught them it’s okay to do what they did. (I also want to tell them how enraged and despairing and broken their actions make me but that I’m going to spend the next days and weeks and months working through that rage so that something good comes from this.) I want to borrow someone else’s brain to create a software that detects and prevents this kind of cyber-bullying. I want to write letters to Stephen Harper and beg him to reintroduce funding to the 35 women’s groups he cut funding from in the past 6 years. There is so much I want to do but where do I start? What can I really do to effect change?
Can I start with these?:
I am a mother so I will teach my children compassion and love and respect. How do you do that? How do we teach our children compassion and love and respect? How many times a day do I fail at this? How many times have they seen me not loving, respecting, living compassion? What about me needs to change so that they learn by example?
I am a teacher so I will challenge my students to recognize and stand up against injustice and oppression and hatred. How do you do that? Are they even listening to me? No seriously, how do I do this?
I am a citizen so I will vote in favour of justice, I will resume my weekly letter-writing campaign, and I will take responsibility for the choices of politicians (hard as that may be!) This can feel so discouraging, these drops in the bucket. Especially in the midst of apathy and power inequalities and selfishness. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I am a woman so I will be a sister. I don’t write this lightly. Because others have stood beside me, I will hold my hand out.
I am a writer so I will keep writing. Who am I kidding? Let me try this again.
I am an historian so I won’t forget. Better.