MONTREAL, Canada – On December 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine walked into a classroom at the École Polytechnique in Montreal with a rifle. The room was full with 60 engineering students. Lépine worked rapidly, ordering the men out of the room. “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!” he shouted. Then he began shooting.
Six female students were killed instantly, three more injured. Lépine moved into the corridor, continuing to target women in the cafeteria and another classroom. Before he turned the gun on himself, 14 women had been murdered and ten more injured. Four men were also hurt, unintentionally, in the crossfire.
Detectives would learn Lépine had been denied admission to the École Polytechnique and was upset women were assuming careers and areas of study traditionally dominated by men. His suicide note read: “Would you note that if I commit suicide today it is not for economic reasons… but for political reasons. Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker… I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”
The gender-based massacre sent waves of shock and horror throughout all of Canada. A national dialogue on gender-based violence and gender equality issues was generated. Two years after the massacre, Parliament designated December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In the wake of this announcement and as a part of the overwhelming feminist response to the events, two women posed a question to Jack Layton, Ron Sluser and Michael Kaufman: where are the men?
In November 1991, the three men had figured out an answer and the White Ribbon Campaign was born.
The campaign was conceived as an education and awareness-raising effort devoted to engaging men and boys to think about their attitudes and behavior and challenge all forms of men’s violence against women. The campaign asked men to wear white ribbons as a pledge to “never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
More than 20 years later, the White Ribbon campaign has spread to over 60 countries and is the world’s largest male-led movement to end men’s violence against women.
In the words of founder Michael Kaufman: “Men have been defined as part of the problem. But the White Ribbon Campaign believes that men can also be part of the solution. Confronting men’s violence requires nothing less than a commitment to full equality for women and a redefinition of what it means to be men, to discover a meaning to manhood that does not require blood to be spilled.”
In the lead-up to the United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, the white ribbon has come to represent the movement to end gender-based violence. It is the designated symbol of the internationally observed 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which begins on November 25 and lasts through December 10, Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to draw an obvious connection between human rights and women’s rights.
The campaign has even captured the attention of the fashion world. English designer Stella McCartney has supported the campaign by designing a limited-edition white ribbon badge. The badges will be given out to customers who make a purchase in one of the Kering Luxury Brand’s flagships. On the campaign, McCartney said: “The global violence statistics against women are horrific and it has inspired me to bring attention to this incredibly important awareness campaign by designing this badge.”
Despite its launch in the wake of a terrible national tragedy, White Ribbon’s message and aim is nonetheless hopeful: “Our vision is for a masculinity that embodies the best qualities of being human. We believe that men are part of the solution and part of a future that is safe and equitable for all people.”
Sources: The Guardian, Michael Kaufman, White Ribbon, Women’s Wear Daily