Kathleen Wynne made me cry
On Friday, March 6th, 2015, the Premier of Ontario made me cry.
Let me explain.
As an International Womyn's Day gift to all of humanity, the province of Ontario has decided to step up and make serious changes to address sexual violence. You should go and read the whole Action Plan. It's fucking amazing.
I work in the sector and have been trying to dismantle rape culture in this country for over a decade. So yeah, I'm biased because the Action Plan benefits the work that folks like me do. I'll own that.
But I'm also a womyn, a survivor and a resident of Ontario.
And quite frankly, I'm one of thousands of overworked, underpaid/underemployed people in this province who works every. single. day to make Ontario a safer and more equitable place to live.
I'm in the business of shedding light in dark places and so when your Premier calls a press conference to stand up and say
"To the survivors of sexual violence and harassment of every part of this province: We see you, we acknowledge that what happened to you is wrong and we stand with you."
It cannot be underestimated.
I wasn't able to make it to Toronto for the announcement, so instead, I sat at my desk in Ottawa and openly wept as the Premier dropped truth bomb after truth bomb. (And then I went on national TV to talk about it.)
Finally, I thought. We've been heard.
The Action Plan is powerful (and tear worthy) because it uses bold and accessible language, its focus is broad but there are plenty of tangible, concrete pieces.
Concrete stuff like:
- Introducing legislation to strengthen the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include a definition of sexual harassment. (Yes, you read that right. No definition currently exists.)
- Introducing legislation to require colleges and universities to adopt a sexual assault policy. (This is where partisan bullshit might come into play if other parties block the legislation from passing.)
- Require universities and colleges to report publicly on incidence of sexual violence. A first in Canada.
- Enable Ontario's 42 sexual assault centres to help more people through increased funding and greater community coordination.
- Amend the Residential Tenancies Act to allow tenants who are fleeing sexual or domestic violence to break their lease with less than 60 days' notice.
- Amend the Limitations Act to remove the limitation period for any civil sexual assault claim.
- Updating the Health and Physical Education curriculum to help students develop an understanding of the root causes of gender inequality, and - from a very early stage - understand healthy relationships and consent.
And so much more.
This is huge.
When 20 year old me was fleeing intimate partner violence and my abuser was using my having broken our lease as a means of power and control, I would have benefited greatly from these new changes to the Residential Tenancies Act.
When I spent 6 years fighting Carleton University for the creation of a sexual assault centre on campus, I would have benefited greatly from these new accountability and transparency measures.
When survivors spend so much time trying to unpack society's victim blaming, the power of your Premier stating "Sexual violence is rooted in misogyny" gives you chills. And hope. (So much goddamn hope.)
When my colleagues and I work 70+ hours a week and scrape together a barely-above-minimum-wage-if-you're-lucky-and-certainly-no-benefits wage trying to end sexual violence, a coordinated Action Plan that says "We can, and must, do better" is music to our ears.
Is the Action Plan perfect? No. As excited as I am that a new TV ad has been released with a social media campaign (#WhoWillYouHelp), I'm disappointed that the PSA uses such incredibly triggering imagery. Lots of survivors have already told me that they couldn't get past the first 4 seconds because it read too much like Rehtaeh Parsons (and in turn, their own stories.)
I work in public education and social marketing. I think I have the authority to call out the myth that "shock and awe" is necessary to grab people's attentions. It's not true.
In this case, I think the opposite is true. Upsetting people and making them turn away is not going to engage them.
There are ways to show the ugliness of sexual violence and the hurt of bystander apathy that doesn't involve triggering imagery.
My other major critique of the ad is the cliched way in which drug facilitated sexual assault is played out. Don't get me wrong. Drug facilitated sexual assault is a problem. But alcohol is the #1 "date-rape" drug. And I fear that it just plays into the "Cover your drinks, ladies!" narrative rather than what we need which is "The drink is the problem!"
But I don't think these critiques take away from how incredibly powerful the Action Plan is.
Haters are gonna hate and are already doing so. We're already hearing the chorus of "What about the men?!" and "Why weren't parents consulted on the health curriculum?!" and "Women are abusers, too!" and all that malarkey.
The Premier and her staff knew damn well those critiques would come down. She's not an idiot. She saw what happened when McGuinty tried to introduce the curriculum in 2010.
What the Premier did with McGuinty's weak sauce retreat from the curriculum.
She's gotten major backlash about the curriculum and in the middle of that storm, released this Action Plan.
And now it's on us to see this thing to fruition.
The haters, the Conservatives, the Men's Rights Activists(TM), the right-wing jerktoids, the misogynists and everyone in between is having a coronary on this thing.
Those of us on the right side of history have a bad habit of not communicating our support for things. We fall into the trap of only raising our voices with complaints, rather than praise.
We have to change this.
Let me start us off.
Premier Wynne, Minister MacCharles, your staff and all the folks who worked to put together this Action Plan: Thank you.