About 20 years ago I was bartending in a restaurant. It was the first year I’d heard of the white ribbon campaign to commemorate the lives of the women murdered at the l'Ecole Polytechnique. Thinking it was a good thing to remember I made a ribbon out of the paper from my cash printer and attached it behind my name tag.
And then my life changed.
The reaction from women fell into two categories. Most thanked me, many opening up about intensely personal tales of their own sexual assaults. Stories I was not comfortable hearing from casual co-workers. But others shied away at any mention of the cause, their silence speaking volumes.
Men also had two different reactions. Most said things like “You dude, don’t be a traitor!” or “What are you, some kind of pussy?”. The reactions that really disturbed me were the few guys who looked at my ribbon and felt I’d joined their club, these were guys that also wore the ribbon, but they did it just to get laid.
That’s when I knew there was a problem and it wasn’t just the random occurrence of lone nut with a gun, it was pervasive. The world changed for me that fall, it was as if someone had pointed out a flaw in the corner of a beautiful tapestry. Every time I looked at it I couldn’t help but notice it, and I was worried that it might unravel the whole thing.
My boss walked into the bar as he did every morning call his 3 year old daughter and ask how her day was going. He looked me over, the company had a crappy dress code and I was often pushing the boundaries of it, he saw the ribbon and sighed saying “Don’t tell me you’re jumping on the bandwagon too.”
Sick of being hassled I replied “You know Tony, why don’t we talk about this in 18 years when your daughter is old enough to go to that school”.
He went silent “I hadn’t really thought of it like that, you’re right. I’m sorry”
Tony was a good person, but he was caught up in the status quo. He’d never noticed the flaw in the tapestry. It’s 20 years later his daughter is probably in a school somewhere, but sadly I’m not convinced the world is any less flawed. The reactions I get haven’t changed much. While I do seem to be surrounded by men that are better, based on what the women are saying that is not representative of the situation as a whole.
Not enough has changed, there’s still that thread hanging from the tapestry.