Authors aim to inspire and galvanize people to continue forging ahead in efforts to end violence against women
BY RACHELLE COOPER
The five authors of the new book Remembering Women Murdered by Men are the first to admit the title is controversial.
“I know it's very intense for people, but it should be painful and uncomfortable and serve as a call for action,” says Sly Castaldi, a U of G graduate and executive director of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis.
The book, which documents about 35 of the more than 60 monuments across the country dedicated to women who have been murdered by men, aims to inspire and galvanize people to continue forging ahead in the work of ending violence against women, Castaldi says.
The authors, who call themselves the Cultural Memory Group, consist of Castaldi, Profs. Christine Bold and Ric Knowles of the School of English and Theatre Studies, U of G graduate Lisa Schincariol and former U of G human rights adviser Jodie McConnell, a development specialist for the Ontario government's Women's Directorate.
When they began this project nearly eight years ago, they agreed that the words “murdered by men” had to be in the title of their book in order to help support the women in communities across Canada who have met with resistance for placing those same words on public memorials.
“It's building solidarity with the women who created the memorials that included the words ‘murdered by men,'” says Bold. “The women memorial makers in Vancouver faced death threats because they wanted those words to be part of monument inscriptions. It takes courage to name men's violence against women.”
Castaldi and Bold say that, like the title of their book, the more visible monuments are in the community, the harder it is to ignore the violence that led to the memorialized women's deaths.
Although the authors say the memorials themselves can't put a stop to violence against women, they provide a place to work for change, to build awareness and to continue building support for the issue.
Marianne's Park in Guelph, located on Gordon Street along the Speed River, is an example of an effective monument, say the authors. The park is dedicated to the memory of Marianne Goulden, a resident, volunteer and eventual staff member at Women in Crisis who was killed by her common-law husband in 1992. Because of its central location and high visibility, the monument is used for “Take Back the Night” marches. Similarly, the Cactus Garden in the Thornbrough Building and the Reflection Garden behind the Boathouse at the bottom of Gordon Street hill are used by students and the general public for the annual Dec. 6 ceremony of remembrance for the 14 women who were murdered at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989.
“It might not look like active resistance, but if a memorial is shoved in the corner, it can't be used in an active political way,” says Castaldi.
The authors' research started with looking at how Marianne's Park contributes to the fight against violence against women and exploded from there once they realized there were monuments united in purpose across the country.
“Once you put the stories of the monuments together, there is this network that is invisible yet hugely powerful,” says Bold. “One of the stories the network as a whole tells is that this violence is systemic. In any individual community, you might think: ‘Well, that's an isolated incident.' But when you see more than 60 monuments across the country, it tells us something of the way power works in society.”
In conducting their research, the authors heard the same stories over and over of memorial workers who met with resistance in getting approval for monument funding, locations and inscriptions.
“Those stories just seized us, and we started to recognize the same patterns in struggles across the country,” says Bold.
At their April 5 book launch at The Bookshelf, a woman approached Castaldi saying she was in the early stages of planning a memorial. “I told her to study the book, so she'll know where the tender spots are and where the challenges are.”
The Cultural Memory Group found that women have been working hard in isolation from each other and, until the launch of Remembering Women Murdered by Men, have had limited access to one another's experiences. A parallel project, www.globalwomensmemorial.org, is also making it easier for memorial makers to learn from each other by building an online community dedicated to fostering resistance to the murder of women.
Unlike in the academic community, the work of the activist community is generally not well-documented, says Castaldi.
“This book is such an important piece of feminist activism because it is recording feminist remembrance as a powerful contribution to the movement to end the violence against women.”
Proceeds from the book, which was published by Sumach Press and sells for $28.95, go to Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis to keep supporting the cause.
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