On the edge of the U of A campus, just outside of the registrar’s office is a memorial to the murdered Montreal women. I went to school there for a long time, I had no idea it existed. A friend told me about it. It’s not even a memorial, not really. It’s a good sized rock with a plaque on it.
I stop for a minute every year on December 6th, it seemed appropriate to stop there. They were engineers. I’m a management consultant who dabbles in technology and code. I was 11 when they were murdered. I have lived my entire adult life knowing of them. Women killed for having the audacity to do what a monstrous man thought of as men’s work.
Someone had cleared the rock, lit a candle and laid some flowers. I suspect the friend who told me about it. It seems like the sort of thing he would do. I stood there and thought about where we are now.
An hour before, as I was loitering outside a meeting room, in the middle of the computer science building, I watched a young man belittle and humiliate a woman. It was the tone. The tone women know well. The hectoring, the sneering, the air of smugness. They seemed to be working on a project – or rather she seemed to be working and he seemed to be criticizing. I wanted to kick him out of his seat. Sit down next to her, ask if I could give her some advice I would have wanted a woman to give me at the edge of 20.
Don’t ever- for any reason – let anyone treat you like that.
I told myself I was butting in, that my advice wasn’t asked for, I didn’t know the context. In hindsight, I wished I’d at least figured out the class and section – maybe I could have figured out who the prof was and alerted them? Maybe they would have cared?
I say this, because as I stood in front of the memorial about 3 pm, in the dying winter light, I thought about whether it is better or worse. It’s 29 years tonight. It must be better. But that young woman? It wasn’t better for her. I failed her today, even if I have no idea how I could have succeeded.
I stood in front of the memorial and the memory of 14 dead women, and I thought what I’ve seen in my career, I thought of the young woman in the computer science building, and I thought of my one Brownie, the one that wants to be a fairy astronaut.
We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn.
I think of that quote each year when I think of those women. Each year I try and figure out if things are better and what I can do to make it better. This year – I promised them that there were many of us now, and we would send so many more into the world. There would be so many of us that a monster could not hope to kill us all.
We aren’t there yet.
But the granddaughters of witches are multiplying.
(I realize that some of you may never have heard of the Montreal Massacre. It’s one of only 23 mass murders in our 151 year history. This was one of only 4 murders where more than 10 people were killed. This was a particular tragedy in that the murderer specifically killed women – his suicide note blamed women for ruining his life. December 6th has become the National Day of Morning and Action against violence against women.)