by Fern Martin
A man and his bride are in a buggy, pulled by a donkey. The donkey stops, the man says, “That’s one”, whips the donkey, and the donkey walks on. The donkey stops again, the man says, “That’s two”, and whips the donkey again. The donkey walks on but when it stops a third time, the man says, “That’s three”, and shoots the donkey. The bride is shocked and gasps,”What did you do that for?” The man looks at his new wife and says, “That’s one.”
It’s hard to believe that old joke was ever considered funny, but it was a reflection of its time, when accepted traditions were much different. In 1965, when I married my high school sweetheart at the Almonte United Church, the standard vows for women included “To love, honour and obey”. (Even Princess Elizabeth had vowed to obey her husband!) I chose to leave off the obey part but I was very happy to be formally referred to as Mrs. Peter Martin. Not only did we brides give up our maiden names, but also our first names. Little wonder a joke we now recognize as outrageously misogynistic was unthinkingly repeated in that era.
In the past, women were generally expected to be subservient to their husbands and to care for them and their children without complaint. It was the woman’s job to keep everyone in the family happy. At the same time, men were also influenced by the cultural norms that expected them to be dominant: to be smarter, stronger and always in control of their lives. If a husband happened to find fault with how his wife accomplished her job and beat her or even murdered her, common thought was that she probably “drove him to it”, that she was to blame for her death. Sometimes even the justice system concurred.
Over time, women began challenging those norms, demanding equality of rights and responsibilities inside their marriages and throughout society. Much progress has been made, but frustratingly, some aspects of the culture have been slower to change. The most disturbing issue continues to be violence against women by their husbands or partners.
In 1979, when I started working at Lanark County Interval House, I was shocked to learn the horrific details of the extreme physical and sexual violence that women there endured at the hands of their male partners. The accompanying emotional abuse was often just as cruel. It was heartbreaking and mystifying. What made these men so violent? Testosterone? Ego? Or a culture that expected men to be in charge in all aspects of their lives?
Sadly, even though some of the root causes of domestic violence have been uncovered, it remains a terrifying reality for far too many. As a graphic reminder of its persistence in our region, on September 22, 2015, a Renfrew County man murdered three women with whom he had had a relationship. The recent Coroner’s Inquest into that case has made 86 recommendations in an effort to bring about substantial change to our society to reduce and stop male violence (see the recommendations at https://lukesplace.ca/86-recommendations-for-change-from-the-Renfrew-county-inquest). The role a community can play in achieving that change has been highlighted in some of the recommendations and “What Now, Lanark County?” is a local committee formed in response to the challenge.
If you are interested in hearing more about the Renfrew County Coroner’s Inquest or in hearing how to become part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence in our community and beyond, you are invited to a “What Now, Lanark County?” event being held on Friday, December 9 at 6:30 pm at Almonte Old Town Hall. It will provide a unique opportunity to learn directly from the members of the committee who participated in the inquest and to see what might be done in Lanark County to increase the safety of our women and children.
Tickets are $10 or by donation. All proceeds will go towards future “What Now, Lanark County?” events including a Women’s Conference in the spring of 2023. Please visit www.ticketsplease.ca or call 613-485-6434. Free tickets are available by request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.