Guelph women talk movements
Guelph has a long history with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Linda Reith, a registered psychotherapist, was involved in the early years of the Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis. “It feels like these movements are just happening, but they’re an outgrowth of women changing their willingness to tolerate discrimination and violence,” she said.
In 1977, a group of university women wanted to do something about sexual violence against women. With U of G’s support, they acquired a room and started a crisis line. The calls coming in were more about domestic violence, so volunteers secured a basement apartment to shelter these women.
One early volunteer, Karen Kimpel (née Abrams), a former U of G genetics major who is running for municipal council in rural Ontario this fall, wrote me an email: “The organization was running out of money, could only afford to keep one staff person, and [was] about to close the Transition House. I offered to live there, and if someone was admitted, we could call professionals as needed. I remember a woman named Marianne Goulden. She was admitted with her kids, bruises around her neck, and a broken arm. Marianne went through many successes, left her husband, returned to school, got a degree, worked at Transition House, met a new man, became his partner… until he stabbed her to death. I’ll never forget her, and now we have Marianne’s Park, so nobody else has to forget her.”
Reith told me: “Marianne was big-hearted and courageous. She ended up with an unstable man who killed her. That was heartbreaking, but doesn’t undo everything she stood for and what she did. It just says this is how complicated it is.”
Sly Castaldi, executive director of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, and co-author of Remembering Women Murdered by Men, says: “Today, we offer a huge range of services for women who’ve experienced sexual violence, but it’s still not enough.”
The #MeToo movement focuses on one’s personal experiences with sexual harassment. The #TimesUp movement concentrates on solving the greater issue. I asked some people about the importance of these movements.
In an email, Brenda Whiteside, U of G’s associate vice-president (student affairs) wrote: “It’s important for women and men to tell someone if they have been treated inappropriately. This movement empowers individuals to raise their concerns.”
Jessica Westlake, case manager at U of G student affairs told me: “With one out of three, or one out of five (depending on what source you reference) women experiencing sexual violence between the ages of 18 and 24, and approximately one out of six males experiencing sexual violence throughout their lifetime, sexual violence is one of the largest global public health issues. These movements bring this issue to the forefront of conversations and political agendas.”
Christine Bold, professor of English at U of G and co-author of Remembering Women Murdered by Men, links the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements with the work that U of G’s Cultural Memory Group did back in the ’90s.
“Our focus began with Marianne’s Park. Out of this grew our book, which highlights memorials remembering murdered women across the country. I see a parallel between these memorials and what’s happening with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. This can be framed through three pillars:
- Honouring the individual — #MeToo — This woman is not just a statistic, she is a real person.
- Naming systemic violence — Recognizing that the woman’s murder or the sexual violence she experiences is part of a statistic. The individual stories together paint a picture of system-wide violence. It can be seen by the accumulative individual stories.
- Promoting collective action — #TimesUp — Making change by working together.”
Student affairs believes survivors deserve to be supported and empowered to make informed choices. Westlake reported: “The first meeting is typically about the victim and their care. Our services are flexible and student-driven. We act as a connector providing coordinated care and leveraging all expertise and services on and off campus.”
Whiteside writes: “We have a strong peer-to-peer support program. There are also student organizations that support individuals, such as the Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity (GRCGED). Guelph Queer Equality (GQE) is available for individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. The Office of Diversity and Human Rights also helps individuals bring forward concerns, and the student affairs case director supports those who’ve experienced sexual violence.”
As powerful as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are, there’s always room for improvement.
Physical violence is not always the safest response. We require these movements to turn into something so we have better ways to protect ourselves. The onus is on us all to unlearn the crap we’ve been taught and realize everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, please contact Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis at:
519-836-5710 or 1-800-265-SAFE (7233) or www.gwwomenincrisis.org.
To learn more about how to believe and listen please visit:
To view the University of Guelph sexual violence policy:
Guelph Queer Equality:
To view the University of Guelph sexual violence and support website:
Image by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion