Victoria poet raises his voice on gender violence

Sarah Petrescu, Times Colonist             

A Victoria poet’s blunt video challenge to men to speak up about gender violence has galvanized support online and from local politicians.

In Masks Off: A Challenge to Men, posted on YouTube last week, Jeremy Loveday describes being shocked to hear that one out of three women in the world experience sexual or physical violence, a statistic confirmed this year in a World Health Organization study.

“They must be monsters in the masks of men,” he says in the video, which has more than 6,000 hits, dozens of social media shares and has been reposted by Island MLAs Carole James and Lana Popham, and Victoria MP Murray Rankin.

Loveday describes his own discomfort in taking responsibility for gender violence in our culture. He uses his own experiences as example: The way he felt seeing a friend’s “Stop Rape” patch at a party, a locker room comment describing a victory as “raping the other team,” tolerating sexist jokes and even wearing a shirt casually referred to as a “wife-beater.”

“We’ve all had times when we wanted to speak up but didn’t,” said Loveday, a two-time Victoria Poetry Slam Champion. “The question I’ve heard is: ‘How do you speak up so people will listen without being on the defensive?’ ”

The video’s appearance online is timely given recent reports about the use of chants advocating rape at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and the University of B.C. during frosh events, but Loveday penned the poem months ago.

A friend who works for the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre asked Loveday to write and perform the poem for the organization’s annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in May.

“I thought it was important to ask men to speak up, but I wanted to see if there was a different way to get across the message,” said Billy Yu, who also works for the Anti-Violence Project at the University of Victoria.

Rankin was so taken by Loveday’s message, he posted it on his website and contacted White Ribbon, a non-profit group that runs education programs on manhood and gender violence, to partner on a Victoria event.

“This issue means a lot to me,” said Rankin, who has four sisters, and two sons, both in their early 20s. “I was very disturbed by these chants [at Saint Mary’s and UBC]. Now’s the time to stand together and talk about it.”

As for Loveday, he said he’s keen to be part of any discussion his poem generates — which is why he promoted the #menletstalk hashtag on social media.

“I don’t want to take any credit for the great work people do on the front lines, especially women,” he said. “I just lent my voice to the conversation.”

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