The White Ribbon Campaign: changing young men's attitudes about violence?

By Lori O'Keefe
Roncalli Central High School
Port Saunders, Newfoundland

It's frightening for a woman to think that her boyfriend, father, brother, or the guy who lives next door could ever hurt her or any other woman. However, it happens everyday.

On December 6, 1989, a man walked into a classroom at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, ordered the men to leave, and proceeded to shoot and kill 14 women, in what is now referred to as the Montreal Massacre.


In 1991, sparked by this horrifying event, a handful of men in Canada decided they had a responsibility to urge men to speak out against violence against women. They decided that wearing a white ribbon would symbolize this opposition. It is a personal pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent against women.

This idea caught on quickly, and today males across the world, including male students at Roncalli High in Port Saunders, support the White Ribbon Campaign. But some of their female peers don't feel they are sincere in this pledge of violence against women.

Through posters and information provided by the staff, many students have gotten the gist of what the White Ribbon Campaign is about. According to male students at Roncalli, they understand and respect the pledge they are making when they choose to wear these ribbons.

"Wearing a white ribbon shows that violence against women is wrong. No one has the right to violate a female under any circumstance," says Blaine Scanlon, a student at Roncalli.

A grade 12 student at the school, Bryant Mahar added, "The white ribbon is worn to remember the 14 women killed in the massacre of ‘89. It shows that I'm against violence against women. It shows that I would never hurt a woman or keep quiet about a person who does."

These male students may know what they are wearing the ribbons for but female students at Roncalli don't feel that this is evident through their words and actions.

"If male students weren't informed by staff what the White Ribbon Campaign was, I don't think they would care enough about it to learn the meaning behind it," says Heather Lavers, a student at Roncalli. "In everyday life, they don't seem to get involved or really care if someone acts violently toward a woman. They think it's somebody else's problem."

Actions may speak louder than words but these female students feel that neither is present when it comes to violence against women.

Chantal Gaslard, another Roncalli student, agreed with Lavers.

"I believe that the males in our school are only wearing the white ribbon because one was given to them," says Gaslard. "They don't really believe in what they are pledging by wearing the ribbons, half of them don't even know what it means to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women."

Both Lavers and Gaslard agreed that the actions of their male friends and other male students at the school don't reflect the White Ribbon pledge.

Months at a time are set aside for Breast Cancer Awareness and Lupus Awareness. However at many high schools, it seems that a week, and in some cases only a day, are set aside for the White Ribbon Campaign. Isn't violence against women important enough to have a month set aside throughout these schools?

One week is not sufficient if the White Ribbon Campaign is to drive its point home with male students. A month's activities would help to ensure that students understand what they're pledging by wearing a white ribbon, according to high school student Victoria Plowman.

"This amount of time would allow schools to better prepare and offer activities which could help male students appreciate the meaning behind the ribbons they wear. We can't really expect them to know what the campaign is all about if we only talk about it for one day," says Plowman.

The White Ribbon campaign has many goals it wishes to achieve each year. One of them involves ensuring that women feel that they are supported by men in some way in their fight to be protected against violence. It appears that this goal has not, so far, been reached throughout high schools.

But it is possible that if a month is set aside throughout high schools for the White Ribbon Campaign, female students can begin to look forward to the day when the whole concept and goal of the White Ribbon Campaign is being carried over into the everyday life of all males everywhere.