Men standing up for women

At 82, Tommy Clare has become a poster boy. Sitting at his dining table, the walls around him look like a Pollock painting - where the paint is made up of photos of his family.

At 82, Tommy Clare has become a poster boy.

Sitting at his dining table, the walls around him look like a Pollock painting – where the paint is made up of photos of his family.

He sits back, rests his chin on his fist and looks across the table to his youngest granddaughter, Brianne Meister – his angel.

Meister is the photographer for Honouring Women, Challenging Men: Ending Violence Against Women.

It is the focal point of Whitehorse’s campaign to stop violence against women. It will continue for 12 days, extending between November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

It strives to draw attention to the age-old problem, how do you stop violence against women?

Clare shakes his head slightly and exhales. “I don’t know,” he says.

“Nowadays I know they know they’re doing wrong, and they’d like to keep it quiet. I am sure nowadays they gotta know they’re doing wrong. And unless it’s so ingrained that they will just fight it, it’s not an easy thing to change, because it’s been going on too long.”

We have to talk about it more, says Meister.

“I just hope campaigns like this start conversation. Because that’s the first step. The more it’s talked about, the more it’s on people’s minds and the more likely we are to speak up against it.”

Clare is one subject in a series of posters that challenges men to take up the cause.

He laughs about what the “old guys at hockey will have to say” when they see his poster.

Clare is photographed with the pledge, “I taught my granddaughters that men can be strong and loving, so they know they can have a life without violence,” written across his chest. Such photos will be posted around town and published in newspaper ads.

It means a lot more coming from a man, says Julianna Scramstad, program co-ordinator for the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, which is organizing the campaign along with their francophone partner Les EssentiElles.

“We can make women take self-defence classes until the end of time,” she says. “But it’s not going to end violence. There’s a culture that exists and we’re trying to delve into that culture and interrupt it … and build a positive culture where men are holding men to a certain standard and where we’re all holding each other to a certain standard. When men say that, it’s a whole other level of power.”

It’s awkward to work in a women’s organization and try to organize men, she says.

“But there’s an absence of men’s organizations working on violence because it is seen as a women’s issue.”

However, men advocating for the elimination of violence against women is not unheard of.

There is an entire network of small local groups that have formed for men on this issue.

Men Can Stop Rape is an international organization that began in 1997. They work with youth in agencies, schools and organizations to redefine masculinity and male strength as part of preventing men’s violence against women, according to its website.

Even in Yukon – in the past – organizations that are not necessarily recognized as advocates for women’s rights, like the Yukon Employees’ Union and the Yukon Teachers’ Association, celebrated a white ribbon campaign in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

“I’d like to know about that,” Clare says about men’s organizations working to end violence against women. “It wouldn’t be impossible.”

Clare, who has lived in Yukon for over 50 years, would be recognized as an elder if he were back in his Cree community in Saskatchewan.

His father, who was half-Cree, half-English, worked for Grey Owl.

And while “he was the chief of the household,” his Cree mother definitely held her own at home, he says, laughing.

But he remembers that wasn’t the case for most First Nation women.

“They treat their women badly, they (the women) don’t have much say,” he says. “But it is changing. There’s always been women in there who were strong, but too few would stand up.”

When talk turns to Chief Eddie Skookum of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, who was recently involved in a violent incident involving his 21-year-old partner, Clare’s words drift into gruff groans and he shakes his head.

“I really hate it,” he says about any violence towards women. “Guys that are like that, they don’t want to give in. In court, even, they show no remorse about something like that. But I can’t imagine not feeling a little ashamed about it because, you know, what did you prove in the end?”

Clare’s values came from his own father, he says.

Meister’s come from Clare, she says.

“He’s a role model for me and always has been,” she says. “When I look at my partner now, they have some of the same qualities. They respect women, they believe that we can be strong and that we deserve respect. So I think I learned those values from my family and then went out into the world and looked for that.”

With this poster campaign, maybe Clare can become a role model for many other people as well, says Meister.

The campaign will be holding a variety show of all women performers at the Old Fire Hall on November 30 and the final event, on December 6, will be held at the Elijah Smith Building from noon to 1 p.m. This year, the traditional ceremony will have 29 women holding red roses to commemorate the 29 missing and murdered aboriginal women from Yukon, Scramstad says.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at