I had only worked with Christina once, for just a few days, on a short film in Vermont. She was a talented young producer: efficient, kind to everyone, cool without trying to be. She spent some of her time minding my 3-year-old son and told me he made her think about having kids. I remember wishing she lived in LA instead of New York, so I could get to know her better after the shoot. Instead, once filming was done, we returned to our respective cities, followed each other on social media, and trusted that we would cross paths again one day, as actors and producers often do.
I would never see Christina again. Last February, I got a text from my husband with a link to a New York Times article about her murder. She had been followed home by a stranger and killed in her apartment. My heart exploded with anguish. Beautiful, talented Christina. How could someone be so cruel? And to someone so creative, so well-intentioned, who had so much left to contribute? At that moment the horrific, misogynistic violence that I had always associated with newspaper headlines became a profound part of my life.
As I sat at the dining room table that morning, angry and devastated, I received a second text from my husband. It took me a moment to process that he had in fact sent me his daily wordle score. I felt like screaming. How could he carry on with his day in the face of such horrible news? (At the time I did not have the perspective to realize he may have just been trying to clear his head before a day of teaching).
In that moment, not knowing my husband’s intentions, his murder-to-wordle texts were a painful added insult to injury, a confirmation to me of the lightning-quick pace at which society moves on from news of femicidal violence.
Granted, women are murdered so often that it’s not surprising that we have become desensitized to the headlines (on average, one woman or girl is killed every 48 hours in Canada, a 24% increase from 2019) and it’s natural for people to feel detachment when they are not personally connected to a tragedy.
However, now that I have known and admired a victim of this kind of crime, I can tell you that detachment isn’t possible. I am still reeling from Christina’s murder more than a year later— a year in which femicide has only continued to rise in Canada.
As a straight, white woman it has taken me longer than many to become personally affected by femicide. This past year I have been thinking a lot about Christina’s family and friends, and about how many, many others have had to endure the loss of a loved one to gendered violence.
Another thing I’ve been pondering, given the vast amounts of people suffering this uniquely awful type of grief (if femicide is endemic, so is the pain it leaves behind), is that our society has no collective, over-arching way to process the emotional wreckage these kinds of crimes create. Instead, we are left with a grab-bag of limited options. Those privileged enough can undergo individual or group counselling or one can observe various, independent annual events about femicide.
There’s the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (December 6), which commemorates the murder of fourteen female students at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, and includes vigils, a moment of silence, and the donning of a white ribbon. On May 5 there is Red Dress Day, also known as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (who in Canada are sixteen times more likely than white women to be murdered or missing). There is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, which encourages participants to partake in two weeks of activism around ending misogyny and femicide. While days like these are important and meaningful, they are puny in the face of such sweeping pain and injustice.
“The following is a work of female imagination.” This sentence opens Sarah Polley’s film about gender-based violence, Women Talking, and can also be used to describe what I have been daydreaming about for the past several months — a society with well-established rituals for collectively grieving murdered girls and women. In other words: a society where there’s a place for my suffering to go.
It looks like this: a large, monthly, public gathering with room for thousands of attendees. Ideally every big North American city hosts one of these, because girls and women are murdered in all jurisdictions, right? I don’t have a title for the event yet, but it would be widely understood that it was a therapeutic festival for those bereaved by femicide. The huge scope of such an event would signal to participants and to the culture at large that femicide is real, widespread, and ongoing. The frequency of the event would keep misogyny on people’s minds. Mourning the victims and talking about gender-based violence would become normalized.
After a welcoming ceremony of some kind (followed by a short set from a chart-topping musical act) it would be time to honour all the wonderful individuals who had been killed. Mourners could break off into smaller groups and share memories and mementos of their dead girlfriends/sisters/mothers/daughters. Perhaps there could even be screenings of films the victims used to love, or a recipe swap, or poetry readings. People could also bring their slain person’s own works of art for exhibition and discussion. The tacit acknowledgment in all of this would be that our loved ones existed, they were real, they were brilliant, they were important.
There would also be an area dedicated to collective action — information on precisely which steps to take to lobby government to fund or further fund causes that elevate women: universal childcare, domestic violence shelters and support, maternal healthcare and abortion access, wage equity.
Christina would have been the perfect candidate to produce such an event.
As I wait for my vision to become reality, I’m reminded of a story I read a long time ago. A man was charged with murdering an adolescent girl. The victim’s family, anticipating painful moments at trial, developed a plan to take off their shoes whenever they felt overwhelmed. The gesture was meant to be a sign of respect for the deceased, and a reminder to themselves and to each other that they were in the presence of a higher power. That odd but comforting action has always stayed with me.
Maybe this is a place for me to start. Whenever I feel despair, I can go to a park, find a beautiful tree to sit under, think about Christina, and take off my shoes.
Donations to a memorial fund in Christina’s name can be made here.