National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Listen up, men: Thirty years after the Montréal Massacre we’re still avoiding the truth about misogyny.

ON DECEMBER 6TH, 1989, At about 5 PM, Marc Lépine walked into the École polytechnique in Montréal armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife.

Twenty minutes later, fourteen women, most of them engineering students, were dead. Lépine finished his massacre by turning the gun on himself.

In the intervening years, some of the survivors committed suicide, stating in their final notes that they could no longer live with the traumatic memories. Their lives were destroyed as well, just more slowly.

Lépine was clear: He called the women he’d lined up in their classroom “feminists.” He hated feminists, he shouted at his victims.

Newspapers and TV of the day didn’t take the view that this was an act of violence against women, nor did the City of Montréal or the University, with which the school is associated.

Only this year has the memorial in Montréal been updated to reflect our understanding that there is something particularly vicious about an attack singling out one class of persons and to officially acknowledge that this was an act of misogynist violence.

Now, thirty years later, we have barely progressed in our attitudes.

I’ve spoken many times of the meme of Hillary Clinton talking on a cell phone, which had been captioned, “Shut the bitch up,” a disturbing and overtly violent call to action.

Catherine McKenna, Canada’s former Minister of Environment and Climate Change from 2015, endured verbal abuse and ridicule which culminated with the defacing of her constituency office with the word “CUNT” in foot-tall letters.

Here’s some of the hatred she’s endured on Twitter:

@LiberalsSuck321 wrote, “I’m a female and I can’t stand her. My 5yo granddaughter is smarter than her.”

In direct response to the graffiti, @CJSparks9 wrote, “Shoe fits….”

@DavidQuint35 replied, “awww climate Barbie is sad because most of Canada can’t stand her. Get over it lady and go pound rocks.”

And @Ryan61665295 wrote, “F–king c–t   Prob put there by sombody who list there house and everything they own and can’t feed there kids because of the changes you’ve made so abruptly to the way people make a living in this country.  So ya f–k you you f–king joke of a human.   Lie some more.”

Notice something interesting here: The first post (assuming it’s not just a troll or a bot) is by a woman. Compare it to the other posts, by men: They are exponentially more aggressive and “personal” compare to the woman’s “can’t stand her.” They display a level of grievance that is excessive, far too nasty or bitter to be explained by anything McKenna had done or said.

Now recall the vilifying of sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, admirably speaking out globally against climate change. She was vilified and mocked by angry white men who even used her autism as a way of saying that she was “crazy” and with an edge of hysteria that she could not be controlled.

This is the fresh red meat at the centre of the maze. Lépine—and the driver of the van who killed women in North York— didn’t kill women because they were making more money or voting or getting promotions or winning elections. He killed because women’s autonomy meant they were not sexually available to him. He could not control their bodies; therefore he took revenge on their bodies.

Women still pay the price for public visibility and, frankly, for the immaturity, anxieties and sexual frustrations of heterosexual men. Men have to grow up, learn that self-control is the marker of mature manhood, and admit that women are not and never have been the cause of men’s problems and failures.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women doesn’t just commemorate one tragic event. It is a call to reflect on the violence perpetrated on the world’s women on a daily basis. It is a call to take violence against women seriously, and for men to question our assumptions, beliefs and actions. It is a call for men to find out how to be “real men” in a way that does not require the subjugation of women.

It is a call for heterosexual men to examine how women’s power is inherently greater than men’s in the emotional and sexual realms. It is a call for heterosexual men to learn how to support each other and how to redefine manhood so that it doesn’t require exerting power over women.

Men have failed women every time we are entitled, angry, disrespectful or abusive.

We have failed every time we fail to treat women as equals in the workplace and political sphere.

We have failed women by pontificating about birth control and reproductive rights and having the poor judgment to unilaterally impose limitations on women’s physical autonomy and self-realization.

We have failed women by violating them physically and emotionally, by treating them as less than men, by discounting them, by refusing equal pay and equal opportunity, by considering them less capable and less intelligent.

We have failed women in every way. To admit this isn’t “unmanly.” Real men admit their mistakes and make amends. To make amends will mean men coming to terms with giving up power.

At 5:10 PM, on December 6th, it’s good to observe a minute of silence for the women murdered by Mark Lépine. Then go out in the world and do three things:

Listen to women. Listen to what they say about their experiences. Believe them especially when they say they have experienced abuse or sexual assault.

Notice how women are treated. Read about the initiatives by women worldwide to ensure girls and young women have access to education and protection.

Speak out against misogyny wherever and whenever you encounter it. Don’t let a single incident pass.

Honor women and they will save the world.