Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Memory

Memorial to the Montreal Massacre, from http://media.mmgdailies.topscms.com
 On this day in 1989, a 25-year-old man named Marc Lépine was angry. He had been rejected yet again from the École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montreal, and blamed feminist affirmative action for filling "his" slot with less-qualified female students. In the space of about twenty minutes, he went through the school with a semi-automatic rifle and a knife, systematically separating students by sex and shooting or stabbing them. At the end of his rampage, when he turned the gun on himself, Lépine had killed fourteen women. During the shooting, when asked why he was doing this, he answered in French "I am fighting feminists...You're all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists."

Canada's response to the Montreal Massacre, as it is now known, has been varied. Reluctant to admit that Lépine was specifically targeting women, the Montreal police only acknowledged the sex-based nature of his crimes when his suicide note was released a year later. The federal government designated December 6th as the "National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women" in 1991, and the same year a group of men in Ontario started the White Ribbon Campaign. However, some groups have accused feminists in Canada of using the Montreal Massacre as an excuse to promote anti-male agendas, and some radical men's rights groups have glorified the Massacre as "heroic." Sick.
What matters, however, and the reason I'm hijacking our usual posting schedule to spotlight this tragedy, is that the Montreal Massacre highlights the ways in which feminism is still necessary. Nathalie Provost, one of the survivors of the shootings, told Lépine that she and her fellow female classmates weren't necessarily feminists, "just students intent on leading a normal life." Lépine's retort was that women intending to be engineers were feminists. As sick as this will sound, I have to agree with him. Provost and her classmates may not have wanted to march in the streets or agreed with pro-feminist legislation, but sometimes feminism- or any fight for equality- doesn't happen in the realm of public policy. Sometimes the most political of acts is simply asserting your right to attend the program of your choice. Time and time again, we have seen in North American political history how access to education sparks some of the most violent and vile responses from privileged opponents; when a person's right to that education is in question, their decision to attend becomes a form of protest against the hatred that would keep them from it. It doesn't have to come from an intention to change the world, but sometimes it does. Lépine's massacre of fourteen students highlights that in an incredibly grotesque and sad way.
This post is written to recognize the tragedy of December 6, 1989, and to ask that all Go Girls everywhere remember that feminism can be small things like going to school or big things like amending the Constitution. Anti-feminism can be equally small, such as a sexist slur on a street corner, or large, such as denying women the right to vote. You can choose to see Lépine's behaviour as that of a crazy person or that of a person hell-bent on sending women back to the Stone Age; it's really up to you. But until people stop targeting each other for belonging to one social category or another, the things we do- small and large- to advance human rights will continue to matter.

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