On ‘gendered violence’ and remembering the Montreal Massacre

Today is December 6. Twenty four years ago, 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Today is also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Though some have been commenting on “gendered violence” or “gender-based violence” today, I prefer a more specific description. This is about male violence against women.

Indeed, this violence is gendered, but to talk about “gendered violence” is too vague. What this term signifies is fear — and that fear exists with good reason. Feminists are targeted because they name the problem. We target patriarchy, male dominance, female oppression, and male violence against women. Men are threatened by feminism because we refuse to mask the problem with ambiguous words, tepid critique, and polite requests.

On December 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered because a man was afraid to lose the power and privilege he believed he was entitled to. He was so angered by the notion that women might usurp that power and privilege, that he resorted to violence.

He is no anomaly.

Male violence happens to women on a daily basis, throughout the world. Depending on our various locations, economic status, class, and race, we may be more vulnerable. Our Indigenous sisters, for example, are prostituted, abused, and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. Indigenous women are five times to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. Poor women are trafficked daily to satisfy the desires of Western men. Here in Vancouver, on the Downtown Eastside, women with few to no other options are forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive and are subjected to abuse and inhumane conditions as a daily reality.

To be sure, all women are vulnerable to male violence. We know this, as women. We feel it every day when we walk down the street at night, listening for footsteps behind us, assessing the men walking towards us, planning our defense. We feel it when we take public transit and wonder whether we will be harassed or assaulted, trying to plan our response should the man next to us turn out to be a perpetrator. We guard our drinks at the bar, we avoid eye contact on the street, we wonder whether someone will crawl in our windows at night, we fear the cab drivers who we rely on to get us home safely at night. Many of us fear of the very men we live with — our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, our boyfriends.

The feminist movement is our response. The feminist movement names men as our attackers and our oppressors. Perhaps not all individual men, but many individual men, and certainly men as a class.

“Gendered violence” is polite. It doesn’t offend. It doesn’t point fingers. It isn’t enough. Male violence against women is the truth.


Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Ash

    Amazing piece, Meghan!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Ash!

  • river

    I will not call it ‘gendered’ or replace Sex with gender, or domestic abuse or ‘bullying’ or any other way of erasing misogyny and femicide.

    Nice new site (to me…).

    • Meghan Murphy

      The site did get a little redesign just a couple of days ago! Glad you like it 🙂

    • Wait just a bit and we’ll get some dudebros barreling in here whining “but what about teh menz???” and “women kill men too!!!”

  • marv

    Your stark realism is welcomed relief from these insidious euphemisms. “Domestic violence” and “bullying” also come to mind as evasive terms. The world is a haven for spin doctors. We have to be on guard to not be caught unexpectedly in the trap of deception. Thanks for your dose of reality.

  • TotallyUnsexy

    December the 6th is also my birthday. How unfortunate!

    I understand that the term “gendered violence” hides the fact that the violence is carried out by men, but I think the term “male violence” hides the role of gender socialisation (or, let’s call it what it is, brainwashing) in getting men to behave that way and gives the impression that men are “just like that”, naturally. Maybe “masculine violence against women” would be a better term, since it highlights that role of gender in creating power inequalities.

    Of course it’s not my places to decide which terms feminists should use, just something to consider.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I agree the term gendered violence is useful, as you say, because it alludes to gender socialization. That said, I feel like it tip toes around the male violence factor… I think your point about the fact that it could lead one to believe men are ‘naturally’ violent, rather than socialized to be violent, is a good one too…

  • Hecuba

    Hear hear Meghan – male violence against women and girls is male violence not violence against women and most certainly not gendered violence against women.

    ‘Gendered violence’ can be used by the male deniers and their female allies to claim ‘see this means women commit violence against men and /or women in equal /or higher numbers than males.’

    Women telling men the truth always results in men instigating punishments against women but at the same time being frightened of mens’ reactions does not result in men en masse not committing/condoning/justifying male violence against women. The only result is men continue to enact their right to oppress women and nothing changes.

    Male violence against women and girls is the issue – full stop!

  • liz

    Clear, powerful post, Meghan. Thank you.

  • Did you hear about the subhuman vermin that protested the memorial day in Vancouver?
    (frankly I don’t want to refer to these bits of pond scum in softer words)
    Someone wrote a report about being at the memorial:
    It makes me sick and I have to remind myself that I am against the death penalty, even for subhuman vermin.

  • copleycat

    Thank you for this post Meghan. Remember how Larry Sh%tbag Summers was blathering like an idot on a bar stool at conference were social scientists were presenting their findings about why women and people of color are not proportionately represented in the sciences? It was 2005 and despite alll these findings about things like internalized stigma and stereo-type threat, Summers gets up and basically says, well I don’t believe your research means anything next my opinion that women just can’t do math and science. All the buzz started after that, debates left and right, lots of morons coming out to claim that there are biological reasons why women don’t acheive in the sciences and to my recollection no where did I see mention of what happened in Montreal on Dec 6, 1989. All these jerks claiming women can’t be in the sciences and totally failing to acknowledge that the extent to which some men will go to keep women out of science. They’ll actually kill us and that goes unaddressed in favor of bogus studies with sample sizes so small you could stuff them in a match box.

  • sporenda

    ” All the buzz started after that, debates left and right, lots of morons coming out to claim that there are biological reasons why women don’t acheive in the sciencesé

    Actually, there are countries (like Iceland) where women outperform men in maths and sciences.
    Unsurprisingly, these countries are also places where women’s rights are most advanced.

  • Morgan

    Get outside western+northern Europe (with a few exceptions), and outside the Americas, and girls outperform boys in science.


    In the UAE, girls outperform boys in reading, science, and to a lesser extent math.


    We have stereotype threat, we have gender socialization, we have many things operating in North America that might deter young women from pursuing sciences. One of the harmful things that Cordelia Fine discusses in her book Delusions of Gender is identifying as feminine/identifying with the feminine: if you do that, you tend to perform worse in traditionally ‘male’ pursuits. It’s a great book, every feminist that can should read it.

    • lizor

      I just mentioned that book and Fine’s youtube lectures over on the brain sex post. She is fantastic.

      I found it very interesting that she shows how research using self-reporting via surveys can be swayed simply by having the subject fill in a binaried gender choice box. By checking the “female” box, women’s responses to questions about empathy, nurturing and so on were skewed.

  • Pingback: Massacre de l’Ecole Polytechnique : cessons d’être poli-e-s, c’est de la violence masculine contre les femmes | Remember, resist, do not comply()

  • ptittle

    I remember the Montreal Massacre. And what I remember most is not quite knowing what shocked me more: the massacre itself or the insistence of my colleagues that day, who were high school teachers, that it wasn’t in any way related to sexism.

    (I also remember a movie made about it years later in which the focus was on a man (surprise!) — his guilt about what he did or didn’t do…)