The Montreal Massacre reminds us that male entitlement comes in many forms, and is always dangerous

Men invent new ways to hate women all the time. Today’s progressive iteration is no different.

On December 6, 1989, at around 5:00 p.m., a 25 year-old man walked up to the second floor of École Polytechnique in Montreal, entered a classroom, and separated students into two groups: male and female. He directed the men to leave the room. “I hate feminists!” he announced, before firing at the women. The man continued up to the third floor, where he shot more female students before taking his own life. Fourteen women were killed, and 14 more people were wounded.

In his suicide note, the man explained that he killed himself “for political reasons,” and that he had decided “to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to meet their maker.” In the same note, he listed a number of other women he intended to target, including Quebec’s first female firefighter and police officer, as well as well-known feminists.

The killer, Marc Lépine, was angry that women were taking up space in areas traditionally dominated by men, and felt he and other men were being unjustly excluded from positions he believed men were entitled to. Women, in other words, were stepping out of line and out from under the thumb of men. Julie Bindel explains that “the pro-choice movement was galvanizing at the time of the massacre.” She writes:

“Six months earlier, a Quebec woman, Chantale Daigle, had scored an important victory by overturning an injunction, obtained by her violent ex-partner, at the Canadian supreme court, preventing her from ending a pregnancy. More than 10,000 women demonstrated in Montreal streets in support of Daigle.”

Because Daigle was born female, a man had determined she did not have the right to decide what she did with her own body. That man was attempting to control her reproductive capacity —  as men throughout the history of patriarchy have always done.

In 1989, feminist attempts to escape gender roles led to male resentment, and a desire to punish those responsible. Are things so different 28 years later?

Today, those who stand up for women’s sex-based rights are smeared and branded as “TERFs.” Women accused of excluding males from the spaces men believe they are entitled to access are threatened with death. Feminists who wish to speak about sex-based oppression and name the perpetrators of violence as male are no-platformed. Women who try to ask questions, have conversations, or challenge sexist discourse about gender and womanhood are not only silenced, but targeted with violence. The left is, once again, pushing women out of their parties, bullying them, and refusing to listen to or address their concerns.

Today, men have adopted a new tactic to attack feminists, claiming the banner of progressivism and inclusivity. They have disguised their entitlement and fears about women’s liberation and autonomy by claiming to support a newly invented population, supposedly more marginalized than any other group, and whose feelings trump women’s human rights. Rather than turn to one another and demand males stop targeting gender non-conforming men (as well as women) with violence, they have turned against feminists. As always, somehow women are to blame for men’s violence.

The students at École Polytechnique were targeted as females who were not behaving in accordance with the feminine gender role imposed on them. According to “gender,” those women should not have been in that classroom. Those women were not “privileged,” as so many progressives claim today, on account of being “cisgender.” They tried, in many ways, to escape their gendered status under patriarchy, but could not. Their femaleness wouldn’t allow it.

On the eve of December 6, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRR) released statistics compiled from their frontline crisis work in 2017. VRR alone receives 1200-1400 calls per year. This past year, they report having heard from:

  • 582 women who were raped by their husbands, boyfriends, or lovers, and another 86 women who were raped by ex-partners.
  • 60 women who were sexually assaulted (in most cases, raped) by male supervisors or co-workers.
  • 297 women who were sexually assaulted by someone they knew superficially, often through social circumstances like parties, mutual friends, or dates
  • 80 women who were raped by their own fathers when they were children or young adults.
  • 120 women were sexually assaulted or raped by other family members or family friends.
  • 83 women assaulted by men who were strangers to them.

Last year, the BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) supported a policy blacklisting VRR, Canada’s longest running rape crisis centre, because the organization caters explicitly to female victims of male violence. VRR believes that women’s oppression exists as part of “a system in which men and women are born into a social order in which men rule over women” and that the violence men perpetrate against women within that system is sexist violence, “perpetuated and accepted in our society because of that social order.” Because the shelter operates on a peer counseling model, VRR only permits women to become counselors, explaining:

“Our peer counseling is based on our shared life experience of being born female into the oppressed class, women, and subordinated our entire lives from girlhood into womanhood.”

BCFED decided to punish them and defund them because of this feminist analysis of male violence under patriarchy and because of this method of supporting female victims.

Men who are invested in maintaining a system wherein they hold power over women are also invested in invisibilizing that system. They are invested in pretending that male violence against women is not systemic, but random, or somehow the fault of women. Perhaps those women acted out, held wrong politics, or refused to include men in their spaces and organizing. Perhaps those women were mean, or rude, or hurt those men’s feelings, and that’s why they were beaten. Maybe they were raped because they expressed themselves in too “feminine” a way, by wearing a short skirt, or by flirting, or by giving a man the “wrong idea.” Maybe those young female students at École Polytechnique were killed because they took up space without thinking about the men like Marc Lépine that would feel hurt or left out as a result.

Maybe they all deserved it. And maybe we all deserve it now. If only women would stay in their place, men wouldn’t be obligated to silence us, threaten us, rape us, beat us, and kill us. If only we would express ourselves differently, perhaps we could escape our fate.

Of course this isn’t true. And, of course, every day, there are new victims who must prove otherwise, because they had the unfortunate circumstance of being born female.

Men invent new ways to hate women all the time. And they invent new ways to justify their violence. Today’s “progressive” iteration is no different.

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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