Twenty-five years ago. It was twenty-five years.
I was a young woman then too: I was twenty-four. Unlike the victims of the Montreal massacre, I was not studying to break into a male-dominated field; I was already working in a traditionally feminine career. The day after the horrible news of the murders broke, I sat at the cafeteria table at lunch as we shook our heads over the thought of something like this happening in Canada. My male co-workers expressed amazement and disgust, not at the shooter — that went without saying — but at the male students who left the room on the shooter’s orders, rather than trying to “take down” the man with the gun. To them, this was a problem to be solved by male heroism, rather than prevented by men recognizing women as equals.
And of course, OF COURSE, it’s #notallmen, it was #neverallmen. But men like my co-workers, who would never have dreamed of committing acts of violence against women, didn’t talk about the fact that this was about one man’s twisted resentment of feminism, of women in traditionally male space. And part of the reason they didn’t talk about it was that they didn’t really get it themselves, and they weren’t entirely comfortable saying the word “feminist” out loud.
Already in 1989 when the Montreal massacre happened, women’s place in the world had changed so much from our mothers’ time. Brave feminists in previous generations had won us the right to vote, the right to get an education everywhere and the right to work for equal pay in every profession. From there on in, young women like me thought, it would be smooth sailing to full equality.
The horror of December 6, 1989 shocked me, shocked a lot of young women like me, but I think we thought of it as an anomaly. I did, anyway. The disturbed, violent man who killed those 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique projected his own inner demons onto women he identified as “feminists,” with tragic results, but one violent psychopath didn’t threaten the inevitable forward motion of feminism.
Flash-forward twenty-five years. I’ve spent the last two decades in my traditionally-female career. I’ve seen more women, including my husband’s engineering colleagues, entering traditionally male-dominated fields. I’m raising two smart young feminists — my strong-willed, independent daughter, and my son who has no problem identifying himself as a feminist, which was not usual for sixteen-year-old boys when I was growing up. We’ve come a long way, baby … and we’re still going.
2014 wasn’t a good year for women, in some ways. It wasn’t a great year for women online, for sure. And in the middle of the #Gamergate controversy circling around women like Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian and others who have been brave enough to take up space in male-dominated areas of entertainment, amid the horrors of men “doxxing” women who dared step out of line, the most chilling thing I saw all year related to the letter I pasted above — the letter from the unknown man who threatened a campus shooting at Utah State University if Anita Sarkeesian’s scheduled talk there was allowed to go ahead.
In case you don’t want to read his whole screed (and I don’t blame you), let me quote: “You’ve probably heard of a man named Marc Lepine. He was a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism on Western masculinity.” For this writer, Sarkeesian represents “everything wrong with the feminist woman” (for her unspeakable crime of critiquing the way women are portrayed in video games), and he promises that if her talk is allowed to go ahead, “a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees.”
Twenty-five years after the Ecole Polytechnique shootings, a young man who most likely was not born at the time believes that Marc Lepine is not just his hero, but “a hero to men everywhere,” and that a “Montreal Massacre style attack” is a threat you can hold over women to stop them from speaking.
Is that writer typical of young men in the twenty-first century? Of course not. There is a small but vocal group of men who are unhappy about women stepping out of traditional roles — there always has been — and the internet has given them voice and an ability to connect with each other in a way that wasn’t available to Marc Lepine twenty-five years ago. It doesn’t mean feminism has failed; it doesn’t mean we haven’t made progress. But it does mean there’s still a lot of work to do, and we’re still a very long way from a world in which we can take it for granted that the battle is won and everyone accepts women and men as equals.
As I reflect on this today, twenty-five years after that horrific day in Montreal, the most chilling thing I’ve read all year is not the letter I posted above. It’s not that one man thought that way. It’s not that a man exists who sees Marc Lepine as a hero and his actions as something to aspire to. You know what it is the thing that makes me so discouraged, so sad, so unsure if we’ve really made much progress in a quarter-century?
It was when I read that Anita Sarkeesian’s talk at Utah State University was cancelled. The guy who thinks Mark Lepine is a hero? He won that round.