On Dec. 6, 1989, Mark Lépine walked into a classroom at Montreal’s École Polytechnique armed with a legally obtained rifle and a hunting knife, separated the male and female students, and, after declaring that he “hated feminism,” opened fire on the latter.
By the time he was finished with his murderous rampage and turned the gun on himself, a total of 14 women had died and another ten women and four men had been injured.
Twenty-five years later, there has been no shortage of explanations and analyses of the tragic event now commonly referred to as the Montreal Massacre. Opinions seem to be divided into two distinct camps: those who see it as the ultimate manifestation and tragic consequence of a highly misogynistic and sexist society that resents any advances women have made, and those who see it as nothing more than the confused “blaze of glory” death of a mentally ill man who simply needed someone or something to blame for a life that didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.
Twenty-five years later, I continue to find it odd that people seem unable to understand that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, and that to acknowledge that Lépine’s actions may have stemmed from a terrible childhood, an emotionally disturbed psyche, or both does not in any way negate the fact that they also constituted a hate crime.
In his suicide note, Lépine clearly specified that his actions were politically motivated and compiled a list of prominent women whom he planned to kill because they represented a threat to his position as a man. In the note, he claimed feminism had ruined his life, because feminists (he believed) were trying to unfairly claim the rights and privileges of men while retaining those of women. I hear complaints like this, by the way, on a weekly basis (minus the death threats) by men calling in to the radio or commenting on articles I have written.
Despite his explicit verbalization of his motives, many continue to accuse women’s and feminists’ groups of “hijacking” the tragedy and using it to shamelessly promote their own self-serving political agenda and discuss institutionalized sexism and misogyny in our society.
Forgive me for not understanding, but when someone mows down 14 women in cold blood and then specifically blames women and feminism in his suicide letter, should we ignore this damning declaration because to focus on it would mean placing undue emphasis on sexism and misogyny? Are we supposed to gloss over and brush aside this important detail for fear of offending the good men of this world who wouldn’t, for a moment, think of resorting to violence against us? Is that what we’re saying?
Is the implication that some women were just waiting for a tragedy like this to happen so they could instrumentalize and appropriate it for their own causes and political agendas? “Aha! Finally we have the proof that men hate us!” radical feminists gleefully squeal, as they gather to commemorate and politicize an event that has nothing to do with them.
Only it does.
If Lépine had walked into that school and separated the Jewish students from the Catholics and killed the former, would we be talking about an anti-Semitic act today? I think so.
If he had rounded up all the students who were black or gay and killed them, would we be respectively talking about racism and homophobia, or would we be accusing people of colour and homosexuals of trying to “hijack” the tragedy to further their own agendas?
What makes it so different when sexism and misogyny are involved? Is it because too many people continue to believe sexism and misogyny don’t exist or have been exaggerated to the point of being meaningless?
Even if these were the actions of a solitary madman, Lépine is still a product of a world that often feels justified in its hatred of women. Those who deny the obvious misogyny of the Montreal Massacre are accusing feminists of doing exactly what Lépine accused them of doing: taking up too much space. Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees the irony here.
The magnitude of this man’s rage-fueled violence may indeed have been an isolated incident, but why are we pretending that gender-based violence is something new in this country? After all, every six days a Canadian woman still dies at the hands of her partner.
How can we deny that this was a hate crime and that his hatred wasn’t part of a larger climate of normalized violence against women, when, as feminism and women’s rights have gained ground, we’ve witnessed the inevitable backlash? For political, legal, and social rights to be gained, they have to be relinquished elsewhere, and that makes some men none too pleased. It’s human nature to want to hold on to privilege, and no one would resent giving it up the most then someone like Lépine who felt he had none to begin with.
Lépine was incredibly troubled and needed to find a convenient outlet for his anger, frustration and desperate unhappiness. For all intents and purposes, his rage could have been directed against people with blue eyes or those under 5’2’’.
But it wasn’t.
It was directed against women.
He walked into a room one cold December day 25 years ago, methodically and coldly separated the men from the women, instructed the men to leave, consciously sparing them from death, and opened fire on the women. The male engineers were in their rightful place, according to his rationalization, and hadn’t taken anything away from his birthright. But women, he thought, had taken what should have been his.
You can argue what you want about Mark Lépine’s motivations. You can flippantly dismiss his actions as the crazy, isolated choices of a troubled man (even though any outspoken feminist knows that his angry tirade — minus the violence — was no different than that of many men’s rights activists who clog social media and Twitter accounts up with daily hate and vitriol), you can question and analyze the mitigating factors that created a deranged killer out of a troubled and abused boy (and an increased focus on mental health and gun control in this country is desperately needed), but you can’t dispute the chilling facts.
Fourteen women died because they were women. Their gender (present in what the killer considered a traditionally male environment) was the single common denominator, the only point of convergence, when they were chosen to die.
Now go ahead and tell me I shouldn’t focus on that.