Saturday, December 6, 2008

Women of École Polytechnique we have not forgotten you

For women across Canada, December 6 is a day that we are reminded that despite the gains of feminism and women’s work to end gender based violence; we are still marginalized and vulnerable bodies. It is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. On this day we think of Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

To ensure that there was no confusion as to why he felt the need to enter École Polytechnique and massacre 14 women, Marc Lépine left behind a detailed three page letter in which he blamed feminists for being “so opportunistic they neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men through the ages. They always try to misrepresent them every time they can”. He considered himself to be “rational” and therefore felt his rage against feminists was justified. He went on to state in his suicide note,” why persevere to exist if it is only to please the government. Being rather backward-looking by nature (except for science), the feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women (e.g. cheaper insurance, extended maternity leave preceded by a preventative leave, etc.) while seizing for themselves those of men.” Lépine was so angry at the loss of unearned male privilege due to the advances of feminism; his letter also included a list of nineteen other women that he also wished to see dead.

After such a horrible event there were many that felt that this terrible act of violence should be looked upon as the actions of a sole mad man, who had lost the capacity to reason. While it might be comforting to look at this as a singular incident, to do so would mean ignoring the degree of violence that Canadian women live with on a daily basis.

Lépine was the product of domestic violence, having grown up in a home where he spent his early childhood with an abusive father that routinely told him that women existed to serve men. Is it any surprise that after having been indoctrinated in this way, in his formative years, that he would come to see any woman with agency as a threat to what he considered traditional gender roles?

Even knowing that the end product of such an environment for children is dangerous, in that it produces men like Lépine, socially we still exist with the idea that a clear distinction between genders is necessary to our well being. We use colloquial phrases like boys will be boys to justify violence, or aggressive behaviour in young males, while encouraging docility and submissiveness in young girls. The discord in worth and value between men and women is systemic.

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