Disasters, Gender

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

Wednesday, 6th December 2017

from Dec. 6, 2017


28 years ago, I was teaching at Trent University and finishing my Ph.D. In the years before the internet, when you couldn’t just turn on your iPad and get news pushed to you at any time, I had to find out what happened by going in to campus. Just down the road, in Montreal, a man (whose name I will not speak, even though I remember it and can’t forget it) separated out women who were studying engineering, and killed them just because they were women studying engineering. The link between misogyny and murder was made explicit. Feminism, he said in a tortured bit of logic, had ruined his life.

I’ve said this before on FB, but I remember going in to my philosophy of religion class the next morning. I hardly said a word, and half the women in the class burst into tears. Now, in the US, a killing like this just means that it’s Wednesday. Now the NRA has media strategies and talking points in advance for dealing with the inevitability of mass murders. And they’re the relatively reasonable ones, believe it or not, compared to the ones like Alex Jones who claim that mass murders were just actors hired to create a media scene, and no one was actually killed at all.

It remains the case in the US that the vast majority of mass killings are done by white men. And it also remains the case that some of the strongest correlations with this sort of thing, are violence against women and violence against animals. Correlation is not causation, but it is also not nothing. It should be an invitation, or rather a demand, to investigate further. But that investigation would run directly into the cherished beliefs of a society that wants to hold on to the idea that white men really are properly the actors and the deciders and the initiators of everything.

Time’s Person of the Year this year is “The Silence Breakers”. Trump turned down the honor in advance, but in fact, he hovers over it anyway. Like the Montreal killer in 1989, he’s the mediocre white male who is threatened by demands for respect. Let’s not even say equality – he was far from that discussion – let’s just say respect. Even that is too much for him and those like him who torture logic to justify themselves. There is a tidal wave of me-too statements that tell us that this happens to the majority of women. It keeps women in their place, just as the rhetoric of slave owners and Jim Crow enforcers kept blacks in their place in the US. And when words fail, when people start saying me-too, when demands for basic respect are labelled as “political correctness”, which is then seen as equivalent to rugged individualism and thinking for yourself rather than the superficial me-tooism of the mediocre white male, marches happen, women are run over, lined up against walls. Or just shot while shopping, or going to a concert, or living life.

That guy in Montreal in 1989 was a shock to the system at the time. It changed a lot in Canada. In countries other than the US, horrific events like this had an effect on public policy. There was a line that had been crossed, and people rose up and said, never again do we want this to happen. Canada passed gun laws. Australia did the same after a massacre there. In the US, it is clear that there is no line that is a line too far.

I guess today all I can do is to think back to that day in 1989 that I walked into class, and people felt something, not because they were directly involved but because this happened in their country, not far down the road, and it was an attack on all of us because it was an attack on those 14 women. We felt something. Today, in the US, we feel nothing, and so, we do nothing.

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