Today is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.  On this day in 1989, a vile misogynistic scumbag (who I will not name here.  I don’t want his name immortalized) entered Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique and opened fire, killing 14 women.  During his shooting spree, the murderer ranted about his life was ruined by feminists. Before taking his life, the killer also injured 13 others.  The following plaque was posted on the exterior wall of Ecole Polytechnique to honor those women who had their lives stolen in the massacre.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear much has changed in the intervening years.  If anything, things may have regressed:

Despite the apparent markers of progress (the long-gun registry, the White Ribbon campaign), it is hard to deny the feeling that things have started to go backward in many regards. Not only did the Conservative government cancel the poorly-conceived long-gun registry, it is taking legislative steps to ease restrictions on gun ownership across the board.

Rape culture on campus, sexual harassment in the workplace, and generalized violence against women seem as endemic as ever. Even the nature of manhood is under scrutiny yet again, with men charged as having abandoned their traditional role as problem-solvers, and turning into a problem to be solved.

That sense of here-we-are-again world-weariness permeates the writing of the six columnists we asked to look at the Montreal Massacre a quarter century on.

For example, Janice Kennedy argues that it is clear that all that talking we did after the massacre was just that —  empty words.

Mary-Margaret Jones surveys the culture, sees how little has changed, and despairs for what the future holds for her daughter.

Jennifer Ralston, who first heard about the massacre sitting in a high school class in Kansas, argues that the real surprise is not that the massacre happened, but that it hasn’t happened again.

Angelina Chapin is somewhat optimistic, but she puts the onus on men to help feminism by, quite simply, becoming better men.

I think Angelina Chapin’s advice is incredibly important.  Violence against women cannot end without the help of men.

While passion and anger from feminists has resulted in sweeping political progress, feminism is too easy for college boys hopped up on booze and hormones to ignore or mock. Regardless of the policy gains the movement makes, as long as sex is considered a conquest, liquor the best lubricant, and degrading women worthy of a high-five, campuses, streets and offices will always be hotbeds of gendered violence. And the best people to convince men that chauvinism isn’t cool are other men.

Though the male response in the aftermath of École Polytechnique was not ideal, it did inspire the White Ribbon campaign. In 1991, a group of male activists and politicians from Toronto formed an organization to help men examine the cultural roots of violence (it has since spread to over 60 countries). That approach is extremely important.

In a recent survey, White Ribbon found that less than 50 per cent of men were willing to call out or stop a peer’s “sexist language or behaviour.” The report citesother studies that found “men are more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault” if they think the men around them would as well, and that that “the likelihood of rape is higher when men believe other men are more likely to endorse rape myths.” In other words, misogyny has a domino effect.

Men make a lot of excuses for not getting involved in the fight against violence against women. White Ribbon found that if men aren’t abusive themselves, they often don’t feel part of the wider problem. They don’t act because nobody asked them to participate. Then there’s everybody’s old favourite: feminists are too hostile. But what men don’t realize is that they don’t need to hang out with angry women at protests to participate in feminism. They can simply challenge toxic ideas about masculinity. There’s more pressure and ways than ever to get involved.

This fall, U.S. President Barack Obama released a public service announcementtargeted specifically at men in which celebrities such as Jon Hamm stare into your eyes and say “It’s on us to stop sexual assault.” Former NFLer turned actor Terry Crews wrote a book about letting go of toxic masculinity, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has encouraged men to identify as feminists. Groups like Male Allies Against Sexual Violence, conferences like What Makes a Man, and websites like The Good Men Project all exist to help men develop healthy ideas about manhood.

But there’s another reason men don’t jump to support feminist causes such as ending sexual violence: they feel women have labeled them as part of the problem rather than the solution. Feminists are justified in saying “grow up.” Female anger is a necessary part of earning equal rights. But it doesn’t help the sexes work together toward the common goal of ending violence against women.

Instead of bickering on social media (#NotAllMen vs. #YesAllWomen), we need more programs that put both genders on the same team. The University of Windsor offers a course that dispels myths about sexual violence (“she asked for it by wearing a short skirt”) and teaches bystanders to intervene. Half of the spots in the class are reserved for men and student facilitators must be a male-female pair.

We should also listen to our enemies. One of the bravest ideas to fight violence against women comes via a documentary made by the filmmaker Attiya Khan, who sits down with a man who physically abused her for two years and asks him to explain why he hurt her. “It’s important to me that people don’t view Steve as a monster,” Khan explains in the trailer. “I just don’t think that helps. I wonder how much violence could be prevented or lives saved if we were able to get inside the head of the abuser.”

Twenty-five years after the Montreal Massacre, men need to realize the biggest contribution they can make to feminism is to become better men. And so long as they are not stealing the spotlight at protests, women need to accept them in our movement. As a united front, we have the best chance of rejecting Lépine’s twisted worldview.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre
{advertisement}