Years and years ago, the world of information was very different than it is today. Today, with the internet, we hear every single detail of a news story to the point of boredom; news reporters are forced to hunt down the smallest minutiae to keep the audience tuned in and listening and watching. But twenty-five years ago, we got our news from television and radio and newspapers… When a major story broke, we had to wait for updates, we had to wait for the next day’s paper (or the afternoon edition) to read the ‘whole’ story.
Twenty five years on, we still don’t have the whole story of the Montreal Massacre. Although we have the facts, we don’t have the acknowledgement of what those facts mean. From the beginning, the argument has always been in place that feminists were trying to “use” the Montreal Massacre for their own agenda, that they were politicising it. And that in so doing, they were doing a disservice to the women themselves, not honouring them as victims, because they might not have been feminists. That the killer didn’t care to make that distinction is somehow not considered. That he stormed through the school, into a classroom of engineering students, and demanded that the male students leave announcing that he was going to kill all the feminists—which to him, meant only the women students, women who dared to stand out by taking classes previously considered only the purview of men.
He left behind a letter in which he was completely clear as to his intent. The letter listed nineteen prominent feminists he had wished to kill and he specified that only time had saved them from an attempt—that he had to content himself with the feminists he would kill at L’Ecole Polytechnique. He himself regarded it as a political action and said as much in his letter. He killed fourteen women, wounded ten others and wounded four men.
Earlier this year, a teenaged boy made a video and an emailed letter before he carried out his announced shooting spree, with his intention to choose women and girls as his victims. As people found out about the video, his time spent on Men’s Rights Activists forums, about his letter, women began discussing this as a feminist issue, as a women’s issue: a male who felt he had a right to female companionship and affection, who felt he had been deprived of it by women, who decided to kill women in retaliation. As with the Montreal killings, the media and others used the fact that there had been male victims to negate his own stated intention, to “prove” that this could not have been a crime motivated by hatred of women. Men began using the hashtag #NotAllMen in their protests—a pre-existing hashtag designed to undercut women’s comments about sexism, misogyny and treatment by men. The response by women was to create #YesAllWomen and to encourage women to cite the various times they had found themselves afraid or in danger because of men, because of sexism and misogyny.
To women it is obvious that the Montreal Massacre, and similar crimes, are about feminism, about men’s fears and anger over women not living their lives by men’s rules or beliefs, but as autonomous creatures able to make their own decisions, to live their own lives. But there are those who argue that these murders have nothing to do with sexism, with fear of feminism. To them, a man yelling that he wanted only feminists left in a room so that he could kill them all, who left a letter specifying that he wanted to kill feminists as he felt that they had ruined his life—that did not mean that the murders were about women and feminists, it was merely just the way it worked out that only women had been murdered.
When it is pointed out that his very words, written and spoken, indicated that his intention was to kill feminists, the negating argument is that, “But not all those women were feminists.” When it is then argued that this was very clearly a crime against women, and women were killed, the answer is “there were men who were shot too.”
In the last year I’ve watched as women in gaming contend with vicious death and rape threats on their social media. I’ve watched as people have gone from arguing that those behind the threats are not to be taken seriously, to accusing the women of making up the threats, to suggesting that the women are intentionally overreacting for attention—they enjoy being victimized. I’ve watched as Jian Ghomeshi likened his first accuser as a jealous vindictive ex-girlfriend and even as the number of accusers began to grow, there are those who say, “These are women who just want attention. Stars can’t avoid these kind of women trying to use them. These women like portraying themselves as victims.” And as the list of Cosby accusers grows ever larger, there are still those arguing that these, too, are women just looking for attention, just looking to use his fame for their own glory…that they like to portray themselves as victims.
We can’t ask the women of the December 6 massacre how it feels to be victims. We can’t ask them if they enjoy it, if they enjoy the attention they get every year. We can’t ask them how it felt to be brave young women in an engineering program, toughing it out with all the men. We can’t ask them how it felt to watch as an armed man came into their classroom, lined them all up and then insisted that all the male students leave because he only wanted to kill the women, the feminists. We can’t ask them how it felt to die because of their gender.
The killer murdered fourteen women at L’Ecole Polytechnique. He killed women because he intended to kill women. He killed women because he assumed that they were feminists—because who but a feminist would have inserted herself into what he saw as the man’s world. He assumed that only women would be feminists—because he couldn’t imagine a man supporting a woman’s right to equal treatment in a man’s world.
When feminists argue that the Montreal Massacre is a feminist issue we are not dishonouring them—we are acknowledging that they died because they were women. We are acknowledging that they died because the killer assumed them to be femniists. We are honouring them and their deaths. To deny any of it is to deny their very existence as women…and their very deaths as women.