Dec. 6th, 2014

tim: Solid black square (black)
[CW: discussion of the École Polytechnique massacre and violence against women.]


25 years ago today, a man murdered fourteen women because they were women and because they were engineering students. That man, Marc Lépine, said (before he killed himself), "I am fighting feminism".

It's a popular thing to scold people to leave their politics out of "tragedies". A tragedy is a disaster that could not have been prevented. But the École Polytechnique massacre was not a tragedy. It was a consequence of structural misogyny, which is not an inevitable part of social organization.

We would also be doing the victims a gross disservice if we dodged our discomfort with the misogyny that almost all of us have internalized by shifting blame onto the abstraction of "mental illness". Marc Lépine was not sick. He was not crazy. Rather, he was taking his society's teachings seriously, namely

  1. It is honorable to die for what you believe in.
  2. Being a man is special, and isn't inevitable from innate identity but must be performed through a variety of activities. When women try to do these activities too, they are threatening men's birthright.


When boys and men are taught that the most impressive thing a man can do is to die in a blaze of glory, they take that lesson seriously. The same teachings whose primary purpose is to encourage lower-income men to join the military and fight wars for the economic benefit of rich men have another, perhaps unintended consequence. What's the difference between going to war and killing those you're told to hate and kill, while potentially giving up your own life, and giving up your own life by suicide while taking as many people you hate with you as you possibly can? The first is respected by most nice people and the second is condemned by those who point their fingers in all the wrong directions. But really, what's the difference?

When you call Lépine, and other men like him, "sick" or "crazy", you engage in a form of othering -- a form that excuses yourself from your own responsibility to examine your own misogyny and call out that of your peers. To be clear, very few of us commit mass shootings, and the things that we do do to sustain patriarchy and kyriarchy (from addressing groups with "Hey, guys" to declining to hire women) are not comparable with murder. But we all make assumptions and say and do things that create circumstances that are favorable for more killings by more men like Lépine, men who are just doing what they've been told to do.

Dismissing Lépine and his ilk as "sick" or "crazy" is an act that declares your own blamelessness, which is counterproductive to dismantling structural misogyny. If he was sick, then we are all sick. But I don't think that's a useful word, because people who are sick need resources outside themselves in order to get better. We have everything it takes to make women's lives matter, already, within ourselves.

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Tim Chevalier

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