December 6 marks the day that changed the lives of many people in Canada and an important day in the sisterhood.
On that day, a man stormed an engineering classroom at l’Ecole Polytechnique and singled out the female students for execution. In late-2oth century Canada. It was, and remains to be, a chilling reminder that despite the advances women have made in gaining access to education and increasing their participation in the workplace, it is surprisingly easy for some men to nurture a hatred for women in our civilized, westernized, Canadian culture.
The Montreal Massacre prompted a reexamination of who we are; it was so horrific no one could excuse it away except by extreme mental distress, but we all came face-to-face with the elephant in the room, the misogynist monster who picked up on enough societal cues that condoned his hatred. His letter said it all.
A few years after the Massacre, I was teaching in a women’s studies class when the vulnerability of who we are (women) and what we’re doing (learning) really hit home. And I’m a white, educated woman who lives in a civilized society with laws that protect my public participation and a judiciary that will uphold those laws and a police force to enforce them. But that didn’t seem to provide much comfort, really.
I can only imagine the level of danger that women face in places like Afghanistan (to pick an obvious example) and Yemen, or Sudan, where the control of woman and her behaviour is paramount to patriarchal rule. We’ve heard of the acid attacks and the mass rapes that continue to subject women to violence just because she is a woman, of the barbaric punishment meted out to women who transgress rigid codes of sexual conduct.
Attitudes that underpin male control are still with us, everywhere, to greater or lesser degrees, despite legislation and numerous education campaigns across the country and around the world.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. This year is the 21st. We will continue to mark and remember each one as the years go by. One day it may happen that the idea seems ludicrous to our children’s children, that a person would think such thoughts, thoughts fueled by misogyny and hatred that could drive the shooter to do what he did.
Not yet, though.