This post also appeared on the Huffington Post on August 7, 2009 at this URL. You can comment on it there.
I was a university student living in Montreal during the Montreal Massacre on December 6, 1989. In a classroom at the Ecole Polytechnique of the Universite de Montreal, Marc Lepine separated the men from the women and, claiming that he was “fighting feminism,” shot all 9 women in the class and killed 6 of them. Specifically targeting women, he managed to shoot 28 people and kill 14 women before committing suicide. At first people said he was “crazy,” “psychotic.” Then they started to blame his mother: she must not have loving enough, and she shouldn’t have worked outside the home. After all, blaming mothers is one of the easiest ways to blame women for men’s crimes against women. (Thank you, Dr. Freud.) But despite some efforts to suppress the contents of Lepine’s suicide note, Canadians soon started to realize that the Montreal Massacre was an anti-feminist attack, an extreme form of violence against women. After all, Lepine singled out the women and blamed them for taking the education and jobs that he felt entitled to have as a man. His suicide letter said that the feminists had always ruined his life and that he planned to send them “to their Maker” (“Ad Patres”). In the note, he claimed to be a rational man who just wanted to kill the feminists who enraged him. Why did feminists enrage him so much? Because he thought that women were taking away men’s traditional advantages in education and in the workforce, without relinquishing women’s traditional advantages (he mentioned cheaper insurance and extended maternity leave – so you know he wasn’t living the U.S.). It also contained a list of 19 Quebec women that Lepine considered to be feminists and wished to kill. This note, in conjunction with Lepine’s oral statements and the clear targeting of women as victims, quickly led Canadians to see the event as an antifeminist attack and an example of wider issues of violence against women.
I remember these events and the discussion afterwards well – I was a university student just like those that Lepine shot, in a classroom at another university in Montreal. Now, nearly 20 years later there has been a strikingly similar anti-feminist attack: the shootings by George Sodini at an LA Fitness center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sodini walked into the aerobics room where about 30 to 40 women were exercising and started shooting, killing three women and wounding nine before fatally shooting himself. The instructor of the class, who is pregnant, was shot twice and critically injured. Once again it is all too close to home: I teach group fitness classes at LA Fitness (a skill I picked up back when I lived in Montreal). Given the response to the Montreal Massacre, I wonder if this event is getting the media attention it deserves (although I’m sure LA Fitness would prefer that the attention die down – understandably, since the organization had nothing to do with the shooting or the shooters’ motives). But this was a hate crime against women. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Sodini was just a lone psychopath. But like Lepine, Sodini targeted women in general rather than anyone personally. He was a WOMAN-HATER. That needs to be said because it’s too easy in this crazy political climate to accuse women who want equal treatment of being “man-haters” or to accuse people of color who recognize the effects of historic mistreatment of being “racists.” (The ridiculous rhetoric around Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is a case in point.)
Like Lepine, Sodini’s hatred of women was based on his sense of masculine entitlement. Sodini may have had less to say about what he believed that women took away from him economically, although he did comment in his on-line blog that the lack of a wife/sexual partner was a career disadvantage. But Sodini’s gripes were more about what he believed women owed him sexually and did not deliver. The suicide note (yet to be released) that was in his gym bag apparently complained about how he had never spent a weekend with a woman, vacationed with a woman, or lived with a woman, and his sexual experiences were limited. His on-line blog documented his growing rage with women for rejecting him. In it he said, “I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne – yet 30 million women rejected me – over an 18 or 25-year period. That is how I see it. Thirty million is my rough guesstimate of how many desirable single women there are.” How does this lead to a hate crime against women? One thing that allowed him to do such a thing to individual women who never did anything to him personally was through his objectification of women. On the blog, he described the women he saw at the gym: “Many of the young girls here look so beautiful as to not be human, very edible.” He also clearly believed that women were giving sexual access to men that he viewed as less entitled than himself, such as black men. “Black dudes have thier [sic] choice of best white —-. You do the math, there are enough young white so all the brothers can each have one for 3 or 6 months or so.” While it is likely true that Sodini, like Lepine, was a disturbed man, it is clear that the channeling of his rage against women as a group makes it a hate crime against women.
Maybe few people are drawing the line between this hate-crime against women and the Montreal Massacre nearly 20 years ago. Or perhaps few Americans remember that this happened before. In Canada, December 6 is a commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in recognition of the political nature of Lepine’s hate crime. How will the U.S. acknowledge the woman-hating crime that occurred in 2009?