6 Decembre 1989: Remembering a Formative Tragedy

I was 16 on December 6th, 1989, when gunman Marc Lepine stormed into Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering school.

When the blood had spilled and screams for the 14 dead women faded into muffled tears, it was found that the gunman had left a note explaining his actions — he’d wanted to kill feminists for making his life so much harder, thanks to quotas and changes in hiring practices.

bigI don’t remember where I was when I’d heard about the killings, but I remember slowly growing aware of what happened and why. I remember the confusion I’d felt as as a 16-year-old and the anger and fear this massacre opened in me.

In 1989, things were pretty “advanced” for women already. We had the old soul sisters Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin belting out that “sisters are doin’ it for themselves,” and movies like Baby Boom were showing that women no longer felt they had to have a man in order to make a “family” work.

I knew I could do anything I wanted to — that being a female really didn’t mean much anymore. Or did it?

Then, all my naivete changed.

In only a moment I realized our advances weren’t done. We weren’t equal. There was hatred out there and confusion, and while we were getting ahead, some men were getting left behind… and that isn’t equality.

Despite my understanding that, there is nothing in this world that justifies what Marc Lepine did that day.

But in the years since, I’ve come to learn that one person’s advances at the price of another person’s compromises, it doesn’t fix problems, it just changes the problem and makes it someone else’s.

Today I worry about still-pushy, still-militant extremist feminists who are happy to trample on men’s rights in order to have more rights for women. Tilting the imbalance in favour of either sex is wrong. It always has been, it always will be.

I believe in feminism. I believe I am able to do anything I want. I believe the world is more or less ready for this from me. I have faith we’re mostly headed in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think we have problems still.

It’s a good thing the movement isn’t defined largely by the militant voices out there, but when those militant voices speak louder than any others, it’s important that those of us with voices of reason wade into the fray as well.

Feminism isn’t the problem. Assholes are.

Anyone who thinks their needs are more important than others? They’re an asshole.

When we fight with the whole “my side is more important than your side” argument — in politics, love, society — it always drives a wedge between us. Look at Red vs. Blue in the United States since about ’98. Is that approach improving anything? How could it possibly help in any other social struggle, then?


So, when December 6th rolls around every year, it reminds me how tragic the consequences of divisive ideologies can be. It reminds me how crucial it is that we remember our society is deep and vast, and no one group should be left out in favour of the others. It reminds me how much the forgotten, marginalized classes can stew in rage, and how explosive the fallout can be when left unchecked for too long.

But December 6th’s lessons don’t stop there for me.

Yearly, I remember how important my freedoms as a modern femme are.

And I remember how angry I get at youthful women who don’t understand the prices paid long before them so they can do whatever they want, while some seem to throw the rights away on a whim.

And I remember how much it hurts to see girls today dumbing themselves down to get the boys they want, when these 14 women were murdered because they believed they were as smart, or smarter, than the boys, and went to engineering school to prove it. (One of my best rants ever, about the dumbing down of femmes, is here.)

And I remember that, only 100 years ago, it was only white men who held all the cards in society — not women, not blacks. Just white men.

And I remember how far we’ve come, how far we have to go, but in so doing, I also am aware of how much the dialogue has changed and grown.

In remembering, I find myself hopeful — despite all the flaws in society and the fears I feel looking at a largely ignorant generation of young girls — that there are enough quality people with dreams and ideas for a better place in the years ahead.

After all, in only a hundred years, we’ve toppled the pedestal upon which the mighty white male was perched for so long. There’s a black president, gay marriage, women in office, female billionaires who’ve never married, and so much more. All in a hundred years, after thousands of years of oppression and division.

In the end, I remember most of all that the change is gonna come. As a society, we’re now mostly moving in open directions. Right usually overcomes wrong. The populace has a greater voice than ever. We don’t need to use militant force anymore, we don’t need to drive hateful wedges between us.

We need to remember we’ve come so very far, and we’ve further to go, but the faster and harder we get there, the more confused and angry some people might be when left behind.

And that leaves me remembering on December 6th that the most important thing I can do is to never, ever forget.

Les femmes, souvenons-nous: 6 décembre 1989.


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