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L’ecole Polytechnique: 25 Years After

25 years. Wow.

I’d just turned 16. I grew up as the last generation to be bombarded with cigarette advertising everywhere, when Virginia Slims still sold us the idea that women’s liberation was Mission: Accomplished. We’d come a long way, baby.

But then December 6th came. An angry man had a murdering rampage, killing 14 sharp, ambitious, promising young women, all engineers at L’ecole Polytechnique.

It blew my mind. I was young, death didn’t have the same impact as it does now because I was still innocent and hadn’t encountered much loss. And I didn’t really get why women trying to be engineers was such a radical concept to a backwards murderer like Lepine.

What I did understand was that these women were killed because they wanted to play at the big boy’s table. I understood this was a crime motivated out of resentment, pettiness, and jealousy.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve understood that petty misogyny that drives hateful men like Lepine.

I’ve gone from not wanting to be identified as a feminist when I was young to now being of the “goddamned right I’m a feminist, and why the hell aren’t you?” persuasion.

Something Must Have Caused This

Back then, I thought this terrible rampage was a backlash from women’s lib. The old cause/effect argument. “Women are changing things, men are reacting to change.” Simple.

It seemed then there were only two ways things would go. One, awareness would increase that violence against women wasn’t some Hollywood plot point, but rather a real social ill needing remedying. Or two, we were just getting started and an era of blowback was yet to come.

I didn’t take option two that seriously. We couldn’t be just starting an era of blowback… could we?

Maybe we could. 25 years later, we’re still seeing crimes against women happening because men feel entitled to attention from women, or they feel entitled to career advancement over women, or all kinds of other situations prefaced by the phrase “men feel entitled.”

Marc Lepine killed 14 women because he felt he was entitled to attend an engineering school, and that women had no right to occupy his space in the program. He didn’t make the cut, and instead of taking it to mean he had to work harder, he chose to believe women were accepted as a quota, that they hadn’t earned their space.

He felt entitled. Angry. Bitter. Vengeful.

And He Wasn’t Alone Then — Or Now

I look on the internet today and I see a lot of angry, bitter, vengeful entitlement making the rounds. Usually middle-aged white guys who are bitter they’re not more important at their jobs, or wealthier. They see women being smart or successful as further threatening their status quo, and they hurl insults about how ugly the women are (as if women are only trophies), cut them down professionally, and lob rape threats.

God help us if these anonymous, spiteful men ever screw up the resolve to grab a gun and let their bullets do the talking.

Misogynists are everywhere. You hear them defending those accused of serial rape — like Cosby and Ghomeshi. They spew ridiculous defenses, usually about how maligned men are, and the accusations by “spiteful” women are a conspiracy to destroy lives, et cetera.

There are GamerGaters verbally attacking female journalists because they don’t like their opinion, threatening them with rape, and worse.

There’s the infamous, ongoing brogrammer culture in Silicon Valley, celebrity serial misogynists who never get reined in. We even had a mass killer in California who blamed women for not sleeping with him.

A Flickering Light in the Tunnel

Despite all these recent reminders of just how big this struggle is, there are signs, I think, of women saying “enough is enough.” They’re exposing misogyny online in Italy and France. Just this week, a pair of Indian women went viral for beating up men harassing them on a bus. Women coming forward against beloved celebrities like Ghomeshi and Cosby are actually being believed.

There are signs.

But still I sit here today, aware that a quarter of a century has passed and we have so far to go.

In 2006, the first time I blogged about this day, I wrote:

“I think there’s good to be found in remembering what was lost that day, especially in proximity to Christmas, a time of joy and rebirth. I try to remember that in the smoke of that gunfire was borne a new kind of feminism. I like to think some part of me is a product of that day.

It’s the only way any of it can ever make sense.”

And five years ago, I wrote this remembrance of L’ecole Polytechnique, about how far we still had to go with the feminist struggle.

And here we are, 25 years on, still fighting an uphill battle as a new generation vacillates between accepting gender equality and railing against it.

Let’s Hear it For the Boys

But “feminism” is still a dirty word. There are those who still deludedly think it’s a female-supremacy movement. (No, but equal pay would be nice.)

These days, the only time feminism gets good press is when a man comes out and speaks up about why feminism is important, like Terry Crews did recently, which is going viral as I write.

And yet, I saw someone snarking “Oh, [Crews is] just saying what all these smart women said before him.”

But isn’t that what we fought for? Isn’t it in the benefit of all women that guys start identifying with why feminism is important? Isn’t it a bold new day when guys like Crews are standing up to say “If you’re silent, you’re a part of the problem”?

It’s helpful to the cause when guys like Crews explain to other men that it’s not about female supremacy, but rather just leveling the playing field. If they understand that, they might be able to accept that change is needed.

Mediocrity & Misogyny

Marc Lepine didn’t get that change was a long time coming. Instead of understanding that women should be in the engineering program, he felt they were stealing his opportunity. But he just wasn’t good enough to compete in a crowded arena.

Mediocrity, perhaps, is the greatest enemy of gender advancement. Men like Lepine don’t make the cut and then, instead of thinking “Well, hey, I’ll work harder and get in next time,” they blame the bitch who stole their spot.

It’s sadly ironic, but the only way feminism wins is when more men identify themselves as supporters of the feminist cause, when more men like Crews keep saying that silence means you endorse the status quo.

When I was a kid, I thought women would be truly equal by the time I was 30. Now I’m 41 and hope an era of change is upon us and maybe I’ll see a different world for women by the time I’m 60.

Maybe.