Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency recently received death threats that specifically referenced Montreal shooter Marc Lepine.
"… the feminists always have a talent for enraging me," wrote Marc Lépine in his suicide note, along with the names of 19 women he wanted to kill.
On December 6, 1989 Lépine (born Gamil Rodrigue Liass Gharbi) walked into the engineering school École Polytechnique de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. He separated the men from the women and, echoing his note, shouted "I hate feminists!" He shot and killed fourteen women, wounded ten more women and four men.
Two years after Lépine's rampage, the White Ribbon Campaign was born.
"I Hate Feminists!": December 6, 1989 and its Aftermath, by Melissa Blais [Spinifex Press]
From whiteribbon.org.au: "A handful of men in Toronto decided they had a responsibility to speak out and work to stop men's violence against women. As a result, the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada became an annual awareness-raising event, held between 25 November and 6 December. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with a white ribbon as its iconic symbol. White Ribbon began in Australia in 2003 as part of UNIFEM (now UN Women)."
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre (also referred to as 'The Montreal Massacre'), and another year of the White Ribbon Campaign. But what's truly tragic is the ongoing need for a campaign at all; a VicHealth survey found that "Australia's view on violence against women is still poor in 2014." And if you need further proof that we haven't come so far since the Montreal Massacre's aftermath in our efforts to stamp out violence against women, just look at how the anti-violence message borne from that tragedy has been mocked and defiled this year.
In October, Canadian-American feminist, media critic and blogger Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk at Utah State University. Days before her talk was scheduled, the University's Centre for Women and Gender Studies was sent a threatening email, warning them to cancel Sarkeesian's appearance. "If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women's Center. I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs. This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I'm giving you a chance to stop it."
The misogynistic rant went on. "You've probably heard of a man named Marc Lepine. He was a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism on Western masculinity… Anita Sarkeesian is everything wrong with the feminist woman, and she is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU. I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America."
The threat worked, and Sarkeesian cancelled her talk. It is widely believed that the threat made against Sarkeesian was linked to "#gamergate" – the relentless online misogyny and harassment that occurs in video game culture, and which Sarkeesian vocally opposes with her 'Tropes vs. Women in Video Games' YouTube series.
Feminist activist and lecturer Mélissa Blais wrote of the threats Sarkeesian and other feminist activists have faced since the massacre, in her 2009 book "I Hate Feminists!": December 6, 1989 and its Aftermath (the English edition is released in Australia this month by Spinifex Press).
Blais writes about the ongoing violence against women, and feminists who speak out about such violence. "Just think about some women's fear of organising popular education workshops on anti-feminism, or simply the fear of being murdered… In addition to the threats and intimidation faced by some feminists, websites disseminate messages inciting violence and murder of feminists. On the site marclepine.blogspot.com, for example, texts proclaim that the December 6 massacre was only one small victory against feminists, and creative photo montages show policemen asking Marc Lépine to do them a favour and kill all those 'bitches'."
Blais also writes about how, by the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, "the recognition of feminism remained superficial, as the media adapted its content, sometimes referring to a 'before' and an 'after' the massacre, suggesting that relations between men and women had taken a new direction, that of a dialogue, in a society now characterised by equality between the sexes. The sexism of the killer therefore seemed to now belong to another 'world' to the past."
What happened to Anita Sarkeesian this year is just one example of how we are still living in that 'before' state – and when there is a 'global pandemic' of violence against women, it's disturbing that there seems to be a trend of vehemently rejecting looking at that violence through a feminist lens. Blais explains: "While feminists have for over twenty years [since the massacre] been mobilising and continuing to raise public awareness about violence against women, denouncing the fact that it usually involves one or more men taking power over one or more women, anti-feminists of every stripe have been trying to throw up roadblocks and reinforce the stereotypes of feminists. 'Feminists cause harm to men,' exclaim some; 'they think all men are potential Lépine's', complain others."
Even a rejection of the word 'feminist' is a roadblock to discussions that need to be had around violence against women. And whether deliberate, misguided or completely unintentional, they work against the very foundations upon which the White Ribbon Campaign (and its École Polytechnique massacre origins) were based. In just the last few months, we've heard Australia's only female cabinet minister Julie Bishop declaring she is not a feminist (and at the launch of a Women in Media group, no less), while Time Magazine listed 'feminist' in a poll of "words we should ban for the next calendar year" (they've since apologised for doing so).
"Isn't real change what feminists have tried and are still trying to achieve?" Mélissa Blais asks in her conclusion. "Wouldn't the transformation of gender relations toward equality between men and women prevent a repeat of these crimes? To bring this about, we must above all not think that feminism is a thing of the past, or that equality between men and women has been attained."
"I Hate Feminists!": December 6, 1989 and its Aftermath, by Melissa Blais, is out now through Spinifex Press.