Why We Need Feminism

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week was the 23rd anniversary of the Montréal Massacre.  On 6 December 1989, a deranged man wandered into the École Polytechnique de Montréal, the engineering school of the Université de Montréal.  After clearing the men from a classroom, he opened fire.  He killed six women and injured three more before leaving the classroom and wandering the halls, where he wounded three more before he made a failed attempt to enter a locked classroom, wounding another woman in the hallway, before killing a support worker in her office.  Upon reaching the cafeteria, he continued shooting.  By the time he turned the gun on himself twenty minutes later, he had killed fourteen women, as well as wounding another thirteen, as well as one man.

I was 16 at the time, still in high school, at the other end of the country, in Vancouver.  I remember coming home from school and being glued to the TV that night, shocked, amazed, dismayed, and depressed this could happen.  Not that it could happen in Canada.  Of course it could.  But that it could happen.  Period.  This deranged man shot and killed these women because he hated feminists.  To this day, 23 years and 5 days later, I refuse to utter his name.

But I know his name. It’s seared into my memory.  This is true for pretty much all Canadians old enough to be cognisant of the massacre in 1989.  But we don’t necessarily know the dead women’s names.  There are:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student

Each year, as we get further and further away from 6 December, we forget the importance of the event just a little bit more.  And each year we get further and further away from 6 December, we lose the shock and dismay we felt that day.

That same week, there was a meme on Twitter, We Need Feminism because.  One of the images that came through my timeline struck me.

542999_200584493411003_2052673512_nHer words say it all.  And so I thought back to my frosh week in 1991 at Carleton University in Ottawa.  We were taught that “No Means No.” Full stop. Period. No does not mean “maybe later,” or “not now,” or “maybe.”  It means “NO.”  Very simple.  That phrase was beaten into our heads, not even two full years since the Massacre.

But reading the words in this image, I realised I haven’t heard the phrase “No Means No” in a long time.  At least a decade.  And I spend a lot of time on university campuses.  In fact, I have been on a college or university campus every academic year since my first year undergrad in 1991-2 every year except two in the late 90s.

And now, apparently young women are taught to avoid being raped.  Men are not taught not to rape.  One would think that teaching “No Means No” would have benefited the women at Amherst College who were raped. One would think that all young women on all university campuses would benefit.  As would all young men.  “No means no” taught us to respect words.  And we all, men and women, need that respect.

Certainly, I would much prefer to live in a world where sexual assault and rape did not occur.  But I don’t see that happening, unfortunately.  But I would also much prefer it if universities did their part and taught young men and women that No means no.  That simple.  Three little words.

And for that reason, we need feminism.

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