26 years ago today; I was pregnant, happy, optimistic for my child, who was being born into a world that had just breached the Berlin Wall. It seemed like peace was breaking out all over. And then, Dec 6. Montreal. L’Ecole Polytechnic.
It was a terrible shock. Not just that a single shooter would attack students at a university. But that he would specifically order classes to separate into groups of male and female, and then shoot, murder, slaughter, the women only. And then repeat in other classes.
Suddenly, the entire nation, was confronted with a terrible truth: as people listened to the reports, some realized they’d expected -and accepted- the idea that the shooter might separate the victims by sex, so that he could shoot the men. That he targeted the woman was a surprise, an affront.
The tragedy of L’Ecole Polytechnic gave Canadians a double shock: We realized our attitudes to violence had been blunted by patriarchal assumptions that included the horrid acceptance that males were legitimate targets for violence. Equally, our understanding of violence against women had been dismally, willfully, complicitly, naive. The value of feminism as a necessity, even as it was being described as the murderer’s motivation, was confirmed. The optimism of Berlin was washed in the horrors, the guilty insights, of Montreal. 22 days later, I gave birth to a daughter.
Now, 26 years on, we have raised the approbation of Violence Against Women to iconic, professionalized status. It is possible to use the acronym of VAW and be widely understood as one condemns patriarchy, the ubiquitous and resilient inequities between sexes, and argues for services, policies, legislation, education to mitigate VAW. Good steps have been taken. But not enough.
The acceptance of violence itself has not moved on much from the guilty horror of 1986, and mothers’ children continue to be slaughtered. Today, as every Dec 6, I condemn the craven decisions that permit the means for violence; I mourn for those mothers who suffer the catastrophe of violence against their child, and offer a grateful whew to the luck goddess that I am not in their cohort.
[Image credit: The European Danse Macabre, Alberto Martini, 1915, via @LibroAntiguo ]