HONOR MARC LEPINE'S VICTIMS, NOT MARC LEPINE
[From the MERGE protest in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada]
Marc Lepine lived--and died--by rigid stereotypes. He saw men and women as locked in conflict, rather than as being caring compatriots. He felt massive hatred toward fourteen people whom he did not know; he never saw them as individuals, but only as faceless representatives of a category. Besides these twisted attitudes, Lepine suffered from a seething sense of aggrievement, one which festered inside him until he resolved to show the world how vilely he felt he had been treated.
His murderous rampage was an unspeakable tragedy for the innocent victims, and for their families and friends. It was also a tragedy for Canada, which had seen itself as a land of compassion and fairness, and as a safe haven from large-scale senseless acts of violence.
But a further tragedy for Canada followed. Many here have used Marc Lepine as an icon to promote the very kinds of attitudes which drove him: gender-based stereotypes, gender-based hostility, and seeing people only as homogeneous groups rather than as individuals. They have done all this, not out of compassion for his victims, but from the kind of group-directed anger which he epitomised.
Many otherwise decent people have been swept up in this emotional reaction. But to give in to such feelings is to vindicate Marc Lepine, not to deplore him. It is to hand him the final victory.
And now, in Edmonton, this reaction has been given physical existence, in the form of words cast into the dedicatory plaque of a new monument. The stated purpose of the monument is to honor those fourteen slain women, which is altogether fitting. But the words do something further which is profoundly evil: they associate his victims with all women, and Marc Lepine with all men.
Those words honor, not all victims of violence, nor even all victims of discrimination-based violence, but only women victims. Around the world, from the Balkans to East Timor, unarmed noncombatant men and boys are separated from the women and then slaughtered, killed because of their gender. In recent days has come to light the killing-campaign of Javed Iqbal, whose motivation, a festering sense of aggrievement, was remarkably similar to that of Lepine--and whose hundred innocent victims were all male. Yet the message of the plaque is clear: only female victims are worthy of compassion; male victims do not deserve even to be mentioned.
The plaque deplores any kind of violence whatever, but only as long as its victims are female; the only commonality among victims which it recognises is gender. Not status as victims of discrimination, not status as murder victims, but only status as women. So thoroughgoing is this attitude, it goes so far as to mention all women "hurt" by men. This absolutely trivialises what happened to the young women killed by Lepine. The real message is clear: Any harm to a man, no matter how serious or deadly, is less important than any harm to a woman, no matter how small.
It also sends the message that all harm by women, even the killing of children, is unimportant in comparison with any hurt experienced by women. Yes, the bulk of overt physical violence in society is committed by men. (Except within the home, where women assault their children and spouses as often as men do-though they are less able to harm their spouses than men are.) Testosterone-caused muscular strength and short-term energy produce tendencies toward explosive physical action, and that can serve violent aggression. But it also enables benevolent physical action; the great majority of physically heroic acts (even without including job-related actions) are also performed by men. Are praise and blame to be given, not on the basis of good or evil desires, but of ability to carry them out?
Recent media coverage of six who died trying to save the lives of others was carefully gender-neutral: they were "firefighters", and "victims", not "men". And that is altogether appropriate. They deserve honor because they were doing good, not because of their gender. They deserve compassion because they were human beings, not because of their gender. But the message of the words at the monument is that honor and blame-like compassion for victims-are to be linked inseparably with being male or female. Its message is that men are victimisers, and nothing else but victimisers.
As it stands, the plaque at the monument honors Marc Lepine, not his victims; it exploits them as a pretext for gender-based hate. Its words must be changed.
Herewith, we appeal to the City of Edmonton to replace the discriminatory message with one of genuine compassion and fairness; with words which really will honor the fourteen innocent victims. We believe that City Council desired only to commemorate those young women, not realising that the persons who proposed the monument would turn it into an instrument of bigotry.
We also appeal to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission to recognise the discriminatory nature of the sign at the monument as it now reads, and to send a message to Albertans: human-rights laws exist to protect all individuals and all categories of person-not just certain "designated goups".
We make these appeals knowing full well that the spirit of hostility which produced that message will in turn be directed at us. For demanding concern and fairness for both sexes, we will be accused of "backlash" against women's wellbeing. So be it. Attitudes which many in society are afraid to stand up to are the very ones which must be resisted.
Movement to Establish Real Gender Equality, December 14, 1999.