A little too on the nose: It doesn’t start with École Polytechnique

I’ve written in Pharyngula comments before about something called the Pseudocommando shooter type. These are the folks who get big rifles with rapid fire capability and carry multiple weapons and huge number of rounds of ammunition to a target location and then shoot as many people as they can. The psychological research on the type shows that serious mental illness is uncommon in such shooters, though they do show an above average rate of mild to moderate depression and a couple of other of the most common mental illnesses. Some of the research that initially characterized the type found even these mental illnesses affected only about 40% of such shooters.

They studied a number of facets of pseudocommando mass shooters’ personality, finding them to be far better characterized by a combination of rigidity, detail focus, and grudge holding than by mental illness. But one thing those studies did not investigate was the level of sexism we can expect from such shooters. Yet that’s another topic we’ve discussed here on FtB as the most horrific mass shootings roll monthly by. Off the top of my head there was a high schooler in Texas motivated my sexist rage who first shot a girl who rejected his the relationship overtures he sandwiched between his stalking behaviors. There was a newspaper office that was shot up, where the shooter initially was angry at the paper regarding their coverage of his conviction for stalking (or, as Maryland refers to it in statute, Criminal Harassment). The person he stalked was, of course, a woman with whom he wanted a romantic relationship. She, apparently and wisely, wanted nothing to do with his scary, threatening and ultimately violent ass.

The Las Vegas shooter who injured some 500 had a history of domestic violence and stalking. He is a good example of the tendency for such shooters to have a history of domestic and sexual violence against the women in their lives (not merely strangers) even when there is no obvious connection between a particular woman or a particular sexist goal and the motive for the mass shooting. Sexism and sexist violence are red flags that can warn us of a willingness to escalate violence, if society is willing to listen.

But today is the anniversary, the 30th anniversary, of the École Polytechnique massacre. There was no doubt of the motive there: the shooter held a room full of people at gunpoint, then demanded that the masculinely gendered hostages all leave. They did. Once they were gone, the murderer Marc Lepine asked if the women knew why he was holding them. They did not. He told them he was there to fight feminism. One woman stated that they were students and not necessarily feminists. He replied that they were women and intending to be engineers. To him, that made them feminists. Then he told them, “I hate feminists,” and shot all nine human beings standing before him, killing six.

Too often, sexist violence has been seen as barely relevant to the question of whether or not a person poses a danger to the public. Girlfriends, wives, these women aren’t “the public” to many courts or parole boards. As such, we’re still struggling to pass so-called “red flag” laws that can temporarily – sometimes for a very significant period of time – remove guns from the possession of someone convicted of certain types of violence that we know are associated with a risk of not mere steady-state recidivism, but escalating violence, unrecognized until it bursts out in a manner that harms men or at least gets captured on camera such that the violence can no longer be ignored.

But as I often do when we discuss things like police violence or racist violence (not always different topics) or violence of other forms, I want us to take notice of the fact that this isn’t all a problem of one small group. Police are not held accountable in the US justice system, but complaining that prosecutors and mayors and governors aren’t doing their jobs isn’t exactly fair when we, the electorate consistently elect people who have already proven that they won’t hold cops accountable. Yes, they’re failing in their responsibilities, and yes, we should demand different and better, but demanding different and better is not going to just suddenly happen. We, all of us, have a hand in creating these terrible tendencies else they would not be so damnably persistent.

That’s why I think it’s so painfully on the nose that on this anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, the Onion has published an article titled:

Mother Confident That Adult Son’s Cycle Of Emotional Terrorism Will Calm Down Once He Finds The Right Girl

You should read the whole thing, but here’s one salient excerpt:

Sometimes the right one has to come along before a boy will stop barraging girlfriends with constant comments about their weight, or hang up those youthful desires to isolate a woman from her friends and family in order to take advantage of her. Devin’s having his fun, but mark my words, before he hits 30, he’ll get tired and settle down.

To me this is quite reminiscent of the case of the man who murdered the staff of the Capital Gazette to which I referred earlier. The initial conviction that was reported by the Gazette included horrifying and scary behavior:

Ramos sent a friend request on Facebook to the woman, and the experience turned into a “yearlong nightmare.” Ramos allegedly wrote the woman and said she was the only person who ever said hello to him or was nice to him in school.

Ramos then allegedly called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself, Hartley wrote. He allegedly emailed the bank where she worked to get her fired.

But the court described the behavior with a phrase quite different from the Onion’s “emotional terrorism”, not matter how apt that phrase might be. No, upon conviction, the judge described Ramos’ behavior as “rather bizarre”.

I may find that entirely too understated a description, perhaps both of my readers do as well. But the legislatures and courts won’t take misogynistic violence seriously unless we as a society do. And we as a society are made up of I the individual, and you the individual, and you the individual, yes, but also 320 million other individuals in the US and nearly 40 million more in Canada. The responsibility for the ongoing interrelated tragedies of misogyny and sexism is spread wide.

I’m not saying that on this anniversary of a horrifying tragedy wrought by our sexism that we shouldn’t be lobbying legislators to change laws and give government the power to remove guns from dangerous hands. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying to educate individual judges on the differences between behavior that is bizarre and behavior that is dangerous or threatening. I’m just saying that it requires more than that. It is time for all of us to be the change that we wish to see in this world.

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. – Mohandas Gandhi


  1. kestrel says

    I think for a lot of people the misogyny is kind of invisible because it’s such a part of our culture. I keep fish, so I think of it that way: fish live in water, their bodies are permeable to water and it’s part of them, so they can’t really notice the pollution in the water – it just becomes part of their normal lives and their very bodies.

    I used to post and read the posts on a Very Famous Forum, a place where I thought I’d found interesting people who were freethinkers and so on, but the place just vaguely bothered me, and it simply got worse over time. I could not put my finger on the issue until I read something by, I think it was, Greta Christina, and all of a sudden I got it: it was the misogyny. Once it was pointed out to me, I could see it, but before that? I knew something was wrong but I was not sure what it was.

    I think that’s why it can be so hard for people to grasp the issue and think it’s a real thing. They see an egregious incident and think it’s an *isolated* incident, all the while reading books filled with misogyny and listening to songs with words like “I put a spell on you, ’cause you’re mine”; “You belong to me”; “Can’t live, if living is without you” etc. (Yeah, I know. These are old songs. That’s because I’m an old fuddy-duddy.)

  2. says

    There is nothing new under the sun. Before the rise of social media, misogynists wanting to deflect blame from misogyny were acting exactly the same as they are now. From December 2000…


    Rackoff, who’s taught at the university for 26 years, says he’s anti-feminist, not anti-women.

    Rackoff says his problem was with those who were making political points about the Montreal massacre.

    “Why are so many people unwilling to accept disagreement?” he asked. “There are a lot of people who agree with me.”

    How many times have we seen this same bullshit being pulled in the years since?

  3. Paireon says

    @Tabby Lavalamp: Wow, the dude actually said that “he’s anti-feminist, not anti-women”? You’d think someone with university professor credentials would realize that being one is THE EXACT SAME THING as being the other… (then again we live in a world where Jordan Peterson exists, unfortunately)

    Also, @Crip Dyke: Very somber and thought-provoking. Looks like I’ll have food for thought for a few days at least. Not gonna lie, it won’t be pleasant, but I owe it to myself and others to do it. As someone from the Greater Montreal area who was ten at the time, this tragedy was likely a strong catalyst in the formation of my opinions on feminism and those who oppose it.

  4. Allison says

    A long time ago (40+ years?), I remember reading that sexual violence and violence against women were a way of keeping women subordinate. I.e., the violence serves to maintain male supremacy.

    At the time, I thought that was a bit exaggerated. But after all I’ve seen, I’m coming to believe it is abolutely the case. There’s no need to suppose some explicit conspiracy. All you need is that a huge component of male socialization is the idea that women are there for the man’s benefit and pleasure, and that he is entitled to have women submit to his will. Add to that the fact that men are socialized to believe that their “manhood” depends upon their ability to assert their “rights” by whatever means seem necessary. The only reason there isn’t more such violence is that this socialization is not entirely successful with most men.

    Nearly every case of male-on-female violence that I read about ends up being explained as the man being angry that “his” woman was not behaving as he felt entitled to have her behave. And recently these beliefs are being more publicly expressed and whole communities have sprung up around the belief in men’s entitlement and blaming women, especially but not exclusively ones who are unsubmissive, for their woes — cf. “incels” and MRAs.

    So I now see virtually all perpetrators of male-on-female violence, from Marc Lépine through Harvey Weinstein (and Brett Kavanaugh), as vigilantes defending male supremacy. They remind me of the slave patrollers back in the ante-bellum (USA) South, or the Ku Klux Clan later on: by spreading terror among the black people, they intended to make black people afraid to respond to whites with anything but the most craven submissiveness. It didn’t matter whether the black people they beat or killed had been in any way disobedient, the point was to spread terror among the black population. In the same way, it didn’t matter to Marc Lépine whether the women he killed actually disrespected his male entitlement, the point was to terrorize all women.

    I mention Brett Kavanaugh and Harvey Weinstein because “vigilantes for male supremacy” don’t have to be killing people to be reinforcing male supremacy. It was enough that they could demonstrate to women that they could dispose of women as they wished, without the slightest consideration for the women’s wishes or feelings. This is what sexual harrassment is about. Most women don’t get shot at for simply potentially refusing men, but it is constantly demonstrated to them that men can do what they wish with them, and society — especially the men in their lives and the power structures — will support the men who do this.

    Men will no doubt come here and go all #NotAllMen on us, but men: if you’ve ever discounted a woman’s complaint about being sexually harrassed, if you’ve ever laughed at or repeated a rape joke or any joke whose point is a woman being powerless against a man, if you’ve ever gone along with comments that express the idea that women should be at the disposal of men, if you’ve ever expressed solidarity with men over women (e.g., “bros before hoes”), you’ve been supporting male supremacy, you’ve been siding with and giving moral support to people like Marc Lépine. And the overwhelming majority of men have done these things, and the majority are still doing it. #NotAllMen is just a way of lying about it.

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