Margaret Wente

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Dec. 07, 2009

It won't have escaped you that Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the Montreal massacre – that horrific day when a man walked into the city's l'École Polytechnique, separated out the female students, screamed “You are all a bunch of feminists!” and shot them with a semi-automatic rifle, leaving 14 dead. As always, the day was marked by memorials and candlelight vigils across the country, affecting interviews with families and survivors – and a large helping of overheated nonsense.

“Twenty years on, little has changed,” opined the Toronto Star, which cited the fact that women continue to be killed “in their homes, on the streets, on university campuses and on lonely stretches of highway.” It blamed the government, for cutting aid to violence-fighting groups and for voting to scrap the long-gun registry. “But the government is not solely to blame,” it said. So who else is? “We all are.” Why? Because we tolerate a viciously misogynist society.

How much sophistry can you stuff in one small space? The truth is that women in Canada have never been safer than they are today. Violent crime is trending down, and the vast majority of its victims are men. The gun registry has been written off as useless – by the Liberals. Women still suffer far too often from spousal abuse. But social tolerance of it has all but disappeared, and the laws are tough.

In the narrative of the Montreal massacre, the students were killed for being feminists – for daring to pursue their dream. That's true, so far as it goes. But this narrative also implies that the rage of Marc Lépine reflected the rage of ordinary men embittered by seeing women get ahead. That's a misandrist slur. And Mr. Lépine's deeply troubled background is usually ignored. The son of an Algerian-born businessman, he was born Gamil Rodrigue Liass Gharbi. His father had a deep contempt for women, and severely abused both the boy and his mother before abandoning them. Mr. Lépine obviously contracted his father's rage. But he no more resembled ordinary men than Robert Pickton does.

It's natural to try to make meaning out of ghastly events. Yet, sick and twisted people sometimes do sick and twisted things, and such crimes are largely random. The Montreal massacre is said to be different from other mass murders because a specific group (women) were the targets. But the Fort Hood killer singled out a specific group, too.

For two decades, Dec. 6 has been an annual excuse for fevered breast-beating over the moral failings of society and the persistent inequality of women – as if the glass ceiling or the lack of universal daycare existed on the same moral continuum as homicidal misogyny. “I'm not very optimistic,” warned Nayyar Javed, who spoke at a vigil in Saskatchewan. “Women in Canada in all sectors are not equal to men.” Monique Frize, an engineer at Carleton University, allowed that there's been “progress and regress” in women's rights, and suggested that young women are reluctant to call themselves feminists because they're being “gagged.”

Yet, according to yesterday's Globe and Mail, women now make up three-fifths of all university students and most of the PhD candidates. University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera – a woman and an engineer – warns that society can no longer ignore the problem of what's happening to men. It's true that hundreds of aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in recent years. But so have an even greater number of aboriginal men.

By all means, let's mourn the exceptional young women whose lives were cut short one awful day in 1989. But let's stop insisting they were victims of deep-rooted cultural misogyny. There's plenty of that in the world already. In Afghanistan, women are routinely killed for defying men. In South Asia, vast numbers of female fetuses are aborted, and girls are routinely neglected in favour of their brothers. In Canada, it's time to get a grip and move on.