Prevention is the best cure, it’s been said. Indeed, it’s easier to quit smoking than treat lung cancer, so it’s sound advice. There’s only one problem: that’s not where the money’s made. For instance, we know there’s a strong correlation between fast food and sugar to obesity. Quebec has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in Canada after they banned fast food advertising to kids. Yet the food industry spends a lot of time and money trying to deny responsibility for the deteriorating health of the nation and blame individuals instead. And while yes, we do need to take personal responsibility for our own health, omnipresent advertising for junk food and the sneaky way sugar and salt manage to find their way into everything makes that a lot more difficult.
So why do I bring this up during the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre? Because a young man specifically targeted women engineers for killing, blamed them for being feminists just for being women in engineering, and yet to some people, we’re not supposed to talk about feminism. That’s taking advantage of a tragedy to push an agenda. Stop politicizing things. Not all men are responsible. All that? Aside from being absurd, that’s the same thought-terminating cliché process as that which keeps the junk food industry unrestrained in pressuring us to eat shit. And it’s leaving men’s rights activist types swarming all over the Internet with a similarly misogynistic mentality, including Elliot Rodger and the guy who invoked this national trauma to threaten Anita Sarkeesian, unaccountable for their attitudes.
But I’m male (biologically, it’s more complicated when you get into personality), and to a lot of men and even other women, that’s somebody else’s problem. The Montreal Massacre is to be mourned, but only as an isolated event in the past. It has no bearing on the present, where friends close to me feel the pressure of being “the girl” at minimum. Nor is there any need to look into the future, no matter how many times men commit hate crimes against women and explicitly claim women as a whole ruining their lives as the motive. Fourteen women were killed just for picking engineering as a career option, but women should just shut up and take personal responsibility. It’s the coward’s response; absolving yourself of responsibility by chastising others for it. Understanding the lives of others requires empathy and understanding for others, but caring takes effort. To me, preventing hate crimes against anyone just for being women matters more than anything.
But fortunately, times have changed in 25 years, and it’s been heartening to read reflections on how people are more willing to discuss root causes and preventive cures for the societal ills which created the killer. Women are more able to speak up against rape and other crimes (and if that isn’t personal responsibility, I don’t know what is). And as the article mentioned, the Jian Ghomeshi case shows we as a nation are more willing to listen, even if it is hard to accept the appalling actions of a national icon. And yes, Thomas Mulcair was completely right in calling out Peter MacKay for neglecting the cause of the Montreal Massacre. It wasn’t a matter of politics, but human rights.
So let’s not just remember the past for a single day. The legacy of the Montreal Massacre must be carried into the present and future so that women in engineering for more than just “the girl”. Reflection on self and society may be challenging, but that’s what courage is about.