Today marked the 21st anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a man named Marc Lepine walked onto the campus of École Polytechnique in Montreal. He wasn’t a student there, though not for a lack of trying. In fact, he was on a special mission that day. He was going to exact revenge on those who he felt were responsible for his rejection. So he walked into a classroom. He pulled out his loaded rifle. His formula was simple. Men were told to leave. Women were told to stay. Then he fired. This began his rampage on campus. At the end of the day he had murdered 15 feminists’, including one he stabbed to death in a classroom while other students watched in shock and horror.
When violent events spill out before our eyes the natural reaction is one of shock. When the shock wears off, we begin to ask questions. How could this happen? There’s always this sense that our community’ should be safe from this. So many assumptions come with our community’. The first assumption being that our community’ couldn’t be producing these individuals. The distancing we all generally do towards those who kill and rape.
The disservice we do to our community is in the search for who is to blame. In every tragedy the sequence of events plays out and in the end someone is fired or ruled negligent or incompetent. This process is highly political and inherently flawed because searching for individual blame is by nature deflective of the greater responsibility. Once the public is satisfied that something was done we move on and begin the process of putting the past behind us.
So let’s begin the discussion at the point where the media and most of society are entirely too content to end. The beginning of the responsibility, and blame, that includes us.
In my research of Lepine it was no surprise to learn that he had been subject to brutal physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Nor was it shocking that his view of women as servile and second-class citizens had all been assimilations from his father as well. Lepine’s mother had her own job and pursued higher education, but the influence of his father was so pervasive that not even her positive model could derail his contempt.
Lepine, the adult, railed about the accumulated missed opportunities in his life, denied him by women he labeled the feminists.’ These were women who he felt didn’t know their rightful place in society. He couldn’t hold a steady job. He couldn’t pay his rent. He couldn’t be the man he was expected to be. So someone was to blame.
The Montreal Massacre shares some basic similarities to other school shootings, such as Columbine, and most recently in Virginia Tech. These men come from an ever growing group of alienated young men who live in a world that judges them in relation to their ability to control the forces around them. When faced with a world that is completely out of their control, they resort to the most extreme measures to regain control, to find some sense of maleness’.
We are taught, as men, that control is the issue. We need to control our anger, our pride, and our emotions. It is as if we are ticking bombs, with the true successes being those that never go off, or that go off in the most socially acceptable of ways.
This is the game we have been taught to play. There are no other alternatives presented. I think of my life, and my ability to retain control. To be perfectly honest, I feel like a failure in this sense. I emote, I have lost control many times, and it has cost me dearly in the past. I have taken action in exaggerated, seemingly unrelated ways in an attempt to reestablish it.
So what are our options? Are we put here on Earth to play out the game of control? If this is what our lives come to then some can say that there is very little room in society for the abuse survivor. You see, control was taken from us. We struggle to take it back in this subconscious battle. It plays out in all the seemingly benign interactions throughout our day. It finds a home in the failed relationship here, in the arrest there, or the hostile act of road rage elsewhere.
The natural role of women in society gives them a perspective we, as men, can learn from. You see, it is still our unspoken role to retain control, but we can change that role. Women exist in this world often from a position of vulnerability. They are not groomed from childhood that being the master of their domain is a necessity. It is an option, and one that they can quite comfortably not take. Their ability to access vulnerability, through the availability of a much wider range of socially acceptable emotions, provides an inherent power to master setbacks.
Our growing boys are regressing by virtue of that narrow tunnel of emotional expression they are expected to use to deal with their setbacks. One way or another, the boy will struggle to be master of his domain. Too often, it can lead to violence, rape, murder, or suicide.
So, here’s what all this means to me. First, men need more resources; especially outreach resources because we know that men are less likely to seek help. Second, we men need role models, badly. Where are the male survivors trailblazing a path to follow? I see many women revealing their abuse, and even female celebrities mustering their courage to come out. The field of support is there for women because they have fought to put their resources in place.
I can only think of a few atrocities that were so blatantly differentiating as the Montreal Massacre. Our society has failed many men, and maybe it failed Marc Lepine. He made the choice to murder women, in such a direct and twisted way. The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that we failed the women who died and their families who had to live on.
I don’t think I can, in good conscience, call this game of control’ a game after all. Control is simply an illusion we feel we need to exist. It creates a false sense of desperation whose consequences are all too real in the hands of men like Lepine. Our success in life is contingent upon our ability to be vulnerable and recognize it as our strength, our strength as boys and men. Only then can we truly call an event like the Montreal Massacre an aberration, as opposed to an inevitability.