December 6, 1989

by easilyriled

It was a Wednesday. Four of us, (maybe 5?) were meeting together on the third floor of the big house that then (and now) serves as a rape crisis line and transition house, staffed 24 hours by women who volunteer their time and their best work to aid women to escape violence. Often, our best was pretty good. Sometimes it wasn’t. There weren’t many of us then, to do that work together. There are still too few, 22 years later, far too few.

I was in my mid-20s. My comrades that night were all about the same age, late 20s to mid 30s. I was the youngest. Most of us were pretty new to that work, one was a veteran in the front lines, and at the time had put in more than ten years. But every one of us had experienced male violence, sexist harassment, pervasive patriarchy constraining us. And we were fighting back.

We were meeting together and we were taking stock of the damage wrought upon women by men; we were strategizing what we could do to clean it up, protect women, (including each other) and prevent the next volley of threats and punches. We were counting the women, counting ourselves among the women, counting the costs of men’s violence against us.

Then the phone rang. I was the one who answered the phone.

It was another woman who had been volunteering earlier in the day. She told us to go to the basement and turn on the television. A man had gone into the École Polytechnique in Montreal and was killing women. He said, “I hate feminists”, she told us.

We knew that he meant us, too. We knew that he would have turned his sights on us, had we been in his range.

We were all close to the same age of the women who were murdered that night in Montreal. They were murdered because they dared to take up their rightful places as peers of men. They dared to study engineering.  It could have been us.

The earth shifted on its axis in that moment. I realized, even more clearly than before, that we were at war. What we were doing there was so much more important, so much more dangerous, than “helping others”.  We were audacious enough to think that if we were to offer women the support and ideas of other women; if we were to provide women with some shelter and time to plan and figure out how to get away for good; if we could get some traction to change the world we lived in and take up our rightful places– if we could do that, we’d be much closer to at least “okay”.

But we were not. And we are not.

That week, maybe it was Friday, the other rape crisis centre in town held a candlelight vigil. We stood shivering at the steps of the art gallery in the centre of town and muttered our rage as we held candles that sputtered in the rain.

A couple of other women I knew, feminists who organized with women in prostitution,* were there, too. They said, “prostitutes were forced out of well-lit areas just a few years ago, now many are missing. Where is the grieving for them? Where is the public outrage for their lost potential?”

Indeed. Those women, the women in prostitution, the women on the streets, were and are the ‘public women’ that we do not see. We do not see them as the women we are, the women we could be. We do not see them at all. They were and are for sale on the street because we are all commodified. Because they are for sale on the street, the men who put them there think we are all for sale. The men who put them and keep them there drive around and check them out. They ask every woman they see “how much?”  Especially the women on the dark streets, near the quiet warehouses.

The women at L’École Polytechnique that day were not for sale. They probably never considered that. No woman should be for sale. It should be unthinkable. As unthinkable as walking over to a group of people, separating the men from the women and killing all the women.

But clearly, neither of those heinous acts is unthinkable. Because men think of them all the time. They think of those acts and they act upon those thoughts. Marc Lepine was not the first to do such a thing. Jack the Ripper thought of such a thing in the late 1880s in London. The Green River killer thought of such a thing in the late 1970s in Washington State. And Willie Pickton thought of such a thing in the 1980s-2002 in Vancouver, BC. And many more men are thinking of these things.

Men have long been separating women from men and systematically killing us. Marc Lepine was a recent example of a man who targeted women he specifically identified as feminists. Women who dared to study engineering. Women who had the audacity to think that they could be men’s peers.

We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Prostituted women are the extreme of the “ideal woman”—the ones who will do what you want if you can pay her. The ones who will smile and nod and hold your penis in her hand or her mouth and all the while listen with apparent sympathy while you complain about your wife or your girlfriend or your boss or that bitch in the office next to you.  But if she steps out of line in any way—if she can’t get you off or doesn’t feign enough interest or if she wants her money up front or if she won’t do this thing or that, well, fuck that, you paid your money, you’re ENTITLED.

And she is not. To refuse a man who is paying? What nerve.

Those women engineering students, they were off the scale of ideal woman—studying engineering; complicated math, equations, designs. Things women are not supposed to be able to do, (that supposition is wrong, by the way). They were entitled, too. They were learning engineering and entitlement. What nerve.

Here we are 22 years later. I think perhaps that things have not changed that much for men since Marc Lepine went rampaging through L’Ecole Polytechnique yelling “I hate feminists”. Men hold the keys to the vaults. Men still outnumber women in engineering schools and boardrooms and parliament buildings. Men are still entitled, and still become angry when any of us say “No”, or if we have the audacity to say, “We belong here. Move over, you’re in my space.”

But we still do it. We have to. Because when we capitulate we’re in trouble, and when act with entitlement we’re in trouble. So we might as well walk around as if we goddamn well own the place.

“The nerve of those women!” you say?

Indeed.

We can never forget. And we can never let up. If we are to win, (and we will win), we must never lose our nerve. It has cost us a lot. And it will. But there is no alternative if we are to gain our freedom.
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* at the time “sex worker” was not in common use, nor was “prostituted woman” – women in prostitution were called, by us, ‘prostitutes’, and among each other they sometimes ‘reclaimed’ “ho” and “whore” and “hooker”.

18 Responses to “December 6, 1989”

  1. It’s one of those anniversaries you wish you could forget. If only we had the reason to forget. I worked in rape crisis too in my mid-twenties and every time the phone rang my heart would be in my mouth wondering what the next woman would have to say. Sometimes it was men spewing abuse.
    Thanks for your post.

  2. ive been thinking a lot about this lately easily riled. i think there are some of us here that, if we took a proper inventory, would realize either that we dont have as much to lose as we think; or that we have more resources than we are willing to admit, and need to call on them in this fight. some of us know powerful people, some of us are related to them, some of us *are them* and we need to take advantage of our assets as much as possible (whatever they are) and use them in this fight ourselves, or offer what we have to others. there are women here who are less vulnerable than others, and who, if they took inventory, would realize that if they wont step up, who? i know there are lawyers here, and law professors, and published authors, and others. i think we need to take a proper inventory and catalog what we have in our arsenal, and use it. capitulation doesnt work anyway, i think many of us are coming to this realization at the same time, for various reasons. the fact that even the least “feminist” and most capitulating among us are targeted in exactly the same ways (and even worse!) as are the most radical feminist is telling. there is no such thing as going too far, if the abuse is essentially the same either way, but the payout for *not capitulating* could be so much greater. go big or go home, in for a penny in for a pound, etc etc.

    more on capitulation, and how it doesnt work anyway:

    http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/ongoing-to-far/
    http://fabmatters.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/capitulating-doesnt-work-anyway/

  3. And yet feminists are the hateful ones, right? By the way the media, mainstream feminists, and everyday people you know describe and malign radfems one would think we’re the ones out murdering, beating, raping, torturing, trafficking, and systematically disenfranchising…but we’re not. We’re just trying to survive, find space and provide safe spaces for free thinking women. Clearly a form of violent rebellion in the eyes of our oppressors and the sheep who enable them.

  4. if you *are* going to capitulate, at least be HILARIOUS! this mommy blogger DARED protest her daughters preschools policy to let grown men take girl children to the bathroom, and having access to the girls genitals. the MRAs descended and threatened her and her kids. she apologized for having spread the misinformation that men are threatening to women and children. bahahaha! well done, mommy blogger!

    funnily, the MRAs seem to have accepted her apology. apparently, it is possible to be too insane with rape fantastical, threatening to kill a womans children rage (or too stupid? you decide!) to appreciate irony.

    http://www.chicagonow.com/2011/10/apology-to-mens-rights-activists-2/

  5. “So we might as well walk around as if we goddamn well own the place.”

    Excellent advice, Easilyriled 🙂 Although when I say essentially the same thing to our ‘tween daughter it comes out: Go through life as if you have every right to be here. Because you DO simply by virtue of BE-ING.

  6. Thanks, women. FCM, you’re right about the responsibility to act, especially for those of us with more slack in our chain. And I appreciate your links to those posts on capitulation–they have informed my analysis of how to act, and given me courage, too. What the hell, might as well walk around as if we own the place….and S4, it’s great that you’re telling your daughter that, too. most women are taught to be ashamed of the space we take up (hence size 0). Let’s go for critical mass instead.

  7. What a moving and inspiring piece, easilyriled. The ending is so right. I agree that not to speak is to capitulate. It is important to be very savvy about the methods and venues we choose for our speech, to maximize the effectiveness of such speech. The responsibility is even greater now as we are receiving so much global information about the status of women in human society in general. We must continue to explore theory and to act boldly and smartly. There is so much we need to continue discussing among ourselves.

    vliet

  8. easilyriled, what a great post. Thank you.

  9. easilyrilled what a moving post. I recall this event only too well….and I agree we must resist all attempts to silence our radicalism and in re-membering everyone of the 14 womon and all the womon who have been killed by the hands of men….we keep focussed, we keep re-membering it makes us stronger……there is a memorial to these womon and it was designed by young engineers ……

  10. Men will not change. They believe they own women and can treat them any way they like, this will continue as long as male supremacy is allowed to exist.

  11. I remember the day very well as I am an hour and a half from Montreal and frequently went to the feminist bookstore there. I was in the Women’s Council office in City hall and immediately called a vigil for the women and our female governor showed up. I never write the man’s name, I want it to be obliterated. We did vigils for many years but never silent ones since the Montreal women had said we are always silenced we need to speak up about this. And in Canada much was said and done about it publicly, though I don’t imagine the rate of violence against women is much better. I have been thinking lately that Western women really ought to be braver and put ourselves out more politicly.

    Having seen Pray the Devil Back to Hell and the amazing Laymah Gbowee and how they forced Charles Taylor to the peace table. I keep thinking what excuses do we have for letting this go on. We have more privilege than the women who will be dying from the climate chaos caused by western countries and lifestyles and uber capitalist patriarchy. I think we are in a dangerous and pivotal time and must summon all our courage to take on this miserable patriarchy in its death throes or it will take us all with it.

  12. what a moving post easilyriled.

    S4, what a moving comment “Go through life as if you have every right to be here. Because you DO simply by virtue of BE-ING.”

  13. Fucking men… Yeah, we really have to fight back and make our voices heard! We are womyn and we are ANGRY! What Lepine did was not “some odd case” or simply “acts of some ‘nutter’.” It actually represents male supremacy at the phase of its most revealed self: when it all just bursts into flame, throws phallic weapons or spits blazing gun-fire and it wants the death of feminism, with murders of womyn everywhere.

    Pickton, Jack the Ripper, the Ipswich murderer, the Yorkshire Ripper, Lepine… Those are not just a few “nutsoes” doing this. Those men simply represent what the vast majority of men would want to do if they could just dispose of us at will, if we were no longer useful as ‘fucks’, ‘breeders’, ‘whores’, ‘male ego-boosters’, ‘properties’, cooks, cleaners, shit-job workers, wives, mothers, daughters, or ‘playthings’ anymore… If we were no longer needed as sex objects, reproductive objects, ‘useful commodities’ or low-wage workers anymore, men would just get rid of us just like the womyn at the École Polytechnique…

    It is time that womyn reclaim their rights as human beings and reclaim some space for ourselves. And prostituted womyn are survivors of intense male violence, like so many of us are (even often they’ve actually gone through worse, in terms of VAW). I rage when there isn’t even a tenth of the usual public tears when a prostituted womon gets murdered.

    Thank you so much for this post, Easily Riled. It brought tears to my eyes. I will never feel what it was like to have been in Canada when that happened. I can imagine though…

  14. Actually, for the men who don’t want to ‘be associated’ with Lepine, Andrea Dworkin has responded to this. In Life and Death (1997), she said that although “not every man picks up a semiautomatic gun,” (p. 109) but it is because most men don’t need to. Men already excercise annihilating and destructive power over womyn in many other ways.

    Through the everyday male practices of pornstitution, compulsory heterosexuality, enforced PIV (& sometimes hetero PIA and other degrading acts), male-supremacist brainwashing (mindbinding of women), culturally enforced ‘feminine’ beauty practices, rape, harassment, etc, men already destroy womyn “body and soul, but yes, the shells are allowed to keep walking around. The shells are useful” (Dworkin, p. 109).

    Men turn womyn into ’empty shells’ in everyday male-supremacist practices of sexually and/or reproductively exploiting womyn. Womyn get separated from their sisters through hetero-relations; and womyn become devoid of their gynergy (via focusing on men, and identifying with the interests of men).

    Un(feminist)conscious womyn keep walking around in the society of men and keep suffering its painful consequences, without even being able to locate the source of their oppression, without ever being able to name the agent… unless they eventually read about what’s going on through us, radical feminists…

    No wonder radical feminism is so much hated by the wider male society. We are the only womyn who are ‘daring’ try to refill the ’empty shells’; we’re trying to expose the constant male mental, psychological, cultural, societal, physical and sexual assaults on womyn. We are trying to give womyn the possibility for a mind and a body that would genuinely be their own –not men’s. What a crime this is for male supremacy! No wonder radical feminists and radical feminism are hated by men and their ‘henchwomen’ (i.e. the few very strongly male-identified handmaidens of patriarchy)… We speak the truth.

  15. EasilyRiled, thank you for this post. Maggie, thank you for that Dworkin quote- I’m so glad you posted it here. Your comment is right on.

  16. No problem, Smash. Thank you. 🙂

  17. This is a wonderful post, easyriled. Really powerful and inspiring 🙂

    I especially like how you pointed out that the problem is part of a larger context of patriarchy… it’s **so** annoying when people point to guys like Marc Lepine, or to rapists, and single them out as “bad guys”… as if what they’re doing is some sort of aberration. Violence and discrimination against us women is pandemic.

    I wrote something on my blog a while back about December 6th and patriarchy, if anyone’s interested:

    http://theveganpensieve.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/striking-at-the-roots-of-patriarchy/

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