“I hate feminists!” shouted Marc Lépine on Dec. 6, 1989, before killing 14 women. Thirty years later, hundreds of articles have been written and thousands of candles have been lit, but violence and hatred against women continues around the world.
The Polytechnique massacre was, it seems, an enigma. “Police cannot find what triggered Lépine’s action at Poly,” read the front page of Le Devoir on Feb. 28, 1990. It remains a mystery to some, such as former Conservative Minister Peter MacKay, who said 25 years after the fact: “We may never understand what occurred — why this happened, why these women were singled out for this horrific act of violence …” Some remain too short-sighted to see the elephant in the room.
The day after the massacre, there was a huge reactionary backlash as the media and politicians denounced the so-called feminist recovery. Even the president of the Quebec Teachers’ Union (Centrale de l’Enseignement du Québec), Lorraine Pagé, wrote at the time: “The fact that women were specifically targeted in this murderous attack must not lead to demagogy that will serve no one, neither women nor men.” In other words: women, keep quiet!
Right away, the story is transformed into one which puts feminists on trial, often portraying them as rabid women who want to castrate all men. Serious journalists asked whether the feminists had gone too far. Jean-Claude Leclerc from Le Devoir wrote: “We provide psychological care to the relatives of the victims of the Polytechnique. It will be necessary to invent therapy for these other victims of the change in relations between men and women.” This is just one example of the many articles which have been published. Up until very recently, the psychologist and columnist of the Journal de Montréal, Yvon Dallaire, published an annual column on Dec. 6 on the violence of women against men.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, there was a flood of pop-psychology, such as that of psychiatrist Guy Corneau, who explained the distress of a man who “was not confirmed in his identity as a man.” Absent father, absent son, he said. What we heard then is similar to today’s so-called “men’s rights” discourse conveyed by far-right public figures like Jordan Peterson.
The killer’s letter was unequivocal, however: “I decided to send the feminists who have always ruined my life ad patres [lit. to their ancestors; i.e., to kill them].” He was enraged by women who fought against the oppression of women, who fought for equality. He killed women because they were women. Lépine had even drawn up a list of 19 women involved in the media, in politics, and in trade unions, whom he planned to kill.
Some misogynists consider Marc Lépine to be the first “incel” killer. The extreme right-wing “incel” (involuntarily celibate) movement brings together men who have developed a deep misogyny on account of not having sex. Marc Lépine is now admired by many “incels”. Last year, the courts sentenced a Quebec man to four months in prison for intimidating feminist groups by sending them a photo of Lépine, accompanied by the hashtag #JeSuisLépine or the caption “One day, you will pay for all the harm you do to men.” The far right understands the meaning of the Polytechnique massacre and refers to it to intimidate and provoke. In 2017, a far-right, gun-enthusiast group called for a rally at the Polytechnique Memorial, which they referred to as the “Monument des Polypleurniches” (“monument to the poly-crybabies”).
Since the Polytechnique massacre, we have seen other misogynistic attacks such as the “incel” killings of Isla Vista in California in 2014 and Toronto in 2018. Far-right killings are becoming recurrent in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, and take place against a backdrop of an upsurge in extreme right-wing groups. Thirty years after Polytechnique, women, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups are still the targets of violence from reactionary filth like Lépine.
Hatred and violence against women and minorities is a clear symptom of a society in decline. Capitalism is in an unprecedented crisis, and this misery leads to alienation and the worst kind of reactionary movements. While the parasites at the top of society are making more and more profit, politicians and the media they control are encouraging increasingly exploited workers to look everywhere in search of a scapegoat — among women, immigrants, trans people, etc… The capitalist class takes advantage of hatred and division within the working class to maintain its domination. It is in this context that the ideas of the far right are able to fester.
How can we stop this violence once and for all? The best way to fight it is with the mass mobilization of workers and the oppressed against hatred and the far-right every time it rears its ugly head. This movement must also point the finger at the ruling class and the capitalist system — the real enemies of the workers and the oppressed. The most oppressed layers of society are often at the forefront in mass struggles. The last few months have seen unprecedented revolutionary movements all over the world. In Sudan, Chile, Lebanon, Ecuador, etc., women have thrown themselves headlong into the revolution. There is a new world to create, a socialist world. Women workers and oppressed peoples, united in struggle, are building this world.