After Marc Lépine killed 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique, his actions fuelled a rejuvenated feminist movement across Canada.
Before he committed the murders in a classroom in 1989, he told the men to leave. In a suicide note he blamed feminists for ruining his life. Women knew exactly what to do: get mad. In every city and most towns, they held vigils and protests. But men struggled with how to support a movement that wasn't theirs.
Lee Lakeman, who was working at the rape relief and women's shelter in Vancouver at the time, remembered how men came out to the protests and vigils "demanding to be at the microphones or in the rallies and objecting to women wanting women-only allies." In an article she wrote for This Magazine three months after the massacre, Lakeman described the scene:
"As the (Vancouver) ceremony draws to a close, the organizers ask the men in the crowd to move back, leaving women in the centre for a ritual in which they will hold hands. Few men move. A dishevelled man moves around yelling."
Twenty-five years after the Montreal Massacre, as we grapple with another college gunman enraged by feminism, campuses rife with sexual assault and celebrity icons accused of sexual abuse, we need men to join the fight against violence against women in a helpful way. And feminism needs to make space for them.
That doesn't mean embracing men who co-opt feminist rallies or mansplain feminist ideology to land a date. We need men at the bar, on campuses and at house parties to stand up to misogyny. Without men on board, feminism will never obliterate a misogynistic culture that encourages violence against women.
While passion and anger from feminists has resulted in sweeping political progress, feminism is too easy for college boys hopped up on booze and hormones to ignore or mock. Regardless of the policy gains the movement makes, as long as sex is considered a conquest, liquor the best lubricant, and degrading women worthy of a high-five, campuses, streets and offices will always be hotbeds of gendered violence. And the best people to convince men that chauvinism isn't cool are other men.
Though the male response in the aftermath of École Polytechnique was not ideal, it did inspire the White Ribbon campaign. In 1991, a group of male activists and politicians from Toronto formed an organization to help men examine the cultural roots of violence (it has since spread to over 60 countries). That approach is extremely important.
In a recent survey, White Ribbon found that less than 50 per cent of men were willing to call out or stop a peer's "sexist language or behaviour." The report cites other studies that found "men are more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault" if they think the men around them would as well, and that "the likelihood of rape is higher when men believe other men are more likely to endorse rape myths." In other words, misogyny has a domino effect.
Men make a lot of excuses for not getting involved in the fight against violence against women. White Ribbon found that if men aren't abusive themselves, they often don't feel part of the wider problem. They don't act because nobody asked them to participate. Then there's everybody's old favourite: feminists are too hostile. But what men don't realize is that they don't need to hang out with angry women at protests to participate in feminism. They can simply challenge toxic ideas about masculinity. There's more pressure and ways than ever to get involved.
This fall, U.S. President Barack Obama released a public service announcement targeted specifically at men in which celebrities such as Jon Hamm stare into your eyes and say "It's on us to stop sexual assault." Former NFLer turned actor Terry Crews wrote a book about letting go of toxic masculinity, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt has encouraged men to identify as feminists. Groups like Male Allies Against Sexual Violence, conferences like What Makes a Man, and websites like The Good Men Project all exist to help men develop healthy ideas about manhood.
But there's another reason men don't jump to support feminist causes such as ending sexual violence: they feel women have labeled them as part of the problem rather than the solution. Feminists are justified in saying "grow up." Female anger is a necessary part of earning equal rights. But it doesn't help the sexes work together toward the common goal of ending violence against women.
Instead of bickering on social media (#NotAllMen vs. #YesAllWomen), we need more programs that put both genders on the same team. The University of Windsor offers a course that dispels myths about sexual violence ("she asked for it by wearing a short skirt") and teaches bystanders to intervene. Half of the spots in the class are reserved for men and student facilitators must be a male-female pair.
We should also listen to our enemies. One of the bravest ideas to fight violence against women comes via a documentary made by the filmmaker Attiya Khan, who sits down with a man who physically abused her for two years and asks him to explain why he hurt her. "It's important to me that people don't view Steve as a monster," Khan explains in the trailer. "I just don't think that helps. I wonder how much violence could be prevented or lives saved if we were able to get inside the head of the abuser."
Twenty-five years after the Montreal Massacre, men need to realize the biggest contribution they can make to feminism is to become better men. And so long as they are not stealing the spotlight at protests, women need to accept them in our movement. As a united front, we have the best chance of rejecting Lépine's twisted worldview.
*This post previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen