The Vagenda's Holly Baxter: we need to include men in the battle to end violence against women

In this week's guest blog - part of the #16days of activism to end violence against women - The Vagenda co-editor Holly Baxter argues that we can't end violence against women by kicking men out of feminism. 

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On December 6th, 1989, a twenty five year old gunman called Marc Lépine entered an engineering school affiliated with the University of Montreal and asked the students in a lecture hall to separate themselves according to sex: men on one side of the room, and women on the other. He then shot all of the women in the room. In the following twenty minutes, he stalked the corridors of the institute, looking for further targets as he loudly espoused the view that feminism had 'ruined his life'. Twenty eight people were shot in total, and fourteen female students died before he turned the gun on himself. This shocking display of violence, all in the name of preventing further efforts for gender equality, is known in the English-speaking world as the Montreal Massacre.

Lépine's choice of an engineering school was no coincidence. His 'anti-feminist' ire was particularly targeted at women who were training in areas traditionally dominated by males - or, as he saw it, taking men's jobs. One of the students in a classroom that he entered was reported as attempting to reason with him: 'We're not going on marches against men,' she said, 'We're just students intent on living normal lives.' But as in the case of so many other women, Nathalie Provost's desire to live a 'normal life' - the same life that could be reasonably expected for a man - was seen by her attacker as one ask too far. 

Sadly, we still live in a world where the Sixteen Days campaign, which aims to increase awareness of and take action to eliminate violence against women, is still necessary. The Sixteen Days website carries a prominent quote from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon which summarises the international situation in fairly depressing terms: 'Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture.' Female genital mutilation, sexual violence as a weapon of war, trafficking, unemployment, pay gaps, harassment, and stereotyping are all examples of why this campaign is so important.  And while we address the inequality that still exists in our world, it's important to pursue our aims with as many people on our side as possible. This battle has to include men.

It might seem like a no-brainer to say that, but nothing has demonstrated the need to get explicit about inclusivity more than the London Feminist Film Festival this week, where academic and activist Julia Long asked all men to leave a post-screening show where she was appearing as a panellist. She defended her position by saying that including men in feminism had had negative effects in the past - but didn't mention any specific examples. By imposing her own segregation in this context, she ran the danger of making us all lose half the battle - after all, we share this world with men in a 50/50 split. Needless to say, the men who had come to watch the screening and hear what prominent feminist speakers had to say were not oppressors hell-bent on hijacking a movement from the inside. They were people who believed passionately in equality, even though, for the most part, sex discrimination will never directly affect them. But Long saw them as the enemy, and encouraged others present to see the same.

Following the Montreal Massacre, the national outpouring of grief in Canada included official action from both male and female groups. A group of men in Ontario organised a White Ribbon Campaign to symbolise 'the idea of men giving up their arms' and the widespread male support for feminism in the country. Meanwhile, a monument in the tragedy's wake that was erected 'to all women murdered by men' proved controversial and was eventually removed, amidst protests that it implied Marc Lépine was a representative of the male sex rather than an isolated madman. In a world where gender violence is usually perpetrated against women by men - human trafficking for prostitution as one example, where estimates of 27 million slaves, mostly females enslaved by males, were brought to the attention of the UK public this year through a top twenty single called 27 Million, written by a man - it can be difficult to address the issue without demonising our male counterparts. But it's important to remember that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions (which, incidentally, include the assumptions that men are naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual - insulting, to say in the least.) It's not about destroying men, or holding innocent men to account for the actions of people who share nothing in common with them except a penis. That's just biblical.

As for the Montreal Massacre, there is one semblance of a happy ending that came out of it. Nathalie Provost, the student who pleaded for a normal life, recovered from gunshot wounds accrued in the attack, completed her engineering degree, and went on to work for the Quebec government. From her hospital bed, she urged women not to be discouraged from pursuing education because of Lépine's words - and her success is something to be celebrated. Ultimately, she is living a 'normal life', where her normality is defined by the ability to live undefined by her vagina. We should keep that at the forefront of our minds during and after the 16 Days movement, because normality is worth fighting for. And unless we're outright hypocritical, we need to fight for it with our brothers alongside us.


Last updated: 16-Apr-2013 at 12:38 PM