I’ve been struggling to write a proper response to Holly Baxter’s guest blog for Mumsnet. I remain incredibly saddened that Mumsnet chose to run this particular blogpost by Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW.* I am unhappy that they linked my bloghop, which I intended to be a celebration of women’s voices, with a blog post which erases women from the feminist movement. I am annoyed that they locked the thread on the blog post where many of us were raising our concerns. I am disappointed that they dismissed our concerns as irrelevant to the point where they locked a thread and did not return to it. But, mostly, I am hurt that my concerns have been dismissed because of “my politics”, as if my “politics” make me incapable of rational thought. I am hurt that the concerns of other women are also being dismissed. As Lynn Schreiber said when commenting on a draft of this piece “if it is your politics, then it is our politics, as we were just as dismayed and angered by the reaction of Mumsnet.”
There really is so much wrong with Baxter’s post that it’s difficult to know where to start. At best, Baxter’s post was extremely naive but, to be honest, I think I am being over-kind with that description. Using the violent murder of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 to start a debate about the role of men within the feminist movement is, simply, offensive. There are valid debates to be had about the role of men in the feminist movement. This was neither the time nor the place.
Baxter compounds this offence by failing to name the 14 women who were murdered.
Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
Annie Turcotte, aged 21.
And, that is what is wrong with Holly Baxter’s blog. She makes it about the man rather than the women who were murdered. This isn’t unusual since this is precisely what the mainstream media does when violent men murder women. But, this isn’t a feminist position. It has never been a feminist position. Feminism is a woman-centred movement.
What Baxter seems to miss is that the man who murdered 14 women for being ‘feminists’ was never going to be a part of the feminist movement. He was never going to understand that the reason he didn’t get into the Canadian airforce or the Ecole Polytechnique was because of his personal failings. Men like that don’t respond to reason or constructive discourse. The men who do, the men we want involved in the feminist movement, don’t need to be told what to do or have to be in charge. They are already involved although sometimes their ‘help’ can be of questionable value as seen in the ‘Walk a Mile in her Shoes’ marches. The point is we don’t have to make a special effort to involve those men. If they want to be involved, they will be. Yet, Baxter seems to be implying that if feminists spent more time worrying about the involvement of men in the feminist movement, then men would be less likely to kill us. So, really it’s our fault that violent, anti-feminist men kill women they identify as feminists because we aren’t nice enough. It’s just another form of victim-blaming.
Frankly, I struggle to take any self-defined feminist who says this seriously:
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.
Feminists are already aware that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions. The thing is feminists aren’t the ones labelling men as “naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual”. That is the position the Patriarchy takes in its efforts to minimise and excuse male behaviour. Jack Layton, one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Movement in 1991, has been explicit that he was talking about male violence against women. The fact that the White Ribbon Campaign has become gender-neutral is testimony more to the power of those who want to ignore the issue of male violence than it is to men’s interest in the feminist movement. The men I know, who support the feminist movement, are more than aware that the vast majority of violence committed against women and children is by men. They know that the vast majority of violence committed against men is by other men.
Marc Lepine was not an isolated “madman“. To imply that ignores the lived realities of billions of women across the world. If Lepine were one isolated man, millions of women each year would not by murdered by men. If Marc Lepine was an “isolated” madman, then we have an epidemic of “isolated” madmen causing devastation and mass murder on an almost daily basis. Or, we could start discussing the reality of male violence and start expecting men to take responsibility for male violence, particularly since there are already men willing to address this issue.
The Massacre at the Polytechnique in Montreal was Canada’s Dunblane. This is something that we will never forget. It is something that has changed us all. To conflate it with the issue of men’s participation in the feminist movement is, simply, disrespectful. There are very valid discussions to be had about the involvement of men but this isn’t the time and it is most certainly not the ‘hook’ to use to make a cheap political point.
* I am not going to address the personal attack made by Holly Baxter on Dr. Julia Long. Dr. Long has addressed the issue here. What I will say is that Baxter owes Dr. Long an apology and it’s telling that despite being factually wrong, Baxter has made no public statement retracting her personal attack.