Four Months and Two Days Early, the Message is the Same

George Sodini was certainly disturbed. Healthy, well-adjusted people don't go into fitness clubs and shoot up aerobics classes. Nor do they enter universities and shoot students sitting in class and walking in the halls. Marc Lépine was also crazy. But to therefore conclude that nothing about society can be learned from their actions, that nothing can be generalized from their self-stated motivations, is preposterous.

It is possible, even likely, that in a society free of patriarchy, Sodini and Lépine would still have gone on murderous rampages. These two men both felt they had failed in some aspect of their lives. For Sodini it was sex and romance, for Lépine the failure was more general, I think. He was rejected by the army, had difficulty making friends, and generally wasn't happy with his life. It seems likely to me that these failures would still have happened in a patriarchy-free society. Sodini and Lépine both blamed others for their failures, not taking any responsibility on themselves. This strikes me as equally likely to have been true even in a patriarchy-free society.

What strikes me as considerably less likely is that in an egalitarian society, they would have chosen to blame for their failures, and therefore kill, the same groups of people they did.

Even lunatics need context from which to draw their ideas. Sodini didn't shoot up an aerobics class, he shot up a women's aerobics class. Lépine didn't kill students, he killed female students. And the stories they told are familiar as hell. Any woman trying to make headway in a male-dominated field, hell, anyone with regular social contact with a large number of men has heard these stories before. Amanda Marcotte gets it exactly right when she says that women are put down, beaten, or killed for being insufficiently compliant. From refusing to be sexually available to a man to daring to succeed where a man has failed, the crime for which women are continually punished is that of acting like competent, self-reliant, independent adults, and it is exactly this behaviour that George Sodini and Marc Lépine blamed their failures on. It is for these reasons that Sodini and Lépine killed women and not some other group.

Contrary to what Naomi Lakritz seems to think in the above-linked article, I am not blaming men (all men or any particular men, or men as a group) for Sodini and Lépine's behaviour. I don't believe that all men have a little Marc Lépine in them, or that men as a class can be hanged on George Sodini's actions. What I do believe is that the choices these men made were not conceived in a vacuum. Like the choices many other men make, to beat or rape their wives and girlfriends, to mistreat the women in their office, to pass over their female employees for promotion, and to dismiss their female friends in conversation, Sodini and Lépine's choices of who to kill are symptoms of a common cause. Of attitudes prevalent in our society, and many other societies, about how women are or should be versus how men are or should be. These attitudes are held and perpetuated by both men and women and it's less a question of blame than it is one of effect and remedy.

In effect, if not intention, these massacres are acts of terrorism against women. That they were killing women because they were women means that I, and all the other women who weren't in those rooms, am still alive only by an accident of time and place. That knowledge breeds fear. It disinclines women to do things, go places, participate fully in society.

So what's the remedy? I'm not sure. But I would say that, contrary to what Ms. Lakritz would like, the first step is talking about it.