Globe and Mail

Let the women rest in peace

MARGARET WENTE
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, December 7, 1999

I turned on Newsworld yesterday morning and there was Nancy Wilson, trying to make the best of things with an interview of a victim's sister. The sister was saying, "We're just starting to learn what happened." Then came another relative. "The government should put forward some laws," she said. They reran that awful footage of a dead girl being wheeled away from the scene of the massacre. Up popped Judy Rebick to explain that, despite an increased awareness of violence against women, the violence continues.

I turned on This Morning with Michael Enright. "Are we any safer or wiser?" he asked. He was interviewing a guest named Victoria who does performance poetry. "I certainly don't think we're any safer," she said. A technician cranked up the elegaic music.

CBC's Newsworld devoted an entire day of programming to commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre -- more than 17 hours of replays, live coverage of Monday's memorial services (on top of the weekend's memorial services), and endless thumbsucking on whether we are any safer or wiser. I felt sorry for the hosts, saddled with such a project. Such a spectacular display of witless necrophilia has not been in evidence since JFK Jr. went down -- and that, come to think of it, was news.

Over at the commercial radio station, they had a different take. "I've come to think of Dec. 6 as Men are Monsters day," said the male host.

He had a point. Back at the CBC, they were dishing up non-stop male-bashing and fear-mongering. "I do wish men were more responsive to women's fear, because we never know when an event like this will happen," one caller told Ann Petrie. A young woman phoned in to share the lesson she had learned: Society still doesn't want girls to be everything they can be and, if they get uppity, society might blow them away.

Ms. Petrie, God bless her, tried to raise the point that mass murder, at the end of the 20th century, seems to be an equal-opportunity crime. She could have saved her breath. In case we didn't get the message, the show included big quote boxes superimposed on the screen. "Men know power in their bones," read one. "They have subjugated women for so long that they have come to regard it as their innate right." That comes from the mother of a victim, so I guess it has automatic credibility.

On another Newsworld talk show, a panelist espoused the popular view that male violence exists on a continuum, with loutish behaviour on one end and homicidal mania on the other. "Jokes we thought were acceptable were where it began," she observed. The host broke for a commercial, saying, "And now, when we come back -- the men's point of view!" I stayed tuned to find out what it was. One man said he had once lived in Africa, and wanted us to know that we are perceived by the rest of the world as a very violent society. Hmm, I thought. Compared to whom? South Africa, perhaps? Rwanda? Another man said timidly that he thought men had been excluded from the debate on violence against women because they are men. Then he apologized, in case he'd said something insensitive.

Ann Petrie got it right, though unfortunately no one was listening. Killers hold grudges against everyone. Marc LÚpine did, indeed, have a murderous grudge against women. But apparently the man who shot up the daycare centre a few months ago in California had a murderous grudge against Jews. The teenagers at Columbine had a murderous grudge against jocks. Like Marc LÚpine, the man who shot his fellow transit workers in Ottawa had a hit list. He, too, left a note explaining his motives. So did the day trader who rampaged through Atlanta.

There is a bizarre us-too element in all this anniversary coverage, as if we feel compelled to compete with bigger, more violent nations with atrocity stories of our own. We are such a little place, such a safe one, where hardly anything awful happens. Once in a while it does, and then, by gosh, we are going to stand up and declare that our social pathologies rank second to none.

Is there a larger harm inflicted by all this excess? I think there is. The CBC's coverage decision cannot help but institutionalize yet more anti-male rhetoric. And what a message there is in this for kids. To girls: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. The world is a dark and dangerous place for you. And to boys: Be guilty. Be very, very guilty. Because you're to blame, too.

It's time to regain both proportion and propriety over the tragedy of Dec. 6, 1989. Fortunately, media programmers are simple-minded creatures who think in round numbers. So the 11th anniversary will be a far more subdued affair. What a mercy that will be. It's long past time to let the memory of these bright and shining young women, our most beloved daughters, rest in peace.

E-mail: mwente@globeandmail.ca

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