December 6, 2009

Remembering The Montreal Massacre

I remember. In truth, I don't actually remember the Montreal Massacre happening. I was three. My parents had me, and my mother had just given birth to a second daughter, my sister. My mother herself was not so different from the women who had been shot; she too was a woman in a man's profession, one of the first five women in North America to work as an i-banker on a bond desk. What's more, she had started out in engineering. After deciding it wasn't for her, she switched to economics, but my mother had always been a woman in a man's world. A woman who had operated safely within it. She might have encountered sexist men who expected her to bring them coffee when she was their professional equal, but she had never, as far as she has told me, feared for her physical safety. This, I imagine, must have been a wake up call.

December 6, 1989, must have been a truly frightening day to be both a woman and a mother of daughters. I wonder if, just for a minute, my parents had wished they'd never had me. That they'd never had my sister. I wondered if they wished they'd had boys. If they'd felt like giving up on the incredibly hard job of being a mother and father of daughters in a world where women are still hated by so many. My mother was a feminist who was raising her daughter to be feminists, but suddenly, this was a liability, as the Montreal Massacre's perpetrator said he was "fighting feminism" in shooting innocent female engineering students. Sure, my parents wanted us to be whatever we wanted to be, but I wonder if they wondered if we'd be safer if they raised us not to rock the boat, to be women without opinions or feminist values who stayed at home and raised children and always deferred to our husbands. In the end, my parents must have decided the risk was worth it; they raised us to be feminists. I am doing a PhD in women's studies at York university and my sister is a science student who hopes to go to medical school.

My parents never told me about the Montreal Massacre. I think they couldn't find the words to tell me no parent ever wants any child to understand, "if you had simply been born in a different time, a different place, someone would have tried to kill you just for being you." It be true, but it doesn't mean it's a lesson you want to teach. In the end, I finally learned about the Montreal Massacre at my all-girls high school, when I was in grade 9. My teacher burst into tears and had to leave the room halfway through her explanation of what had happened. It was a lesson she too knew we had to learn, but one she also didn't want to teach. It's one of those lessons that's true and women must face (that still so many people hate and resent us for our dreams and accomplishments), but it's so unfair that it's true. It's a lesson our parents and teachers shouldn't have to teach, because it's so tragic it shouldn't be true....

Today, I'm 23. I am the same age as some of the women who were shot for being what their killer called "feminists." I am a feminist. Feminism's fights aren't over, as Stephen Harper, our prime minister, seems to hate women. Just look to his policies in Catherine Porter's article on the Montreal Massacre here. .

I wonder, if I one day have a daughter, how I will tell her about the Montreal Massacre and when that will be? Because, you see, she would need to know; I would have to tell you, but where would I find the strength to tell her what my parents could never tell me? I suppose I'll find the strength from knowing that the only way to achieve my feminist goals is to fight for them. My daughters would need to know what they are fighting against....

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