I don’t always like to be right.
In fact, there are many times I’d rather be utterly wrong. When isolation became the norm, I thought of the women now trapped with their abusers, deprived even of the scant reprieve when he would go to work or out with friends. I thought, “This is going to get so bad for women.” Horrifyingly, that intuition proved correct.
When we learned about the van killer in Toronto and his ‘beliefs’, I said, “he sounds like an incel.” We later found out that was indeed his ideology.
And when I first heard about the shooter in Nova Scotia, I thought, “I bet he hates women.” I said it out loud, and no one challenged it—everyone, including me, wanted me to be wrong. I knew nothing else about him other than he’d murdered people and impersonated police.
Whatever the motive would prove to be, there was not a doubt in my mind that the Nova Scotia shooter was male. They just are. Time and again, especially in the United States but indeed globally, men pick up guns and shoot people. Folks are welcome to debate the whys and wherefores of this indisputable fact, but I’m over that part of the conversation.
Assuming the killer must be male is almost too obvious to state. I can’t fathom a world where the first thought that comes to people’s minds when they hear of a mass killing is “I wonder why she did it?” Women just do not kill this way. You’d have to go back a hundred years to enumerate enough female killers (of any variety) to equal the men who killed just last month. Murder is, indeed, very much a male pastime.
Men do tend to murder other men more than women. Here’s two reasons why male killing of women is distinct from male killing of other men:
- Men who kill men do not purport to love those men. On the contrary, men who kill women are often killing their girlfriends, wives, and children. People they claim to love.
- Men who kill men don’t do it because they hate all men; they do it because they hate that man. But men who kill women often do it because they hate all women—and the woman they killed is a stand-in, a symbol, of who he hates. She’s incidental.
This information is pertinent when we examine the pattern of male violence in our communities and across the globe. It’s actually not that hard to predict it, when you see and understand the symptoms of the disease. It’s much more difficult to change something when we deny it’s happening in the first place. Or, as Canadians tend to do, accept that it happens but deny that it’s meaningful. Or accept that it’s meaningful, but deny that it’s alterable.
From Wikipedia: “Cassandra was a daughter of the King of Troy. Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings.”
Let me take a moment to lament that so much of Greek mythology, like most belief systems, is absolutely drenched in woman-hating and male-power fantasies. Another woman punished for existing as female, a lesson to girls and women not to spurn male advances lest you be cursed. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, Cassandra is the one who foresees the truth, speaks it, and is never believed. Not to put too fine a point on it here, but it is actually really shitty and not fun at all to be the person who, upon hearing of a mass shooting and no other information, predicts that the killer hates women. But the pattern is just that clear.
The Nova Scotia mass shooter’s first victim was his ex-girlfriend. The second, her new partner. From there, many women, men, and children. The count is at 22 (as of April 21)—now the most devastating mass murder in Canadian history, surpassing even the Montréal Massacre at École Polytechnique (“I hate feminists”) in 1989. [Note: due to new information, it is unclear whether the killer’s ex-girlfriend was murdered. It remains true that she was his initial target.]
This type of violence is not random, unthinkable, or senseless. Even Cassandra would still scream from the rooftops that the killer’s ex probably thought that he might end up killing her—it likely wasn’t unthinkable to her. In the days to come, we might even hear about restraining orders, threats he made against her or her family, or a collection of weapons that people in his circle knew about.
Not unpredictable. And it makes perfect sense, when you step back and look.
In this article, a neighbour of the man who caused this violence, whose name I will not use so as to stymie his notoriety, told the reporter: “He had some issues, especially with his girlfriend.” The neighbour described him as jealous and possessive. Completely textbook behaviour in abusive relationships. Open secrets and red flags abound.
The man who killed 14 women on December 6, 1989 at an engineering school sent the men out of the room. The men left. Fourteen women were killed, murdered for daring to seek education in engineering, a traditionally male-dominated field. This killer felt so entitled within male supremacy, the culture in which he was raised and radicalized, that he removed women from the planet just for existing as women.
In our society, part of the ‘compromise’ of patriarchy is the agreement that men will protect women. Now, this is neither the way it should be, nor the way I want it to be. Base level would be the idea that women can take care of themselves. And advanced level would be, women do not need protection because men no longer intend to do us harm. But this protection racket is still the covenant of the patriarchy. Yet relentlessly, we see this covenant desecrated. Man walks into the room with a gun. Tells all the men to leave so only women remain. Man tells women they are all feminists and he hates feminists. Man annihilates women.
Screw protection. I want to see men actually describing this violence in accurate terms. I want to hear men talk about male pattern violence, about red flags they see among their friends, about their own indoctrination into a rape culture and what they do to combat those toxic learnings. I want to see men talk about their unabashed reliance on women for often unreciprocated emotional support. I want to see them say, wow, this is totally a male problem but we’ve made it women’s problem. I want to see the comments section on this article distinctly devoid of denials, reversals, projections, ‘whataboutisms’ and #notallmen. Yeah, I get #notallmen, but where are you then? If you’re not the one behind the barrel or bashing the keyboard, where are you?
We know the killer’s motivation. His ex’s name was at the top of his list, whether he wrote it down like the Montréal Massacre killer did or just kept it on the tip of his tongue. We don’t need to speculate about why he did what he did.
At the risk of sealing my fate as Cassandra, doomed to predict and never be believed, this will not be the last time a man kills his ex, others, and himself. Let it be the last time we act shocked. We owe the victims that much.
The only way to stop this kind of violence is if we can admit we saw it coming.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.