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I was in the middle of reading about the Edmonton man who stabbed his friend’s seven-year-old daughter to death with scissors when I heard that the stabbings at a Toronto massage parlour would be deemed terrorism.
I, like many of you, am so very tired of reading about women and girls being killed by men.
This past January, at Women’s March Muskoka, I carried a sign that said Violence Against Women is a Hate Crime. I’ve been beating this drum for some time. It meets all the requirements.
Here’s the definition from justice.gc.ca, Canada’s legal website: “In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed ‘in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause’ with the intention of intimidating the public ‘…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.’ Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems.”
It’s a bit dense, but we can unpack it. Essentially, terrorism is criminal acts that have political, religious, or ideological motivation, with a heavy focus on intimidation of the greater populace, and can include anything from property damage to bodily harm and death.
There are a great many ways a person or group can enact terrorism, but let’s focus on ‘incels’. Incel, a word I am horrified to predict we will become ever more familiar with, is a portmanteau of ‘involuntary celibate’—a man who wants to have sexual relationships but can’t. Yes, really. Incel is a subdivision, if you will, of the alt-right and men’s rights activism, which you’ll find focuses an awful lot on removing women’s rights and not much at all on uplifting men.
If you want a primer, almost exactly a year ago, I made a video about this phenomenon. Have a watch.
Incel violence is not new. Perhaps most famously, in 2014, a young man in Isla Vista, California, killed six people, focusing on women. He left behind a manifesto, or rather the pathetic ramblings of a young man who thought the world owed him a girlfriend.
Toronto now can lay claim to two different incel murders.
In 2018, a man used a van to run down and kill ten people, also stating as his motive the fact that he had been sexually rejected.
And now, the murder of a woman in February has been deemed terrorist activity.
The incel movement is a conflagration fuelled by social and technological advances. Women’s activism for liberation has won for women rights that have been withheld by a society organized and run by men who were better served when women were serving better.
In the past one hundred years, women have been declared people, have been protected from abuse under the law, cannot be compelled to marry against our will, can file for divorce, can choose not to have children, can inherit property, have bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgages in our names, can receive child support, get abortions, open businesses, marry other women, press charges against a rapist, make our own medical decisions, and generally enjoy autonomy and agency.
All of that in only a century.
Lest my words be taken as satisfaction of a job well done, I must insist we continue to agitate for women’s rights. Especially when it comes to so-called domestic violence, which is skyrocketing under the pressures of COVID. In one Toronto shelter, calls regarding nstances of abuse shot to 400 per cent, with most of the country confronting increases of 20-30 per cent.
Appropriate housing for all and universal basic income are two solutions to this dire situation, and I would suggest that if we valued women, we would have made this happen decades ago. Hopefully we don’t delay much longer.
Men who hate women hate this upward trend toward liberation. These men have been raised on a steady diet of porn, internet extremism hubs, and unshakeable privilege. They are equally woefully insecure and shockingly entitled. They see the progress women are making as violence against them as men, rather than the levelling of a purposely unequal playing field. They believe society is already dominated by women, and they have to fight back against encroaching female domination.
And in a way? I get it. These men have been told all their lives, from media to religion to the nuclear family to observable cultural norms, that they will grow up, have sex with women, settle down and get married, have some kids, maybe have a couple affairs with younger women, and life will be good.
This is the story of patriarchy—both sexes are told what their futures will look like, and venturing off the beaten path is risky, inaccessible, or simply Not Done. So after being immersed in this hetero-sexist swamp, these men do not adapt to the way things really are, or even rail against the fact that they’ve been lied to by society—instead, they take out their anger and aggression on women.
Often, women they know.
Sometimes, women they don’t.
I also mentioned technological advances as being an inflammatory factor in incel extremism.
Twenty years ago, if you harboured a deep-seated antipathy for women, people outside your social circle probably didn’t know about it. Other than preaching at the pulpit or being aired on TV, the reach of the layman’s loathing was short.
Now, you can go online, even without knowing any of the lingo, and very quickly end up on a forum that that uses the word ‘femoid’ instead of woman, and casually refers to women’s inferiority and lack of humanity. Even if you never post on that forum, there’s enough who do that there’s always something new to read.
And at times, it can seem reasonable—we don’t often start at extreme. It’s men who are furious with the court for granting their ex-wife custody of their kids. It’s guys who were ghosted by a potential date. It’s men who observe socially prescribed gendered behaviour and take it as evidence that women are vapid and money-obsessed. (An example of this would be the ubiquitous advertising-driven stereotype that women love to shop. It’s sexism made into proof of women’s shallowness. Dehumanization leads to abuse.)
If you watch the Youtube video I posted in the beginning of this article and let the website autoplay related videos, you will at first be shown other videos with a leftist or feminist slant. But it won’t take long until the videos become centrist, then right-leaning, then ultimately alt-right, consisting of anti-woman, white-supremacist content. Youtube doesn’t take down these videos because they bring in a lot of views. People sit through them longer, therefore are exposed to more advertising. This funnelling-to-the-right algorithm is known, purposeful, and dangerous.
Amplifying these effects is pornography. Far from harmless, 88 per cent of porn now contains scenes of violence against women. Degrading language, choking, spitting, painful intercourse, simulated (and real) rape and human trafficking are all now common in your free and easily accessible porn. And like Youtube, porn streaming sites and apps funnel the viewer toward more extreme content, desensitizing the user, normalizing absolutely unacceptable behaviour toward women, and creating a false narrative of how women behave in real life.
I have been fighting for male violence against women to be considered a hate crime for years. The police determining that this act of violence against a Toronto woman in February meets the criminal code criteria for terrorism should be a relief, but forward strides in this movement always come at the cost of women’s lives.
I wonder what the implications of this will be—can the van killer have his sentence reviewed under this new lens? Who decides who is an incel and who is a garden-variety misogynist? Is there really a difference, or is all male violence against woman terrorism, intended to control and coerce individual women and women as a class into submission?
I hate that incel is a thing. I hate that some men feel they are owed sex. I hate that women are being terrorized en masse by these frequent and increasing acts of savagery and degradation against us.
I wish these conversations didn’t need to happen. But because they must, I will be here as a witness every step of the way. Will you look away?
*Note: I do not use the names of killers so as to limit their notoriety.
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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.