Sometimes the world is just ugly.
Wood s lot had a memorial up for the Montreal massacre of 1989. In 1989, I was hanging out in bars and making photographs and didn’t pay much attention to the news. I had no clue what this was all about. The links he provided didn’t say much, other than 14 women were killed only because they were women.
This just plain freaked me out. I love women. What the hell was this all about? Sometimes, we in the US tend to feel like all of the really dangerous lunatics come from here. At least, our media tends to reinforce this each day with tales of sociopaths hunkered down in their bunkers garnering great attention. The university I attend is filled with professors that specialize in gender issues, and feminist theory, and each class I take always involves an evolving sensitivity to the way that everything we say effects the place of women in society. Sometimes it gets tiresome, but the issues are real. I’ve been blessed by the company of many brilliant women in this life, and seldom have felt threatened by them. But I guess this isn’t the case with everyone.
The scary thing is that gender bias still exists, in horribly insidious forms. I listened with great attention to a presentation on the final night of my Language Theory class to a graduate student, originally from South Africa, who had researched the perception of pronouns. You know the issue: why do we say he when we mean a collective group of men and women? Why don’t we say she? The case study she explored dealt with the possible options to alleviate this situation.
One possible way, is to switch to using she. After all, we’ve arbitrarily used he for a few hundred years, so why not she? Or we could alternate, using them in equal portions. The problem is that according to the study she read, if a writer uses she the writing is automatically thought to be of lower quality. The study was done with academic people, people who should know better than to make such value judgments. But they consistently rated papers which used she as lower quality writing.
A third option is just to pluralize collective pronouns. Use they and rewrite the sentence for proper agreement. That’s what I try to do, when I catch myself that is. However, the problem isn’t really the words themselves. It’s the perception that the female version of a word is lower in stature. Personally I refuse to use the he/she or s/he alternatives. I think people need to really examine the bias underneath it more than they need to modify the language with new constructions. It’s the bias underneath it that is the scariest thing.
If you were, like me, blissfully ignorant about what happened in Montreal on December 6, 1989 please do yourself a favor and visit this site. It contains a transcript of a letter written by the wacko, and a full recounting of the events. But for those who don’t want to click through, here’s the core information:
WHERE: Ecole polytechnique, the University of Montreal’s engineering school.
WHEN: The afternoon of Dec. 6, 1989.
WHO: Marc Lepine, age 25.
HOW: Lepine was armed with a Sturm Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, knives and bandoliers of ammunitions.
WHY: Rejected when he applied for admission to the school, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.
VICTIMS: Fourteen women killed; 13 others, most women, wounded.
NAMES OF THE DEAD: Genevieve Bergeron, 21: Helene Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Annie St-Arneault, 23; Michele Richard, 21; Maryse Laganiere, 25; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 28; Annie Turcotte, 21.
I don’t know why, but this bothers me much more than Columbine or Waco, or any of the more recent American massacres. Maybe it’s because around this time, I was considering trying to convince people that I was a lesbian. They had much greater exhibition opportunities in the art world; I surveyed an art magazine of the time and found that 75% of the calls for work were for women only. Hey, I only wanted to be with women, my sexual preference has always been monolithic that way; but I am the proud owner of a penis so I guess I’m disqualified. However, when I read about shitheads like this one, I’m not so proud of it anymore.