In the days following the massacre in Montreal which claimed the lives of fourteen young women (December 7, 1989) there has been much discussion concerning the raison d’etre for the murders and how society should respond. The disagreements, however, have often been divisive.
There is bitter dispute over whether the rampage should be characterized as an isolated event, or one consistent with a general male hostility toward women. Was it a political act? Was the murderer simply insane, or should some philosophical meaning be read into his actions? To what degree is this a feminist incident? Will it deepen the alienation that already exists between the sexes or will it occasion a new reconciliation? How can we eliminate violence in our society? How does one think clearly about an incident whose essential horror may be unmatched in all of Canadian history?
There are two distinguishable factors: the murder and the motive. Of the two, the murder is primary – it is the essence of the tragedy. It is in the fact that 14 human beings are dead that we are able to understand the primal significance of the event. Then there is the motive which apparently is discrimination on the basis of being female.
If the 14 women had died together in a bus accident, their deaths and the sense of loss felt by their loved ones would be no less real. The nation grieves for those women because they are dead. The discriminatory motive is a secondary factor.
Our primary reality is that we are human beings. This is also the basis for the love and justice we are capable of expressing toward each other. It is our humanity that encompasses all of us. We are male or female secondarily.
A woman is a human being first and a woman second; a man is a human being first and a man second.
The very essence of exist discrimination lies precisely in reversing this metaphysical order, that is, by assigning a greater value to one person’s sex than to another person’s humanity. The misogynist places his sex above a woman’s humanity. He seems to forget that what underlies femaleness is the same reality that underlies his own maleness – universal humanity. Thus, the woman-hater tends to lose sight of both a woman’s fundamental reality as a human as well as his own. But the appropriate response to the Montreal tragedy is not to imitate the murderer’s distorted priorities, but to remain faithful to the proper order of things – that we are all humans first and sexual beings second.
Some feminists appropriated the tragedy to themselves as if its central horror lay in the fact of its anti-women motivation. Consequently, in certain instances, they prohibited men from joining them in public memorial vigils. Regrettably, this attitude imitates the murder’s (reversed) priorities rather than opposes them.
While the nation seemed united in its opposition to violence, it was by no means united in what it understood to be violence. The day after the rampage, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record carried, on its front page, an interview with Lindsay Dorney, head of women’s studies at the University of Waterloo. Dorney decried the tragedy while relating it to other anti-women actions committed by men, including recent “court battles waged by men to stop their girl friends from having abortions.” She does not see abortion itself as violence. But she sees the attempt to stop abortion by legal measures as violence. This is hardly the kind of thinking, either on the part of media or feminist educators, that is going to eliminate violence in our society. Nor can it work to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex.
Putting all ideologies aside, abortion is in fact an act of violence. At times, even promoters of abortion can recognize this. William Gaylin, M.D. and Marc Lappe, Ph.D., who accept abortion, for example, have acknowledged that abortion subjects the live fetus to “unimaginable acts of violence,” including “dismemberment, salt-induced osmotic shock, or surgical extirpation.”
To classify violence against women with peaceful attempts to prevent violence against one’s own child-in-the-womb is to reflect a form of moral myopia that is simply mind-boggling.
We mourn and honor the Montreal University women by not allowing the motive for the murder to eclipse the murder itself.
It has become more or less accepted in some countries to abort a child for being the “wrong sex.” This practice, however, claims more female than male lives. The term “femicide” has recently been coined to express moral outrage at aborting because the child-in-the-womb is female.
Civil libertarians such as Alan Dershowitz of Harvard have argued against the right to abort because the unborn is female, even though they maintain that a woman has a right to abort for any other reason whatsoever. Here, discrimination is seen as a greater vice than murder. It is acceptable to abort a male but not to abort a female because she is female. It is not the act which is horrendous but merely the attitude. What could be a clearer illustration of subjective thinking?
Eliminating objective violence and objective discrimination requires objective thinking. Whatever the reasons may be, discriminatory or otherwise, the abortion of a female child means the death of a female child. This is the central evil and exemplifies just one of the many faces of violence that society must oppose. We cannot reduce violence very much if we continue to ignore the humanity of its victims.
We must oppose violence against human beings wherever it exists. We must also oppose sexism that gives sex priority over humanity.