Saturday, December 6, 2014

Twenty-Five Years Later

Embedded image permalinkToday is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, where 14 women were killed at the École Polythechnique, and 14 more were injured.  These women were executed for the crime of trying to be engineers while also being women.

On December 6th, 1989, a 25-year-old man grabbed a hunting rifle, walked into the school that had rejected him, into an engineering class.  He told the men to walk out, and opened fire on the women.  Before killing himself, he said his motivation was to fight feminism.  He was angry at what he saw as women usurping his rightful position by studying engineering while he was not.  Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last 25 years, for women as a whole, and for women in STEM.  The massacre prompted the creation of a long-gun registry in Canada, which required the registration of all restricted and prohibited firearms in Canada, and which was scrapped by Harper in 2012, despite MAJOR backlash.  In that move, our government failed Canadian women, and forgot these 14 women in particular.  There are over 1500 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, which our government refuses to do anything about!

As for women in STEM, you may remember a piece I wrote a few months on my experiences as a woman in science.  In it, I cited study after study demonstrating the discrimination against women in science.  My female colleagues (including some from other universities who read this article, not just women I know) echoed my sentiments in the article.  Men told me I needed to use non-feminist references if I wanted it to be taken seriously.

The problem is that the murder of these 14 women is personal to so many of us.  We know that we occupy the same spaces as these women, spaces that are seen and enforced as male.  That enforcement may be as simple as exclusion and discrimination, but there are people out there who are willing to assault and kill to maintain those male spaces.  The response to Shirt Gate, in which a woman called out Matt Taylor for his incredibly inappropriate shirt during the comet landing broadcast, is just an example of the type of backlash women get for wanting to occupy male spaces.  The women of Twitter (myself included) who used this shirt as an opportunity to show people just how exclusive science is to women were silenced, ridiculed, and threatened.  So tell me, have we really come a long way?

Janet Stemweld over at Scientific American wrote a great piece on the Montreal Massacre as well.  She says something at the end that really resonated with me, and so I'll leave it here for you:

I hope today that people will listen to women when we speak about our experiences in STEM, rather than argue that they are imagined.  Yes, the discrimination we face is small in comparison to what these 28 women faced, I understand that.  These women died for studying engineering.  They died because someone wanted to take them down a peg.  The exclusion of women in science, the discrimination, is one step away from threats - just as it is in society - and two steps away from violence.

So what is the legacy left by the Montreal Massacre?

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