The Montreal Massacre and Gendercide In Iraq

This post grew out of an exchange with Benjamin Franz on my post This Is The Patriarchy: When Talking To The Master, Speak In A Civil Tone. I felt the exchange itself was worth promoting to a post, with some additional commentary, especially since we are getting so close to the anniversary date of the Montreal massacre.

For those who are not familiar with this tragic event, you will find a case study at Here's a summary from their site:

December 6, 1989 is a date that lives in the collective consciousness of Canadians, and many others worldwide. On that day, a deranged young man walked into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montréal, systematically separated female from male students, and shot 14 women to death. The massacre was a rare example of a gender-selective "cull" that targeted women while preserving men. It cast into sharp relief the misogyny (hatred of women) that usually manifests itself in less obvious but much more destructive ways around the world.

The exchange with Benjamin was sparked by my writing the following in my original post:

I can't think of any discipline in which men were shot and killed just for being men in that discipline. I never forget, however, that Marc LePine shot and killed 14 women because they were engineering students.

I was referring, of course, to the Montreal massacre.

Benjamin Franz wrote with a link for a news story on very recent kidnappings in Iraq:

news story link

A female professor visiting at the time of the kidnappings said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them aboard about six pickup trucks. She said the gunmen, some of them masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the type worn by police commandos.
The abductions appeared to be the boldest in a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi academics that are robbing Iraq of its brain trust and prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries.

Note that the women *were not* abducted. Only the men.

To which I replied:**

Benjamin, this is a truly horrific incident. And clearly gender was a central issue in the mass kidnapping. In this incident of religious/sectarian violence, (from the article you cited)

The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.

But gender intersects in a somewhat different manner in this tragedy than it does in the Montreal massacre. In Montreal, the women were killed merely for being women who dared to study engineering. The shooter was personally offended by the notion of women being engineers. In Iraq, the men were not kidnapped merely for being men who dared to be professors. They were kidnapped because professors were chosen as a high public stature target that would garner attention, not because the kidnappers were personally offended by the notion of men being professors. Once the target of professors was chosen, a decision was made to kidnap only men, not women. This is when gender comes into play, as some twisted version of chivalry. The Iraqi kidnapping is not a mirror image of the Montreal massacre. Saying so should not in any way lessen the horror or diminish the meaning of either.

And then Benjamin replied:

You are correct that it is not a perfect mirror image of the Montreal massacre. It is a matter of subtle emphasis in the phrase "...just for being men in that discipline" vs "...just for being men in that discipline."

But in both cases the statement is correctly specific (although shaded differently): Just for being men in that discipline.

My point (obviously) being that you were being over-general in your original assertion and perhaps insensitive to the fact that men are also frequent targets of gender-based mass killings.

It is in no way intended as a defense of the rampant gender discrimination present in many aspects of life. It is just a nudge to remember that women are not the only ones targeted by gender discrimination, gender role stereotypes and gender based violence. Are women the recipients of the most frequent 'routine' daily gender based discrimination and violence? Hell yeah. Are men also targets based on their gender? Also: Hell yeah.

A site you may find interesting:

Thanks, Benjamin, but I don't need a nudge from you or anyone else. I've linked to before where I mentioned the Montreal massacre. I have always known that gender stereotypes exist for men as well as women and this blog has addressed them many times, most recently in a post dealing with how male gender stereotypes negatively impact men's reproductive health. Throughout the history of this blog, including before it moved to, I have made it quite clear that I believe rigid gender stereotyping is harmful for men just as much as for women, and that the gender policing that men do among themselves is a source of a great deal of harm for both men and women.

Gendercide is a special horror, whether the target is men, as seems to be frequently and increasingly the case in present-day Iraq, or women, as was the case in the Montreal massacre. With all that said: nuances do exist, and they have significance. It does matter that the women in Montreal were killed because they were women who chose to study engineering, because their killer had a hatred for women who dared to achieve in areas he considered off-limits to women. It does matter that the men in Iraq were rounded up and kidnapped because of their high public stature, not because the kidnappers had a hatred for men who chose to achieve in areas they considered off-limits to men. The difference is subtle, but it exists, and it is meaningful. In both cases: gendercide. In each case: the meaning behind the gendercide is different. In Montreal, a crazy man killed to punish women in "male" fields. In Iraq, organized groups kidnap and kill prominent men to create terror and/or to advance a political agenda. Not to punish men in "female" fields. That latter motivation is what it would take to make the kidnappings and killings in Iraq a mirror image of the Montreal massacre.

It's also an illustration of the asymmetry in gender stereotyping and gender discrimination. It's hard to imagine a discipline such that men's choice to engage in it would spark enough rage in women that they would be motivated to kill. THAT would be the TRUE mirror image of the Montreal massacre. The reason it's hard to imagine such a mirror image gendercide is because there is not a large, overt pool of female hostility against men that is expressed and tolerated in our society. Note I'm not saying there isn't any female rage against men. I'm saying that in our society, female rage against men is kept in check and subdued, while male rage against women is given more or less free reign of expression. (Don't believe me? Read your local newspaper. Pay attention to the daily reporting of rape and incest, and women beaten or mudered by current/former partners or spouses. Or just go to the movies or look at popular video games and see what passes for "entertainment". See how much female-on-male crime you read about, or how many movies there are in which female-on-male violence is lovingly depicted, even eroticized, in incredibly beautiful cinematography.) When female rage against men does escape its normal suppression, it seems so bizarre that they make a movie about the woman and call her Monster.

It's worth thinking again about the similarities and differences between the Montreal massacre and the kidnappings/killings of the professors in Iraq. Academic settings, culling by sex, violence to only one sex - that much is similar. That culling is what makes it gendercide in both cases. In both cases, academics - students studying to be engineers, professors at a university - were considered to be high enough profile or significant targets for the expression of the attacker's agenda. The difference lies in the specifics of the gendercide, the motivations of the perpetrators, and their gender. And that, as they say, makes all the difference in the world.

**The Chronicle of Higher Education later reported :

In a grim escalation of violence against Iraqi higher education, gunmen raided a government education agency in Baghdad on Tuesday and abducted scores of male employees and visitors. Some of the men were released within hours of the attack. Then, shortly before midnight in Baghdad, the rest were freed in police raids in the capital, a security adviser in the Iraqi president's office told the BBC.

More like this

they clearly are different situations, as you describe. i think the key to me is what you write as "the twisted version of chivalry". in the iraq incident, men were mot targeted as men but as people.

I was a young undergraduate in physics in Canada when the Montreal massacre happened. Americans perhaps do not appreciate the profound impact the massacre had on science departments in universities across Canada. "Gender issues" committees were formed, and "town hall" meetings were had with science faculty, staff, and students participating at many universities. Nay sayers referred to it as a "witch hunt" designed to paint all males in the sciences as women haters.

It struck me that, at my university at least, the town hall meetings seemed to be an exercise in futility. I recall one infamous letcher of a professor standing up during the meeting and saying "well, when a girl comes into my office wearing makeup and a short skirt, I know what she wants!" (the statement was followed by laughter from many of the male professors there). Every female undergraduate in the department, including myself, had had to put up with his advances. Worse yet, his daughter was exactly my age and was doing a physical chemistry degree at the same university and I knew her personally. I mean really... hitting upon girls the same age as his fucked up is that?

The panel mediating the session tried to turn the conversation to how sexual harassment feels for women by asking the male professors how they would feel if a male hit on them. Then the commentary from the professors turned to raging homophobia. I remember one of my friends commenting as we left "what a fucking waste of time that was".

Now, nearly 20 years later, I can say that all those town hall meetings sparked by the massacre did not foment change and they were indeed pretty much "a fucking waste of time". Things are much the same as they were 20 years ago, with perhaps just a few more women in the physics departments, but still having to put up with the same old crap. And to top it off, all those female science undergraduates 20 years ago were exposed to the full undisguised brunt of the blatant sexism of various professors. I had not thought much about those meetings until now, but now that I recall them, they make me wince.

That's the problem with being a women in have to repress this kind of crap in order to dredge up the fortitude to carry on in your chosen career path.

From what I've heard, mass kidnappings and torture/murders of men in Iraq are common. I've hear reports of things like a police/militia checkpoint grabbing all men whose ID cards had a Sunni name. Their bodies would later be found dumped somewhere, tortured and killed. Status, aside from 'Sunni man', was irrelevant.

The obvious thing that is happening is that the killers figure that they can kill a bunch of the men, and the women will later be easy targets. Or, perhaps more accurately, they think that the women will be easily picked up loot.

My apologies for not realizing you had previously linked to the gendercide site. I browsed through your postings when I wrote originally but hadn't noticed it then. I'll look closer next time.

As to the release of the kidnapped academics I refer you to…

"About 70 of the hostages have since been released but as many as 80 are still being held, and some have been tortured and killed, al-Ajili told Reuters news agency."


I agree with you that the motivations and specifics are significantly different. My objection was to the sweeping generalization made that "I can't think of any discipline in which men were shot and killed just for being men in that discipline." I provided a counter-example. I freely acknowledge that the counter-example is inexact and such counter-examples are much less frequent in Western academia than the tragic example of the Montreal massacre. Women are hands down much more likely to be targetted for entering a particular discipline than men are.

Even today, though, there is significant prejudice against men entering some professions seen as women's territory. Nursing for example. Don't tell me there there hasn't been a fraction of a second pause in your thoughts when the "orderly" turns out to be your nurse. 1/3rd of male nurses reported sexual harassment/discrimination in a one year period in a national survey (a rate about double that of nurses in general).

Are these even approximately equivalent to the massive broad prejudice against women in professions seen as "men's"? Not even close. For every instance I could come up with I have absolutely no doubt that you could come up with twenty or more going the other way. But they do exist and it is unfair to cast it as if they don't. There are men who are sexually harassed, men who are beaten by their girlfriend or wife, men who don't get a promotion just because they are men. But your black-and-white statement on the most extreme version of discrimination implictly denies the existence of the lesser forms and is not fair to them or worthy of you.

That was really my whole point and one I suspect you actually agree with. It probably was not what you meant, but it was a subtext that came across in the original article never-the-less.

By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 25 Nov 2006 #permalink

Oh, I forgot to say: Good article. :)

By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 25 Nov 2006 #permalink