Has there ever been a female mass shooter? I wondered. So I consulted the academic lead on this – Google. And found out that of the 88 mass shootings in the US from 1982 to 2017, only three of the shooters were female (3.4%). That includes the woman shooter in the San Bernardino, Calif. case (2015), who was in cahoots with her husband – also a shooter.
The New York Times takes issue with the figure of mass killings. In 2015 alone, the paper says there was an average of one mass killing – defined as having had had four or more victims excluding the shooter – every day in the US. And nearly 1/3 of them happened in the shooters’ (former) workplace. The New York Times disputes the figure of only 88 shootings in the last 35 years. The Washingon Post agrees – claiming “no satisfying definition exists” for mass shootings. In fact, mass shootings represent only ½ of 1% of all the shootings which take place in the US.
Statistics also tell us that in all the US wars waged all over the world, including WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, 1.2 million Americans died. In mass shootings, over 1.5 million have died.
There were only 18 mass killings in Canada the last 35 years—none committed by women. One man used a cross-bow, so it wasn’t technically a shooting, but he did kill three people. Some of the shootings were carried out by jealous male partners. Only two happened in a workplace—one at OC Transpo (1999, Ottawa), and the other was a bombing at the Giant Mine (1992, Yellowknife). Again, some of the shootings “only” had two or three victims. But the murders of 14 female engineering students at École Polytechnique (1989, Montréal) was a mass killing, for sure. Before he shot the women, Marc Lépine, an unemployed 25 year old man, shouted “I’m fighting feminism.”
One of the engineering students, Nathalie Provost (who narrowly escaped death), downplayed the women students’ status. Just before the shootings, she told Lépine, “Look, we are just women studying engineering, not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men, just students intent on leading a normal life.” Lépine responded, “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” Then he started his shooting rampage.
At the time, Lépine was called, crazy, mentally ill, criminal and more by much of the media –including the CBC. Most men, and some women, refused to admit this was a massacre of women; that he did it because he was a misogynist, and hated women for succeeding.
One lawmaker who insisted Lépine was merely crazy was Doug Lewis, who in 1989 was federal Minister of Justice in the Brian Mulroney government. Lewis declared “We can’t legislate against insanity.” (Krajicek, 2014).
Not to be outdone, was École Polytechnique’s director André Bazergui. On the first anniversary of the massacre, Bazergui said of Lépine, “Let’s forget about this guy. This guy was completely crazy. By talking about him … you are just encouraging more crazy people to act like him” (Miller and Tougaw, 2002). Essentially the school’s director said that if feminists talk about the shootings, it could encourage copycat murders (Miller and Tougaw, 2002).
Twenty years later, in response to Chatelaine magazine’s questions about what safeguards were put in place since the massacre, one École staff psychologist said, “We also put a psychological intervention plan in place. It gave us a protocol to follow if one of us was concerned about a student’s mental state [my italics]. We learned that silence and solitude aren’t good signs.”(Shimo, 2009) Again the perpetrator’s mental illness is stressed.
In a relatively recent article marking 25 years since the Montreal Massacre, a New York Daily News headline reads, “Rifle-toting madman slaughters 14 women at Montreal university in 1989.” The subhead talks about Lepine’s “kill-crazy rampage” (Krajicek, 2014).
What does this tell us?
One: women started talking about the role misogyny played in the Montreal Massacre right after it happened. The first was journalist Francine Pelletier – who was on Marc Lépine’s hit list. This was a list of 19 women in Québec’s media and in public life whom he targeted – but never got to kill. In his suicide note, he wrote of the 19, “(They) nearly died today. The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive.” (Diebel, 2014)
Two: that men, who are most often opinion leaders in our media, insisted that Lépine was ‘merely’ a criminal or a crazy person. Pelletier pointed to an editorial published at the time of the massacre by the Québec City newspaper Le Soleil. About the Montreal Massacre, the editorial asserted “the truth was that the crime had nothing to do with women.” Pelletier vehemently disagreed, but received support from only one man, the late Québec actor and intellectual Pierre Bourgault who insisted, “this was the first sexist crime in history.”(Diebel, 2014).
This brings us back to the issue of mass killings.
Why does the media never call the shooters male terrorists? In the US, 97% of mass shooters are male; in Canada, 100% are male. The elephant in the room – but one that is never talked about – is the fact that shootings are committed by men. The media, many academics and pundits can’t bring themselves to call the murderers men — first and foremost.
UPDATE NOTE: In the US, a Drexel Univ. professor has been barred from campus for discussing the problem of the majority of mass shootings in the US being perpetrated by white men see https://www.democracynow.org/2017/11/6/after_texas_massacre_drexel_prof_asks
Diebel, Linda. 2014. “Two Women on Marc Lépine’s Death List Speak Out.” Toronto Star. Dec. 6.
Krajicek, David A. 2014. “Rifle-toting madman slaughters 14 women at Montreal university in 1989.” New York Daily News. Oct. 11.
Miller, Nancy K and Jason Tougaw. 2002. Extremities: Trauma, Testimony and Community. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Shimo, Alexandra. 2015. “Remembering the Montreal Massacre.” Chatelaine. Dec. 6.