Sorry Male Writers, But We Can't Just Dismiss Misogyny as a Motive in the Toronto Attack

Your ‘calm down and carry on’ messaging has roots in a more insidious and familiar kind of misogynistic thinking

A photo of a woman's middle finger with "no" written on it-inline

(Photograph: istock)

Is it just me or does there seem to be a concerted effort among some media to minimize the idea that violent misogyny holds power in our society, and just a few days after we’ve seen graphic evidence to the contrary?

On Monday, April 23, Alek Minassian, 25, allegedly used a white rental van to murder 10 people and injure 14 more in north Toronto—moments after a post declaring support for the misogynistic incel movement appeared on his Facebook page—yet within 24 hours we were being told to calm down and stop thinking about the Toronto attack within the context of gendered violence.

On Tuesday, in an essay for The Walrus, writer Stephen Marche spent more time on rhetorical flourishes to describe the fine weather on the day of the attack— “the burden of winter falls off like a heavy cloak”—than he did considering the significance of Minassian’s apparent motive: a violent hatred of women.

The idea that people might be concerned about the possibility of such a lethal motive was represented as futile and silly—a waste of time. “Soon we will be awash in speculation about whether the Yonge Street killer associated with this particular brand of stupid and pointless rage,” wrote Marche of reports linking Minassian to the incel movement.

What he writes isn’t just irritating, it’s misleading. Reporters aren’t speculating about anything, they’re investigating the connection and the fruits of their labour only deepen concern. Facebook verified Minassian’s post as being real almost immediately after the incident, and subsequent reports have found that the digits included in his post are in fact his Canadian military service number. Concerns about the hacking of his account are valid, but evidence is mounting that hacking is more hopeful speculation than fact.

“But who cares?” says Marche, shrugging off any interest in discussions about the violent expressions of misogyny with startling arrogance.

Who cares?

I do. Don’t you? Don’t you care what Minassian’s motives were? Don’t you think it’s valuable to ascertain why he did what he did and why thousands of men feel comfortable expressing their glee at his actions online? Don’t you think we owe at least this much to the people he murdered and harmed? Am I out of step, or is considering the motive not what we do in any circumstance where a crime has been committed?

Marche argues that Minassian’s rage is just too “incoherent” to parse, and that meaninglessness is the overriding view to take on his actions. It sounds very philosophical doesn’t it? Violence is meaningless, so keep on keeping on. But really, it’s just lazy. It’s a helluva lot easier to describe the weather on April 23 then it is to think about how it may reveal and reflect the extreme end of the spectrum of misogyny that defines the culture in which we all live.

Marche isn’t the only prominent writer minimizing the harm of gendered violence. In a recent op-ed for the National Post, Jonathan Kay follows a similar line of thought. He refers to Minassian in lone-wolf terms: just another nut we shouldn’t take too seriously, a “random loon.” (This piece followed on the heels of one by his mother, Barbara Kay, who expressed a wish that the violence had been Islamic terrorism rather than bog-standard male rage.)

The self-important rhetoric that defines their essays aside, the underlying message of both is this: Don’t give in to the temptation to think about expressions of violent misogyny in our culture, because there’s nothing there.

“[T]here’s no foe to fight, just bodies to bury,” writes Kay.

If only. As the #MeToo movement has thrown into high relief, when it comes to violent misogyny, there are too many foes to fight, too many bodies buried by the silence of indifference. Moreover, in Canada, Indigenous women and girls have been abused, abducted and murdered in epidemic proportions. Their suffering and vulnerability is yet another discussion that’s often been muted by the twin evils of systemic racism and misogyny.

What’s behind the ‘who cares’ message? What’s motivating both Marche and Kay to minimize a massacre before all of the victims have even been identified? These are questions we should be asking of them, of ourselves and of each other.

And we might wonder if all that ‘calm down and carry on’ messaging has roots in a more insidious and familiar kind of misogynistic thinking, too. Assign meaninglessness to violent expressions of misogyny and you won’t stop to consider how one man’s excessive hatred of women, a loathing that finds vocal support online in the incel movement and beyond, connects to the broader, mainstream problem of misogyny and violence in our culture.

Those who care about the health of Canadian society will make those necessary connections. Those who don’t care can talk about the weather.

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