Friday, December 04, 2009

Little Murders
(This column appeared in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY, December 12, 1989)

Every time I go to Montreal, I fall in love. The girls there walk with confidence, city girls, striding to where they are going, talking and laughing, glancing in shop windows, knifing between the traffic across St. Catherine Street or Sherbrooke.

They may be rushing to classes or out on their lunch hours or simply out to see the city, but they always seem to be going somewhere. I fall in love with their youth and their smiles and their energy and their future. I wonder where they were when I was a college kid, and then I remember other energetic, pretty, enthusiastic girls from 20 years ago, and I smile and fall in love with my own memories, and I wonder whatever happened to all those girls.

That was not the scene last week at the Ecole Polytechnique. There were no smiles.

The murders were the work of a maniac, but we should not dismiss it as nothing but the work of a maniac. When this particular maniac went mad, there was, somewhere in his poor, twisted mind, a message from the real world that told him women were an acceptable target. It is paranoiac to worry about the murderer, but it is not unreasonable to worry about the message he thought justified his murders. That same message justifies little murders every day. The message itself is a little murder.

Little murders don't make international news. They don't leave blood stains. People don't come and leave flowers at the sites of little murders. Little murders come and go with barely a trace.

There was a little murder at Plattsburgh State on December 1, when comedian Chris Rock said that women don't rule the world because, even though women may be "smarter, more mature and live longer," men can still beat them up. There was another little murder a week later, when the woman who reviewed the show for the school paper repeated the joke, saying that Rock "poked fun at women ... but even I will admit it was hysterical."

There is a little murder when a husband can't walk six feet across the room to get a beer out of the refrigerator, when he doesn't volunteer to do the vacuuming or the laundry, when he hands back the baby because its diapers are soiled. There is a little murder when a woman simpers and giggles and gets a man to fill her gas tank, fix a clogged drain or change a lightbulb for her. There is a little murder at the holidays, when the men sit in the livingroom and watch football while the women do the dishes in the kitchen.

There is a little murder when a man strikes his wife, and another little murder when she tells people she fell down the stairs. There is a little murder when someone tells a vulgar joke at work, and another little murder when people laugh at it. There is a little murder when someone puts a vulgar, hostile bumpersticker on a car, and then a thousand little murders every time someone else pulls up behind that bumper and has to read it.

There are little murders all the time, little murders that kill our respect for each other, little murders that tell people we don't value our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our lovers.

Young girls deserve to smile. The world is theirs at 19, at 20, at 25. Young people have a whole future before them, a whole world to conquer, a long life to live and enjoy and revel in. In Montreal, 14 of them died the other night, and the murders made front page news around the world.

But there were many more little murders that day, carried out without blood, without headlines, with no sound at all except the death rattle of enthusiasm and hope, as their victims gradually slowed their pace and lost their smiles and lowered their sights and began to learn to live in the world we have given them, a world in which middle-aged men stand on streetcorners and watch the young girls go by and wonder whatever happened to the young girls of their own youth.


Ronnie said...

I'm so happy to see this marvelous column again - you hit this one out of the park.


Mary Miller said...

Mike I missed something...I understand the little murders part and I respect every point you made about how women are often unconsciously treated was the maid, care taker, cook etc. (Which reminds me of something my husband made the mistake of saying to me when my girls were little, but I’ll come back to that in a minute) Where these young girls murdered all at once in Montreal or was there it serial killer? This just wasn’t on my radar screen 20 years ago.

Now back to Marty’s comment. When the girls were very small, probably 1 and 5, I had a work related evening event to attend. As I was getting ready the phone rang, it was his brother asking him to do something with him. I honestly don’t remember what he was asking help with but it wasn’t a social get together. Marty’s response however, I remember like it was uttered yesterday, “Sorry, I can’t. I have to baby-sit the girls.” Why is it when a father cares for his children he can call it baby-sitting and the rest of the world thinks nothing of it? Certainly this is NOT a phrase a mother would ever think to utter. But then again, it’s a rare thing indeed for someone to ask a mother with young children to go out without them!

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Terrific piece. I watch our girls (25 and 26) and see this horrible weariness in them from battling these poisonous attitudes over and over.

Mike said...

Mary, look up "Montreal Massacre" on Wikipedia or Google in general.It was truly a horrifying night that included a Montreal police press officer talking to reporters and then discovering that his daughter was among the dead. Montreal took it very personally and all of Canada was scarred. My own memory is of the morning DJ on CHOM-FM simply being overwhelmed the next day and not having any "patter" to share. He ended his show that day with "Dust in the Wind" and the song is now indelibly linked in my mind with that horrible event.

ronnie said...

It's hard to believe it was 20 years ago. I won't bother trying to put into words how it felt at the time - realizing as a 24-year-old woman that there were people in the world who would want to snuff out my life at random just because of what I was.

This is a remarkable piece, Mike. Thanks for republishing it and reminding us that the cultural messages that Marc Lepine received - which told him that lashing out at and murdering "feminists" who were somehow "responsible for his failures" was an appropriate thing to do - are still around us.

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