There is a direct link between mass murders and misogyny. We write about it all the time when we hear of gun violence in the United States. The link is hard to ignore when you consider that a grand majority of mass murderers are men and most mass shooters in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016 had a history of domestic violence, according to the gun safety advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety. The link is undeniable when men explicitly blame women and feminism for their violence, as Alek Minassian did on social media prior to his violent rampage in North Toronto on Monday.
It’s only been a few days since the horrific event, when Minassian plowed through a busy pedestrian sidewalk, wreaking havoc on a beautiful spring day. And there is still so much we don’t know. But we do know that Minassian killed 10 innocent people and injured 15 others — most of whom were women. And just moments before he committed this heinous crime, Facebook confirms he posted on the social network about an “incel rebellion,” referring to Elliott Rodger, a man who went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California in 2014, just after posting a video online about being motivated to kill by his hatred of women. Incel, by the way, means involuntarily celibate. It’s a term adopted by men who feel spurned and blame women for not giving them the sexual attention they feel they deserve and any other problems they may identify in their lives.
With the details around Monday’s massacre still so murky, one thing is very clear. Misogyny kills. Toxic masculinity leads men to horrific acts of violence. It’s not just one, isolated incident that leads to this conclusion. Time and again, we see a common thread between men who kill — they hold extremely patriarchal beliefs, they have a strong sense of entitlement, especially when it comes to women, and they blame women for their misfortune in life.
Upon learning of the potential motives of Minassian, it was impossible not to recall the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 when Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine specifically targeted female students, killing 14. He said he was fighting feminism for ruining his life. In a society that socializes men to refrain from addressing their emotions in healthy ways, outward acts of aggression occur instead. And while we may not see the same number of mass murders here in Canada that our friends south of the border do (thank you gun control), there is nevertheless a trail of destruction behind men who have internalized toxic beliefs.
Every 6 days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada. That means that so far this year, approximately 20 women have died as a result of just one form of violence against women. We need to look at violence against women holistically. Detaching events like Monday’s van attack from intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence makes it impossible to examine the big picture and the many intersecting ways that sexism puts women’s lives at risk every day. Violence against women is an epidemic and it’s completely unacceptable.
In response to the Alek Minassian story and in trying to make sense of the tragedy, there has been mention of mental illness as a possible cause. And while it’s important to assess mental health when a violent crime is committed, it’s also important to recognize that mental illness is not generally the motive for an attack. Mental illness is a broad term that refers to a spectrum of disorders, so you can’t simply point to mental health as a cause of violence. Furthermore, studies show that women actually experience mental illness at rates 20%-40% higher than men. So if that’s the case, why aren’t mass killers predominantly women, not men?
Rather than looking high and low for ways to explain senseless murders committed by men, perhaps the media, law enforcement, and politicians should acknowledge what’s right before them. Worldwide, toxic masculinity leads to violence against women in many different forms. There is a range of ways that misogyny and its sense of entitlement results in the psychological destruction and the deaths of far too many women: from street harassment to intimate partner violence to ‘apparently random’ mass murder. The sooner we open our eyes to the connection between toxic masculinity and murder (whether it’s mass murder or not), the sooner we will be able to start finding ways to prevent violence motivated by misogyny.