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Do not overlook pervasive role of sexism in Montreal murders

I would like to extend my condolences to the families of the 14 women who were tragically and brutally murdered at the University of Montreal on Wednesday. In addition, I want to express my outrage at the misogyny behind this horrific tragedy.

I felt a chill as I read the story in The Boston Globe on Thursday morning, as I realized how easily this could have been myself and any of my colleagues who are also women. The 14 women who died were not killed at random; they died because they had dared to become part of what was once a solitary enclave of men -- engineering. Chillingly, it is the same choice I made.

I am outraged by this event, but I am even more troubled by the relative lack of concomitant outrage by the community at large. This event has received little media attention, given its magnitude and the outrageousness. David Nyhan makes this point succinctly in his Sunday column in The Globe, "Shhh ... 14 women were slaughtered." He quite rightly points out that had these 14 women been part of another group, "say, a baker's dozen of blacks, Jews, gays," etc., much more would have been said about it. He also points out that this says a lot about the status of women in 1989, since the media greets this event as monumentally insignificant because violence against women is "so common, so ingrained, so garden-variety everyday."

I was most troubled by the number of my colleagues who when I told them about this event responded with, "what did the women do to provoke him?" or who distilled it with the response, "this will be a call to greater gun control." (Never mind that Canada has stringent gun control laws and that the gunman was licensed.) Even at McGill University, one woman student, in response to a reporter's question, said, "To make these killings a women's issue is a bit too much. It's a human issue. Here is a very sick individual who, coincidentally, had a thing about women." But there is nothing coincidental about this massacre; it was premeditated and was executed with the intent to kill women. Therefore it is a women's issue.

This is a clear-cut case of misogyny (woman hating), a subset of better-known sexism. Its roots are no different than racism or anti-Semitism, and its consequences are as far reaching as either.

This tragedy is not an isolated incident. Misogyny is everywhere, including our own backyard. A glance through The Tech's articles and editorials this past term provides ample evidence of sexual harassment at MIT and the dire need to address the issues of sexual harassment here. A quick perusal through either Elizabeth Salkind's 1986 Sloan master's thesis, "Can't You take a Joke: A Study of Peer Sexual Harassment at MIT," or the 1983 report "Barriers to Equality in Academia: Women in Computer Science at MIT," provide even more gut-wrenching evidence that MIT is not free of the type of hatred that caused these 14 women to die.

This horrific tragedy provides us, the MIT community and the larger world community, an opportunity to discuss frankly the implications of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, sexual stereotyping, and outright misogyny -- and how best to eradicate them. This is an opportunity for each of us to look hard at what we do and say to and about women and how we do and say those things, as well as what values we place upon women. It is also an opportunity to stand in solidarity for the 14 women who died in Montreal and to stand against violence against women. I hope each and everyone of us will take this opportunity.

Linda D. Baston G->