I remember what I thought on December 6, 1989

(c) 2007 Tor Lillqvist CC-BY-SA 2.0

Photograph (c) 2007 Tor Lillqvist CC-BY-SA 2.0

I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal. I remember what I felt: horror and grief and anger.

What follows sounds foolish, even to me. I’ve kept it to myself for twenty-five years. But I also remember what I thought when I heard about the shootings. I thought: Surely now things will change. Surely this is the turning point for sexism and misogyny in science and tech fields. Surely now even the comfortably oblivious will realize the issue matters. Surely now even the complacently biased will recognize a common enemy. “He came for our classmates,” they’ll say. “This ends now.” I wasn’t just looking for a silver lining to a shocking tragedy. I knew that one of the ways cultures pivot is when events align with and spotlight the “moral arc of the universe.”

Cultures have pivoted since then, in ways I never foresaw. We have seen the widespread legalization of gay marriage, the election of a black President, and the collapse of apartheid. But at the same time, rape culture thrived, women’s participation in STEM foundered, and a feminist scholar critiquing video games was threatened with specific reference to the Montréal massacre. It was shocking to read that threat this fall and discover that someone somewhere was keeping the memory of the École Polytechnique alive twenty-five years later because of the shooter.

I am, by nature, an optimist and a problem-solver, a seeker of win-win scenarios and happily-ever-afters. I call myself “the original glass-half-full girl.” Today? I got nothin’. I have no idea how to make this better.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll let the murderer’s name be the one we remember. Today, as I do every December, I say these names out loud, because nobody should die for going to school:

Anne-Marie Edward

Anne-Marie Lemay

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Barbara Daigneault

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Maud Haviernick

Michèle Richard

Nathalie Croteau

Sonia Pelletier

Conclusions from a Statistics Canada report of just a year ago:

Over the past few decades, women have made significant advances in university participation, including program areas that had previously been more populated by men. One area, however, remains male-dominated: science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) degrees. And among women who choose to pursue a degree in STEM, most do so in biology or science programs, resulting in even fewer women in engineering, computer science and mathematics programs.

Hango, Darcy. 2013. “Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university” Insights on Canadian Society. December. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-006-X.

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