As more emerges about last week’s Toronto attack, it seems the driver, as he swerved from side to side down 13 city blocks, was aiming to hit as many women as possible. He has killed ten people and injured many more.
The initial reaction to the attack was unsettlingly predictable. In a political and cultural climate in which Islamophobia seems to be acceptable and encouraged, ‘terrorist’ has become synonymous with ‘Muslim.’ The right-wing media immediately assumed that the terrorist was almost definitely Muslim, or at the least, almost definitely not white. Blame was placed not just on Muslims, but also landed heavily at the feet of refugees and the pioneering Canadian Syrian refugee programme. It takes real gall to respond to this kind of attack with hate so fierce it blinds you, but here we are.
Turns out, the terrorist wasn’t motivated by religious fervour, but by misogyny, and frankly, I’m surprised that anyone is shocked by this. Is it actually news to people that misogyny leads to violence? Global News ran a headline saying ’57 women killed in Canada this year; experts link misogyny to femicide.’ Do we honestly need experts to figure that out? It’s liking running a headline saying ‘Breaking news: water is wet.’ Or are people just pretending to be shocked so they don’t have to deal with the magnitude of this problem? It’s much easier to act like this attack is an anomaly than to recognise it for what it is – the disease of toxic masculinity in its final, terminal stage.
I would much rather we cut some money from the military budget and put some of it towards improving mental health services for men.
The terrorist, Alek Minassian, was part of an online ‘incel’ community; a community of young men who feel that women owe them sex and who get very irate when women don’t have sex with them. They say that women are obsessed with superficial things like, and I quote, ‘looks and personality.’ Women want to sleep with nice people with personalities? How dare they? It’s almost laughable, and your instinct when confronted with ideologies so basic is to sweep them under the rug, to deride these men as pathetic and move on.
But, and this is a key point, these ideologies do not exist in a vacuum. The idea that women owe you sex relies upon the idea that women exist solely to validate men (we don’t, just FYI). And this relies upon the idea that women are inherently subservient to men. The patriarchy makes women disposable, makes them into bodies to be used, worn out and discarded.
It’s easy to dismiss communities like incel as just a bit lame. But women have died, and until we look this problem full in the face it isn’t going to stop. Religiously motivated terrorism is presented to us as a problem that can be solved at the push of a button. We can drop bombs on Syria, we can shut our borders, we can exclude Muslim people from our cultural narrative. This popular brand of terrorism is handy because it’s containable, simple and justifies all kinds of racism in the name of national security.
I can understand why the media isn’t in uproar over Minassian’s horrific views; if we start trying to fix toxic masculinity, we’re going to be real busy for a while. The scale of this issue is what prevents us, collectively, from trying to fix it. I am far more scared of white men in groups than I am of ISIS, and I would much rather we cut some money from the military budget and put some of it towards improving mental health services for men. These extremist misogynists can only flourish in a society that is already hostile towards women. The attack in Toronto is a glaring example of the fatal consequences of misogyny and we have to start treating the causes, not the symptoms.