Original : French
Written by : Nicolas Roels
Translated by : Zoé Llacer
On the 6th of December, during the commemorations of the École Polytechnique de Montréal massacre, Valérie Plante, then Mayor of Montreal, addresses the crowd: “This tragedy reminds us that numerous marginalised communities, among them women, are often subjected to violenceRiopel, A. (2019, December 7). Montréal se souvient du féminicide. Le Devoir. https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/568640/polytechnique-ceremonie-sur-le-mont-royal-en-hommage-aux-victimes”. Indeed, 30 years prior, a man named Marc Lépine, armed with a rifle and a knife burst into the university premises and murdered 14 women, injuring 13 othersHadj, K. E., & Duneau, C. (2019, 6 décembre). Il y a trente ans au Québec, le premier féminicide de masse revendiqué [Vidéo]. Le Monde.fr. … Continue reading. In late January 2023, the antifeminist blogger Jean-Claude Rochefort, who praised Marc Lépine, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for inciting hatred against womenMarin, S. (2023, January 28). Un an de prison pour un blogueur qui a incité à la haine contre les femmes. Le Devoir. … Continue reading. On his blog, read by 60 000 people, he would describe women and feminists as “diabolical, savage, and violent”. They were a “threat to men” since they were at “the head of a plotMarin, S. (2023, January 28). Un an de prison pour un blogueur qui a incité à la haine contre les femmes. Le Devoir. … Continue reading”. Rochefort described the 1989 massacre as an event that gave men back their dignity. But on which basis are these allegations made?
In which way is it conceivable to present feminism as a “threat to men”? This article will examine the reasons for this position, which, rather than being untenable, seem, on the contrary, to fuel the increase in acts of violence against women.
A masculinist speech in the making
Antifeminism is a countermovement of thoughts and actions opposed to ‘feminism.’ The neologism itself was coined by Alexander Dumas, a man hostile to women’s emancipationBard et al. (2019), p 6-7. According to the historian Christine Bard, masculinism is a contemporary field of antifeminismBard et al. (2019), p 6-7 ; the “most active form of antifeminism in QuebecBlais, M. (2019). Effets des tactiques antiféministes auprès des institutions œuvrant contre les violences faites aux femmes. Le cas du Québec. In Bard et al. (2019).”. The usage and various historical evolution of the termVoir par exemple Bard et al. (2019), pp. 12-15; 18-25, sometimes used as an accusation, sometimes proclaimed, define it nowadays as “social movement constituted in Occident from the 1980s to defend men’s rights in a society they now deemed ruled by womenVoir par exemple Bard et al. (2019), pp. 12-15; 18-25”. This clever lexical choice allows for a positive identification to a movement that sets itself on the same ground as feminism, actively promoting a symmetrical legitimacy. Exploiting non-only the semantic flaw around the term “feminism” as well as the effervescence intrinsic to the various branchs, antifeminists take advantage of these flaws to insert themselves into the debates. Hence, the diversity of feminism is countered by the diversity of antifeminists. Strongly modulable, the antifeminist discourse offers different modalities according to the organisation and its members.
It is nonetheless interesting to note that the common doctrine regards transversal thematises, such as the devirilisation of men and the virilisation of women, the masculinity crisis, the feminisation of societyBlais (2019), op. cit. These themes are propagated in a variety of cultural productions -cinema, paintings, literature, etc.- that offer, “myths, aesthetics, singular expressions to the fightBard et al. (2019), p. 19”. For instance, the use of expressions “feminazi” and “gaystapo” is borrowed from the imagery of the Second World War, placing men on the side of resistance. This technique of defacement/reversal of the feminist discourse is characteristic of antifeminists. According to the latter, there is domination in gender relations: the one woman are exercising on men. Men would be victims to whom necessary help is needed, through personal development and the strengthening of masculinity, via the intermediary of “consciousness groupsBlais, M. (2012). Y a-t-il un « cycle de la violence antiféministe » ? Les effets de l’antiféminisme selon les féministes québécoises. Cahiers Du Genre, 52(1), p. 134”. This political appropriation is made shamelessly and from all sides: antisemitism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, etc. This “intersectionality of hatred”, as Christine Bard writes in Antiféminismes et masculinismes, must be situated in a broader, growing picture, marked by a pessimistic analysis of a society on the decline siding with the end of humanity. This discourse can be heard from different public personalities: the cases of Eric Zemmour in France, with his influence being carried by its political role, and the far-right terrorist Anders Breivik in Norway are testimonies of the importance -and danger- of this analysis within the public debate. For reminder, the 22nd of July 2011 Breivik perpetrated a bomb attack in Oslo against the Seat of government. He then proceeded to his attack by going to the Utøya Island, where a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp was set. Disguised as a policeman, he opened fire on the participants, killing 69 of them, mostly young people, and injuring many others. Few times prior the attacks, a 1518-page document entitled “2083: a European declaration of independence” was published online, containing an extremely precise account of his political, social, and ideological beliefs. He expresses his Islamophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic views but also his motivations behind his act, supposed to protect Europe from its “islamization” and its “feminization”. The Manifesto left by Breivik assign to women the responsibility for the fall of the occidental civilisation; in the 3.89 section of this text is mentioned the idea according to which “men are no longer men but metrosexual and emotional beings with the sole purpose of being soulmate without ever being allowed to criticize this new age feminist goddessVoir par exemple : Walton, S. J. (2012). « Anti-feminism and misogyny in Breivik’s “Manifesto” », Nora. n°20, p. 4-11”.
Acts, attacks and antifeminist violence in Quebec
The research report on anti-feminist violence by Mélissa Blais, Francis Dupuis-Déri and Stéphanie Mayer and, more recently, the work by Christine GuionnetGuionnet, C. (2017). « Troubles dans le féminisme?: Le web, support d’une zone grise entre féminisme et antiféminisme ordinaires », Réseaux, vol. 201, no 1, pp. 115-146 and Aurélie Fillod-ChabaudFillod-Chabaud, A. (2018). « L’antiféminisme d’État : Une analyse rhétorique du mouvement des pères séparés au Québec », GLAD!, no 4 not only identify a number of targeted attacks and actions, but also highlight the feminist analysis developed in responseDupuis-Déri, F., Mayer, S., Blais, M. (2013). Quand l’antiféminisme cible les féministes : actions, attaques et violences contre le mouvement des femmes, L’R des centres de femmes du Québec. In Quebec, these masculinist groups often include names like “Fathers-4-Justice”, “L’après-rupture” and the “Garscontent” website. All are activist groups specialised in defending the interests of separated and divorced fathers. Other groups are also mentioned, although less present: “Autonohommie”, le GPSE (Groupe d’entraide aux pères et de soutien à l’enfant) and « Homme d’aujourd’hui ». Of course, a major problem in analysing this anti-feminist movement is that, in many cases, it often adopts a philogynist – or even pseudo-feminist – stance, rarely coming out in the open. In developing these reflections on antifeminism, the authors question the existence of a cycle of antifeminist violence. Among those interviewed for the research report, R. explains: “this so-called masculinist movement […] uses exactly the same well-known cycle of domestic violence against women. In other words, we attack women, we attack the feminist movement through its spokespeople first, and then we extend these actions to the community. We use the same means for the community as we do for individualsDupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 33”.
Antifeminist attacks are organized around a single goal, mirroring the strategy of a man committing domestic violence: to maintain control over women. The strategic framework deployed by the perpetrators of domestic violence makes it possible to understand the cycle of violence practiced by antifeminism. Windows of feminist premises smashed, graffiti on doors, and pushing and shoving. Physical violence is relatively rare compared with verbal violenceDupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 33, which seems to be more common: death threats and insults at public events. These acts generally go hand in hand with more far-reaching psychological violence, which takes place mainly – but not exclusively – online. As one interviewee put it: “It’s very incisive, and then it’s really like propaganda to destroy the reputation of someone or some organizationDupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 34”. The respondents reported numerous actions against them: harassment at work, attacks on their reputation, dissemination of anti-feminist, misogynist and sexist comments on the WebRegarding antifeminism on the web and media, see: Goulet, É. (2013). « Répercussions du discours antiféministe dans les médias sur le mouvement des femmes québécois », dans D. Bourque, F. … Continue reading, taking photos of feminists and disseminating these images on the Web, complaints to the police about discrimination against men and legal proceedings. These steps maintain the feeling of surveillance felt by feminist organisations, which often also have to deal with complaints and raise the funds needed to respond to them (lawyers’ fees) and increase their working time. The financial issue remains central, as political scientist Stéphanie Mayer points out: “the sector of services for women who are victims of male violence is particularly targeted by these efforts to obtain economic and financial informationDupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 34”.
But what ‘crisis’ are we talking about?
Quebec’s anti-feminist theory associations are mainly based on the existence of a “masculinity crisis” that would make men suffer, impact boys’ school results, make it impossible to pick up girls and devalue fathers in the eyes of the law. A crisis that was already being denounced in ancient Rome, in medieval Europe, in France during the revolution and in England in the 18th century. At that time, England underwent a major transformation of its economy and society, moving from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Factories and industries expanded rapidly, creating new employment opportunities, but also new social realities for people. Some intellectuals and commentators of the time began to express concerns about traditional masculinity, arguing that urban and industrial life was endangering traditional male values based on physical strength and manual labour. Men, particularly those from the working classes, were said to have become effeminate, fragile, and dependent, as they were now faced with different working conditions and new skill requirements. These discourses were often linked to concerns about the loss of male autonomy: fixed working hours, controlled work environments. Concerns were also expressed about women’s influence in the public sphere, particularly as a result of the rise of the suffragette movement and emerging feminist activism. Masculinity was in crisis between the wars in many European countries, and had also been in crisis on the African, Asian and American continents for at least 60 years. The European Commission’s report on the place of boys and men in policies for women’s rights and gender equalityGEC. Commission pour l’égalité de genre (04/04/2021). PROJET DE RAPPORT sur la place des garçons et des hommes dans les politiques pour les droits des femmes et l’égalité de … Continue reading even mentions the problem of the “crisis of masculinity”, which seems to reappear as soon as women become more autonomous.
So, like the historian Judith Allen, we can legitimately ask whether “men are not endlessly in crisisAllen, J. A., (2002). Men interminably in crisis? Historians on masculinity, sexual boundaries, and manhood. Radical History Review, n°82”. As the philosopher points out, theories of the crisis of masculinity all too often draw their ideas from letters, diaries, autobiographies and even works of fiction. Although important, these sources have certain limitations when it comes to accurately representing a political, economic, social, and cultural reality. Allen also notes that studies on the crisis of masculinity rarely, if ever, provide indicators that can identify a society that has become too feminized and a masculinity in crisis. She argues that it is preferable to speak of a “crisis discourse” on masculinity rather than a real crisisAllen, J. A., (2002). Men interminably in crisis? Historians on masculinity, sexual boundaries, and manhood. Radical History Review, n°82. As political science professor Francis Dupuis-Déri writes: “The discourse of the crisis of masculinity is usually very subjective […]. Men’s impressions and feelings about women are enough to construct grand theories without comparing these abstractions – these ideas – with realityDupuis-Déri, F. (2008), p. 54”. With such a self-referential approach, the crisis situation is always confirmed by men’s perceptions, justifying actions to “free” themselves from it, up to and including the most extreme violence.
Marc Lépine’s killing brutally highlighted the links between gun violence and the complex problem of masculinity ‘in crisis’. Blaming women and feminists for his own failures and frustrations, this act of terrorism reflects a distorted masculinity that sees violence as a response to the supposed dispossession of its male supremacy and the loss of control it experiences. As Lépine wrote in the letter he left before the massacre: “Please note that if I commit suicide today, 89/12/06, it is not for economic reasons (for I waited until I had exhausted all my financial means, even refusing employment) but for political reasons. Because I’ve decided to send Ad Patres the feminists who have always ruined my life. In the 7 years since life stopped bringing me joy, and being totally jaded, I’ve decided to throw a spanner in the works of these viragos.” Lépine’s case – like many others – demonstrates a rigid adherence to traditional norms of masculinity; this adherence confers on itself the ideological right to express this anger and resentment by pointing the finger at scapegoats, such as feminists, progressive movements, or women in general, for the alleged injustices they suffer.
A crisis that is not one
In conclusion, while Quebec has been fertile ground for anti-feminist action, it is necessary to analyse these phenomena from a broader perspective. For thousands of years, men have often resorted to violence to address what is, in reality, not a crisis, with the aim of assigning and reassigning masculine and feminine roles and attitudes. Indeed, this crisis discourse is rarely content to simply highlight the suffering of men, but rather tries to impose its dogmatic conceptions of who should govern or obey, who should work, who should listen or remain silent, who should strike or kill. After all, men are in crisis, no matter what women do or don’t do, despite the profound disconnect with reality. Indeed, it seems necessary to recall, as UN Women does, that “only 17 countries have a woman as head of state, and only 19 countries have a woman as head of governmentONU Femmes (m-à-j mars 2023). Faits et chiffres : Le leadership et la participation des femmes à la vie politique. (s. d.). … Continue reading”. Women also account for 22.8% of cabinet members heading ministriesONU Femmes (m-à-j mars 2023). Faits et chiffres : Le leadership et la participation des femmes à la vie politique. (s. d.). … Continue reading. Inequality is visible within international organizations, but also in the army (in February 2020, women represented 16% of the personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces, 19.1% of officers and 15.1% of non-commissioned officers. In total, they represent 13.5% of the Canadian ArmyDundas, B., Filice, M., (2020 ). Femmes dans les forces armées canadiennes. (s. d.). l’Encyclopédie Canadienne. URL … Continue reading, the police (30% of women admitted to the École nationale de police du Québec in 2017-2018Gouvernement du Québec (2020) ÉTUDE Policières, pompières et ambulancières paramédicales Constats sur la présence des femmes dans trois métiers d’urgence. URL … Continue reading, universities (39% of women teaching at universities in Canada in 2006Statistics Canada (2011). Les femmes et l’éducation. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11542-fra.htm#a13) and international firms. Putting on a gender lens, we can see that, rather than the obvious under-participation of women in spheres of power, they sometimes – often? – the highest priceONU Femmes. Global Database on Violence Against Women. (s. d.). https://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en. But what ‘crisis’ are we talking about?
To quote this article : Nicolas Roels (2023). “Antifeminist movements in Quebec: illusions of the masculinity crisis”. Gender Institute in Geopolitics
The comment contained in this writing are the sole responsibility of the author.
|↑1||Riopel, A. (2019, December 7). Montréal se souvient du féminicide. Le Devoir. https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/568640/polytechnique-ceremonie-sur-le-mont-royal-en-hommage-aux-victimes|
|↑2||Hadj, K. E., & Duneau, C. (2019, 6 décembre). Il y a trente ans au Québec, le premier féminicide de masse revendiqué [Vidéo]. Le Monde.fr. https://www.lemonde.fr/videos/video/2019/12/06/il-y-a-trente-ans-au-quebec-le-premier-feminicide-de-masse-revendique_6021919_1669088.html|
|↑3, ↑4||Marin, S. (2023, January 28). Un an de prison pour un blogueur qui a incité à la haine contre les femmes. Le Devoir. https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/justice/779562/douze-mois-de-prison-pour-un-blogueur-qui-a-incite-a-la-haine-contre-les-femmes|
|↑5, ↑6||Bard et al. (2019), p 6-7|
|↑7||Blais, M. (2019). Effets des tactiques antiféministes auprès des institutions œuvrant contre les violences faites aux femmes. Le cas du Québec. In Bard et al. (2019).|
|↑8, ↑9||Voir par exemple Bard et al. (2019), pp. 12-15; 18-25|
|↑10||Blais (2019), op. cit|
|↑11||Bard et al. (2019), p. 19|
|↑12||Blais, M. (2012). Y a-t-il un « cycle de la violence antiféministe » ? Les effets de l’antiféminisme selon les féministes québécoises. Cahiers Du Genre, 52(1), p. 134|
|↑13||Voir par exemple : Walton, S. J. (2012). « Anti-feminism and misogyny in Breivik’s “Manifesto” », Nora. n°20, p. 4-11|
|↑14||Guionnet, C. (2017). « Troubles dans le féminisme?: Le web, support d’une zone grise entre féminisme et antiféminisme ordinaires », Réseaux, vol. 201, no 1, pp. 115-146|
|↑15||Fillod-Chabaud, A. (2018). « L’antiféminisme d’État : Une analyse rhétorique du mouvement des pères séparés au Québec », GLAD!, no 4|
|↑16||Dupuis-Déri, F., Mayer, S., Blais, M. (2013). Quand l’antiféminisme cible les féministes : actions, attaques et violences contre le mouvement des femmes, L’R des centres de femmes du Québec|
|↑17, ↑18||Dupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 33|
|↑19, ↑21||Dupuis-Déri, F. et al (2013), p. 34|
|↑20||Regarding antifeminism on the web and media, see: Goulet, É. (2013). « Répercussions du discours antiféministe dans les médias sur le mouvement des femmes québécois », dans D. Bourque, F. Descarries et C. Désy (dir.), De l’assignation à l’éclatement : continuités et ruptures dans les représentations des femmes, Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal. Institut de recherches et d’études féministes, pp. 57-68 ; Guionnet, C. (2017). Op. cit. ; Fortin, A. (2021). « Les discours antiféministes diffusés dans les médias sociaux : une étude de la perception des jeunes femmes de 18-14 ans », Université du Québec à Montréal|
|↑22||GEC. Commission pour l’égalité de genre (04/04/2021). PROJET DE RAPPORT sur la place des garçons et des hommes dans les politiques pour les droits des femmes et l’égalité de genre. Strasbourg. https://rm.coe.int/gec-2021-3-rapport-sur-la-place-des-garcons-et-des-hommes-dans-les-pol/1680a206de|
|↑23, ↑24||Allen, J. A., (2002). Men interminably in crisis? Historians on masculinity, sexual boundaries, and manhood. Radical History Review, n°82|
|↑25||Dupuis-Déri, F. (2008), p. 54|
|↑26, ↑27||ONU Femmes (m-à-j mars 2023). Faits et chiffres : Le leadership et la participation des femmes à la vie politique. (s. d.). https://www.unwomen.org/fr/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures#_edn3|
|↑28||Dundas, B., Filice, M., (2020 ). Femmes dans les forces armées canadiennes. (s. d.). l’Encyclopédie Canadienne. URL : https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/fr/article/femmes-dans-les-forces-armees#:~:text=En%20f%C3%A9vrier%202020%2C%20les%20femmes,(19%2C8%20%25)|
|↑29||Gouvernement du Québec (2020) ÉTUDE Policières, pompières et ambulancières paramédicales Constats sur la présence des femmes dans trois métiers d’urgence. URL : https://csf.gouv.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Etu__femmes_urgence_20200224_vweb.pdf)|
|↑30||Statistics Canada (2011). Les femmes et l’éducation. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11542-fra.htm#a13|
|↑31||ONU Femmes. Global Database on Violence Against Women. (s. d.). https://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en|