Misogyny Kills: One Week on from Toronto

Minutes before driving a rented van into a street of pedestrians and killing 10 people, 25-year-old Alek Minassian posted on his Facebook page: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

One week on from the attack, the term ‘incel’ remains all over news sites and social media. Short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, it refers to online groups of men who believe they are unable to experience sexual relationships because women unjustly deny them sex. Within such communities, frustration seems to manifest into a blanket hatred of women (Stacys) and attractive men (Chads).

Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman” referenced in Minassian’s post, killed 6 people and injured 14 in an attack in California in 2014. The 22-year-old released a ‘manifesto’ and a ‘retribution’ video shortly before turning his gun on himself. Both the document and the video outline Rodger’s belief that he was a victim of attractive women who refused to have sex with him.

Alongside incels, other online groups making up the wider male supremacist landscape include the ‘men’s rights movement’ and the ‘pick up artist movement’. As Jessica Valenti explains it, men in these spheres share a belief in the idea that women “owe them sexual attention”. They also share a belief in the idea that male desire is an inevitable force that we can – as a society – attempt to manage as best we can, but must ultimately bow down to due to its sheer power and importance.

Misogyny is something we still feel very uncomfortable talking about because to acknowledge a problem of such scale requires us to acknowledge the huge amount of time and energy required to fix it. It’s far easier and quicker to say there are a few awful, disturbed men out there in sad online forums.

In fact, much of the response I’ve seen to recent coverage on ‘incel’ groups is pity. I understand this reaction, because to say you feel sorry for someone strips them of at least some of their power. It’s also easy to mock an easily-recognisable trope from film and television – the ‘eternal virgin’, the loser who can’t get the girl. But one week on from a mass-murder fuelled by sexist ideology, laughing at members of these groups for being pathetic, porn-addled saddos starts to sound empty. It’s well past time to face up to the consequences of these ‘pathetic’ ideologies.

Over the last week, calls for governments to monitor more closely the online corners where extreme violence lurks have grown louder. There have been previous attempts to do so – in 2017, Reddit banned an incel group with 40,000 members because it was advocating for rape as a solution to men’s ‘celibacy problems’. But we need to stop this kind of hateful, violent way of thinking long before it reaches Reddit.

To focus all the attention on internet groups suggests that misogyny is contained in extremism. Perhaps that’s a comforting way to look at it, because it allows us to believe that by tackling the existence of the groups we can tackle the existence of the ideology. But violent misogyny is not contained in extreme corners of internet forums. It’s everywhere.

It’s in the homes of the hundreds of women around the world who are subjected to domestic violence every day and it’s on the university campuses where female students are groped and assaulted by peers. It’s in courtrooms where rape victims’ clothing is examined and it’s in the language we use to talk about female sexuality. It’s in the lyrics of the songs on the radio, it’s in the tweets directed at women in positions of power and it’s in the Whatsapp groups of rugby players. It’s everywhere. We have to stop acting surprised when somebody is beaten, or raped, or killed as a result.

We have to agree that receiving regular death and rape threats on social media is not a condition of any single job in the world. We have to agree that online communities with tens of thousands of members coming up with strategies to rape as many women as possible are more than just gangs of weird losers who can’t get a date. We have to understand that such deep-rooted sexism damages men and boys and prevents them from living life as full human beings. We have to stop treating violence against women in any form, on any scale, as unfortunate and tragic yet ultimately inevitable.

What happened in Toronto last week was fuelled by misogyny. Until we can acknowledge and address the existence of the pervasive hatred of women that underpins this tragedy, it won’t be the last of its kind.

Evymama: Toronto's Only Breastfeeding Boutique

Evymama's Toronto Storefront
Evymama’s Toronto Storefront

“Toronto’s Only Breastfeeding Boutiques.” Those are the words written on the window of Evymama, a Toronto-based maternity and nursing boutique. Founded six years ago by Sarah Lemay, Evymama is a space for mothers and expecting mothers to find the right products for their needs, ask questions in a supportive environment and access a diverse collection of resources.

When it comes to breastfeeding, in addition to a wealth of knowledge stemming from personal experience, the Evymama staff taps into Toronto’s network of professionals who specialize in lactation and supporting breastfeeding moms. The store offers nursing attire for women of every size and every comfort level, ranging from those who have no problem breastfeeding in public to those who prefer to be more discreet and covered.

It is not punishment to feed a baby. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be something you want to get over with in order to get back to wearing clothes you like. If you were fashionable beforehand, you can still wear pretty things while breastfeeding. ~ Carla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama

Throw into the mix Resident Doula, Carla Murphy, who provides advice and emotional support, and it’s easy to see why Evymama is, in fact, a breastfeeding boutique.

I had the chance to speak to Carla about all things breastfeeding; from stigma, to the factors that discourage moms from breastfeeding, to the importance of support and community when facing the aforementioned issues.

Carla started by giving me a little history lesson to put breastfeeding into both cultural and historic perspective. In the 18th century, formal portraits of mothers breastfeeding were a source of pride, showing that the mothers were feeding their own babies as opposed to using wet nurses. But the introduction of formula and the sexualization of breasts contributed to changing attitudes and stigmatization of public breastfeeding. When we talk about stigmatizing breastfeeding, it is important to point out that this stigma is almost exclusively present in North America. In other parts of the world it is simply understood that breastfeeding is the healthiest and most economically sound way to feed babies and doing so in public would garner no more attention than an adult grabbing a coffee on the run.

Karla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama
Carla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama

However, as Girls’ Globe blogger Emma Saloranta wrote in her post “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Breast,” it seems as though North Americans have sexualized breasts to the point where we have forgotten their primary purpose.

It is now widely accepted that breast milk is the most nutritious food for babies. That being said, moms should be free to make the choice that is right for them and their child. If you are not a mom and have never spoken to one about breastfeeding, you likely do not understand what a challenging decision it can be. Carla spoke at length about the difficulties some moms face: babies who won’t latch on, painful breastfeeding experiences, feelings of isolation and physicians who are not knowledgeable enough to offer the support and advice needed. Many women are discouraged from, or are simply unable to breastfeed because of these challenges.

Conversely, criticism of how a mother chooses to feed her child is not exclusive to those who breastfeed publicly. Breastfeeding attitudes are so much influenced by culture and class, that in some circles bottle-feeding your baby in public is a faux pas. Carla, a mother of three, shared her varying experiences with breastfeeding. One of which included having to pump and feed her son from a bottle because he would not latch on to her breast after months of trying. While out with him in her middle-upper class neighborhood, she received looks from mothers who assumed that she was feeding him formula. “I wanted to hold a sign that said ‘I’m bottle feeding breast milk!’” she says.

The struggles may be different, but they are real. When others attempt to police where, when and how a mother chooses to feed her child, they are actually asking the mother to put the comfort of strangers before the needs of her child and herself.

The most consistent theme throughout my discussion with Carla was the need for more support for breastfeeding moms. In Toronto, all hospitals with birthing units are equipped with free breastfeeding clinics. But beyond clinical advice, being a part of a community of moms who can share experiences, resources and support is invaluable. For a complete list of breastfeeding resources in Canada and abroad, visit the Newman International Breastfeeding Centre website.