11 May 2008

Now That’s Power! Wikipedia’s Representation of Marc Lépine and the Montreal Massacre

The following is my request on the Wikipedia Discussion page to have the wording changed in its article on Ecole Polytechnique Massacre. The response I got, see below, suggests that "might is right", I think. Just as women eons ago were considered not worthy of working alongside men, so, apparently, if those whose pens now hold the (al)mighty truth are permitted to have their way, Marc Lepine’s actions may justly be considered 'representative’ of wider societal violence against women simply because they (Wikipedia) say so.

Marc Lepine's actions not representative of all violence against women - may 11, 2008 – comment Sue McPherson suemcp001

The third paragraph of the article mentions some of the interpretations placed on this tragedy, the main one being that it was an ‘antifeminist attack’ and that it was ‘representative of wider societal violence against women.’ The problem is that these killings, done by one man against women he did not know, were not representative of most violence against women, and certainly should never have been made to ‘represent’ them. Most violence against women is committed within a personal relationship, one partner against the other. Other reasons – interpretations – are given in the article, but the real reason, that Marc Lépine killed because he was not permitted to do the engineering program he felt entitled to, because places were being taken up by women, neglected to be mentioned in this paragraph, or anywhere in the article. I have written more about this Wikipedia article and placed it on my website. See list of references.
Filed in Wikipedia discussion on article, Ecole Polytechnique Massacre Suemcp001 (talk) 05:13, 11 May 2008 (UTC). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:École_Polytechnique_massacre

The response to my comment, from ‘Bearcat,’ a moderator on Wikipedia, is as follows:Whether you like the general media interpretation or not, discussing and debating it is not Wikipedia's role or responsibility. You can "respond" to our article on your website all you like, but that doesn't change the fact that it is not Wikipedia's job to provide what you want. If you don't like it, write a letter to the editor of The Globe and Mail or the Montreal Gazette and get them to revise their understanding of what happened, because Wikipedia's role is to summarize what established media sources have already published about it. Putting together original research in a new way to question the existing interpretation of history is not only not our job, it's actually against the rules of the site. Bearcat (talk) 05:39, 11 May 2008 (UTC). Retrieved May 11, 2008, from the Discussion section of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre.

Added Apr 23, 2012

It is now 4 years later, since this happened, when I tried to have the Wikipedia articles about Marc Lépine and the Montreal Massacre written in a more objective manner, including varied points of view and not simply the main feminist one and the more traditionally accepted viewpoints blaming Lépine’s parents and his own psyche for his determination to kill feminists.

Despite my efforts, I was not able to reach someone who would stand up to the other contributors, or to the biases of the moderators on Wikipedia, who had the authority to make sure the article was constructed properly, according to Wikipedia’s own ideals based on public collaboration.

Over the last 4 years more has been added to the Wikipedia articles, going against the emphatic claim made by ‘Bearcat’ (see comment above) that Wikipedia uses “established” sources - not *interpreting events of that day - simply reporting the facts. Yet as we can see, in the main article about the Montreal Massacre (now called the Ecole Polytechnique massacre), has even referred to Marc Lepine’s mother as having “wondered if the attack was not directed at her, as some would have considered her a feminist since she was a single, working mother.” Lépine’s father has often been given as a reason for the killings, and here, even the mother’s own self-doubt has been used to draw her into the foray. Both of these reasons, and some of the others, seems incomprehensible, especially as Lépine himself gave the reason for the attacks – he had expected he would go to engineering School and take up this male-reserved career, only to discover that the daughters of middle class citizens were now taking places traditionally reserved for men.

Even though I state this clearly in my essays on the Montreal Massacre, and it is what Lépine himself said in his suicide note, the fact that women were taking jobs and university places traditionally held for men was not given as a reason for the killings in the Wikipedia articles, nor any reference has been given to my work or to the website in general on the Montreal Massacre that I began in 2005, while living in England.

The suicide letter is another matter, its very authenticity in question. Despite the event happening over 20 years ago, no image of the original suicide note has ever been published. The only copy available to the public, according to what has been said about it, is the illicit copy leaked to feminist journalist Francine Pelletier one year after the attacks. At some point a translation was made of the original letter, written in French by Lépine, but the name of the translator remains elusive. So does his or her skill. Only 4 years ago, the English translation of the suicide note was still taken as truth, as noted in the Wikipedia articles on that time. But his year, 2012, supposed errors in translation have been reported (see suicide letter, 2012).

The first corrected ‘error’ in the 2012 version (date retrieved), changes the meaning of the sentence written by Lépine. The new version of this sentence makes it take on a negative meaning, as follows: “They are so opportunistic they [do not] neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men through the ages.” But the question at this time concerns the authenticity of the letter itself, since its origin is in doubt. How do we know that the suicide letter we have taken as truth is actually the truth and not an interpretation put on it by someone copying out the words to pass onto Ms Pelletier? At what point do we, the public, get to see a real image of the letter, not a transcript, as composed by Marc Lépine (in French) on the morning of the day he died?

École Polytechnique massacre on Wikipedia
Retrieved Apr 22, 2012

Marc Lepine on Wikipedia
Retrieved Apr 22, 2012

Marc Lépine’s suicide note
Retrieved Apr 22, 2012

Montreal Massacre website

Links updated Apr 23, 2012

2 May 2008

British comedian Johnny Vegas accused of crossing the line sexually

Johnny Vegas caused a furor the other day when he apparently went over the line in his stage show, leading to discomfort among the audience and to the woman he invited onto the stage. Bruce Dessau has commented on the behaviour, Evening Standard Apr 29, and part of my response is directed towards this: http://dessau.thisislondon.co.uk/2008/04/johnny-vegas-a.html .

I have some questions of my own, and some thoughts on all this. Were these the actions of a man experiencing the power of his position of authority, and did it go to his head? Did he ‘almost’ go over the edge intentionally - making it a question of poor judgement, or was this unintentional, his omnipotent self taking matters too far? I don’t see that much has come of this. Perhaps the stalwart admonition by Mary O'Hara (Guardian, May 1: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/05/johnny_vegas.html ), naming it sexual assault, has led to this incident being covered up.

Sexual assault is a serious accusation to make, and the response to such a claim would have to be to either cover it up or deal with it. And who wants to do that? It’s too bad women have to jump in and make claims which on one level seem to be accusations, but on another are actually a way of getting the authorities to back off from investigating further. No one wants to be responsible for Johnny Vegas losing his career, and if feminist interference makes it an either/or situation, then better drop it altogether. Don’t risk people actually giving this situation some real thought. They might actually learn something about masculinity, power, and the grey area of sexuality, for men and for women. It’s not always easy for a woman to say No. Her upbringing, traditional norms, and simply being in a situation where she believes no harm will come to her because so many are watching, will all influence her way of responding to the situation. When she came off stage, finally, and was said to be looking as though she enjoyed the experience, could that have been euphoria at having escaped unharmed, relief that it was over, as well as feelings of excitement that she had been involved in this act on stage with the famous (infamous?) Johnny Vegas?

I wonder if reality television could have had an influence on Johnny’s behaviour, if this incident really did happen, having seen some of the actions other celebrities have engaged in, ‘on stage’ in Big Brother’s house – George Galloway, for one, and some sexual antics of other participants. Where does acting stop and the real person take over? Is access to power an excuse for behaving badly on stage? If Vegas's career is based on taking things to the edge, should some leeway be given to this error in judgement or intentional overstepping of power, if that's what happened? Is making an accusation in a national newspaper also a misuse of power? Should an article doing so be seen as an error in judgement on the part of the journalist or an intentional use of power?

Added Apr 20, 2012

Mary O’Hara did revise her article, changing the title and adding an additional paragraph, as follows:

* Johnny Vegas complained about this article. His solicitors have been in contact with the young woman from the audience who has told them that she went along with the joke willingly and did not feel intimidated, scared or abused during this performance.

My thoughts on this, four years later: When it comes to sexual matters, men’s mistakes in crossing boundaries or using their power to excess is often overlooked or covered up. It’s fairly normal behaviour for men, as they deal with their own sense of masculinity in a world that often denies them. As long as they have power – resources, male support or female support, they can get a second chance, and maybe more than that. It’s problematic that the women who support them the most, seeing their behaviour as nothing more than a storm in a teacup or even simply hilarious, can’t see any farther than that, or refuse to look any deeper. I know I wouldn’t have liked his behaviour, especially if it were done to me.

But this was just a comedy show, not as if it were a colleague or employer putting on a display of macho comedy and expecting admiration from all sides for it. This probably didn’t result in anyone being harassed for speaking out, or losing out on a career, and having to move away.

On the other hand, could the incident be compared to the actions of a medical doctor or a teacher, overstepping the bounds of his profession and sexualizing the doctor/patient (or teacher/student) relationship? As with the Johnny Vegas incident, there was a situation of unequal power, whereby the authority figure had the power to manipulate the other, asking her to put her trust in him while he performed certain actions, for reasons connected to the purpose of the interaction. At what point does the audience member on stage refuse to interact any more, while the eyes of the audience are upon her. Not wanting to make a scene, not wanting to appear naïve or lacking in humour, the girl may simply have waited it out, smiling, pretending it was all just fine. Aren’t there many occasions in life when women do just that – pretend it’s okay, watching to see what the others say or do, not really knowing, not wanting to make a fuss, but just conforming?

Did Johnny Vegas over-step the comedy mark?
By Colin Bostock-Smith
First Post
May 1, 2008
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/32522,features,did-johnny-vegas-overstep-the-comedy-mark not working

Johnny Vegas: A Gig Too Far?
By Bruce Dessau, Comedy Blog
Evening Standard Blogs
Apr 29, 2008
See article comments at http://dessau.thisislondon.co.uk/2008/04/johnny-vegas-a.html

Johnny Vegas at the Bloomsbury theatre* (with note added)
originally titled ‘When is Sexual Assault Funny’
By Mary O'Hara
The Guardian
May 1, 2008
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/05/johnny_vegas.html link not working
with new title, introduction and note added: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/01/gender.comedy

Links updated Apr 20, 2012