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opinion

A student places fourteen roses at a memorial for the victims of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique attack where a lone gunman killed 14 female students.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Michael Halpin is an assistant professor in the department of sociology and social anthropology at Dalhousie University.

Dec. 6 is the anniversary of Marc Lépine’s misogynistic assault on École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. On that day, Mr. Lépine entered a classroom armed with a semi-automatic rifle. He asked all the men to leave and then opened fire. He murdered 14 women and wounded another 14 people before taking his own life.

While Tuesday will be honoured by most as a national day of remembrance, there are some men both in Canada and around the world who will celebrate it as “Saint Marc Lépine Day.” In 2019, one of them, Montreal resident Jean-Claude Rochefort, ran a blog that celebrated Mr. Lépine and drew the attention of police in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre.

The day before the anniversary, Mr. Rochefort posted an altered photo depicting Mr. Lépine with an assault rifle in front of a group of women, telling his readers that Dec. 6 “should be a day when we remember the first counterattack against the feminazis’ war on men.” In August, 2022, he was convicted of inciting hatred toward women.

Involuntarily celibate men (or “incels”) also idolize Mr. Lépine. Incels are an online community of men who define themselves by their inability to have heterosexual relationships. These communities of men are extremely sexist: they stalk, harass and bully women online, and they also celebrate when women are harmed or lose their rights.

For example, incels applauded the United States Supreme Court’s decision this year to overturn Roe v. Wade because they see the act of restricting abortion as harmful to women. Incels have also been connected to mass murders in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. Incel websites and forums receive millions of visits every month.

My research shows that incels think men and women are engaged in a gender war. Incels believe women are winning this war and are actively eliminating men’s rights. They think that Mr. Lépine was a victim of this gender war – a social outcast who was harmed by feminism. They see him as a “brave soldier” who defended men’s rights by “taking the fight” to women.

I have also seen plenty of examples on incel forums of men discussing their desire to emulate Mr. Lépine. They encourage one another to “go Lépine,” which is a call to murder women. They make explicit threats, stating that women should “expect to see more Lépines,” and that L’École Polytechnique de Montréal “needs to be revisited by Marc Lépine.”

What can we do about these men? We have to do something, as doing nothing leaves the women who are targeted by incels to handle them on their own. While censoring speech should always be carefully debated, incels’ calls for violence against women justifies shutting down their websites. Those who run incel forums should be held accountable for facilitating hate speech and hate crimes.

However, shutting down websites alone will not solve the problem. Incel communities are always prepared to set up new sites and forums to spread their beliefs. Targeting their current online spaces, only to have them move somewhere else, also does not address the motivations of the tens of thousands of men who produce sexist content for incel websites – or the millions of men who consume such content.

We need to get serious about disrupting incel communities. We can create online tools to respond to their sexist misinformation. We can fund organizations that support women and feminism. We can educate people about sexist online communities and the signs that someone is a member. We can raise awareness about incels’ sexism and hatred.

After all, incels are not simply lonely, unloved men. They are men who think their loneliness justifies violence. We need to push back against them and all other men who want to turn Dec. 6 into a day of celebration, with the first major step being awareness.

Men should also not leave this work to women. Men need to take violence against women, and the rhetoric of misogynistic communities, seriously.

It is not the case that men are losing a “gender war” against women. Instead, almost all women who are murdered in Canada are murdered by men. Men can help Dec. 6 remain a day of action countering violence against women by challenging the sexism of incels and those with similar views.