- Rage and Resistance: A Theological Reflection on the Montreal Massacre
Theresa O'Donovan uses an analysis of the slaying of fourteen female engineering students on 6 December 1989 at the University of Montreal's École Polytechnique by a male gunman to reveal the breadth and depth of male violence against women. Throughout the book, she demonstrates how government agencies, religious institutions, and schools failed to [End Page 410] acknowledge and address the fact that the Montreal Massacre was a hate crime against women and that violence against women continues unabated.
In chapter 1, O'Donovan introduces the works of Gregory Baum and Dorothy Smith. She draws on Baum's theological stance of solidarity with the oppressed and Smith's sociological methodology utilizing the experiences of women as dialogue partners in her analysis. In discussing the works of Baum and Smith, O'Donovan brings women's experiences of violence into Baum's theological vision that all oppressions are 'violations to life,' challenging the reader to consider the multiple layers of misogyny in Canadian society.
Chapter 2, 'How Does It Happen to Us as It Does?' O'Donovan draws the reader into the whirlwind of journalism, both written and televised, experiencing once again the 1989 presentation of this tragedy. She emphasizes the use of predominantly male experts from many fields, while feminists were either ignored or silenced. The comments of these experts, as O'Donovan points out, tended to downplay the murders as acts of misogyny, focusing instead on the mental state of the murderer. In contrast, the media focused on acts of grief – tears and candles – which then became the culturally acceptable response to the Montreal massacre. As O'Donovan notes, even now, candles and tears are part the memorials held every December, rather than rage.
Grace is seldom a consideration when faced with such atrocities as the murder of fourteen women. O'Donovan, however, in chapter 3 considers naming the social sin of misogyny as a means to opening a pathway to the grace of healing. She first shows the relationship between Baum's four levels of social sin and the Montreal massacre. The author then challenges the reader to consider the need for a counter-discourse acknowledging the Montreal massacre as violence against women, rather than a random act of insanity. In naming misogyny, society can then begin healing.
The author draws her book to a close by considering in chapter 4 'What Shall We Tell Our Bright and Shining Daughters?' She recounts how many women memorialized those slain in the massacre through art, music, and political action. However, remembering alone is not enough. The author challenges the reader to a life of spiritual resistance, which builds a bridge between what is and what can be. Through living lives of spiritual resistance, the pervasiveness of violence in our society, especially violence against women, can be recognized without one becoming overwhelmed and losing hope. Through spiritual resistance O'Donovan challenges each individual reader to 'fight back.'
O'Donovan offers a much-needed opportunity for women's voices to be heard. At the same time, in her discussion on reconciliation, the author's acknowledgment of male oppression in a patriarchal culture [End Page 411] is limited. It goes without saying that male oppression does not offer justification for violence against women. Yet violence against men who are 'out of place' is not unheard of and, therefore, is a social sin that must be named in order for true reconciliation to take place. A similar naming of social sin could also be extended to acts of violence against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning community. If we are to eradicate the violence in our culture, the pain of all women and men under current unjust cultural and political systems must be addressed. O'Donovan's work offers a refreshing perspective on a difficult topic. I highly recommend this book to anyone in the fields of gender studies and theology.