HIMPATHY: Empathy towards men who kill women

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In this article by Julie Bindel the reasons why in each case of femicide are analysed we always empathically look for the "reasons" that can somehow justify the murderer (said even better: we look for a way to give him some reason). Era depressed, unemployed, anguished, exhausted, blinded by jealousy. Exasperated. So he killed her. Of course, he shouldn't have done it: but that's why he did it.

The media constantly and methodically does this job: they look for the “reasons”, they try to explain, they search for details that can arouse empathy in the reader. In the background, the idea that killing a woman is basically a "natural" thing for a man, even if today prosecuted by law. Well, this search for "reasons", as well as exercising afurther violence towards the victim, it is perfectly useless work. Why the “reason” is always and only one, and it's called a domain. Men kill women when women follow the thread of their own freedom by escaping their domination (at the end of Julie Bindel's article, the analysis of two typical news reports of feminicide)


The case of Anthony Williams, jailed for just five years for the manslaughter of his wife Ruth last week, has led MPs and feminist campaigners to call for an increased sentence, saying such leniency sends a message to men that killing your wife is not a serious crime. Williams said he was not fully responsible for his actions when he strangled his wife to death and that the pandemic had exacerbated his anxiety and depression. The case, while shocking, is representative of a much larger problem. Every three days in England and Wales a woman is killed by a former or current male partner (the same numbers in Italy, ed). I define it as “femicide”, a term coined by feminists in the 1970s to describe the killing of a woman by a man precisely because she is a woman.

Research published last week by the Center for Women's Justice, Women who Kill: How the State Criminalizes Women We Might Otherwise Be Burying, found that while hundreds of women victims of violence and abuse were killed by their partners, the vast majority of those few women who killed men were driven to do so after having suffered abuse at the hands of the latter. Domestic violence costs many lives: between 2008 and 2018, 840 women were killed by boyfriends or ex-partners. And throughout the pandemic, cases of domestic violence against women, and consequently feminicides, have increased.

Criminology expert and professor Jane Monckton-Smith, author of In Control: Dangerous Relationships and How They End in Murder, identifies eight distinct stages that lead to the killing of women by men, including increased use of control and threats of suicide if the victim does not do as told. “Covid or lockdown is the occasional cause of murders” says Monckton-Smith. “It's bringing some dangerous abusers out of the shadows, and this is different.” In 1990 I co-founded the feminist campaign group Justice for Women to lobby on behalf of women convicted of killing their attacker, and also to highlight cases in which men free themselves from a murder charge by claiming that their victim had “tormented” them or had been unfaithful.

On the rare occasions when a woman kills a violent man, she is asked: "If the violence was so bad, why didn't you leave?" Men who say they killed their wives because they were “harassed” or cheated on them never get such questions. Why has so little changed about domestic violence deaths despite many decades of feminist campaigning? I remember the 1991 case of Joseph McGrail, who kicked his wife to death because he was "tormented" by the fact that he had received a non-custodial sentence.

A decade later Les Humes was sentenced to just seven years for the manslaughter of his wife. The reason it “tripped”? She intended to leave him. In his book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne introduces the term himpathy” to describe the disproportionate compassion towards men who commit acts of domestic and sexual violence against women and girls. L'himpathy it can work in many ways, for example painting men who kill women as victims of a tragedy, which in turn means blaming the victim for what happened to her.

Karen Ingala Smith has been keeping count of feminicide victims since 2012 and is the founder of Counting Dead Women. Ingala Smith found that over the course of nearly a decade there has been no real change in the rates of killing women by men, and that's not the only thing that's changed little. “We still hear the same excuses." says Ingala Smith: provocation on the part of the victim, concern for the financial situation, seizure, concern for her future without him, deprivation of virility due to her successes.” Compassion towards men who kill women is costing lives. When Phil Spector – who killed Lana Clarkson in 2003 – died this year, the headline of a BBC article described it as “a talented but flawed producer“. THESpector's "flaw" was that he had killed a woman and had a long history of abuse against others. Spector had previously pointed a gun at four other women out of anger because they had allegedly "rejected" him.

As research shows Women Who Kill, abused women like Sally Challen are unfairly punished and treated as cold-blooded murderers while men make excuses for their acts of murderous rage towards women. Femicide rates should prompt an urgent government inquiry into the institutionalized sexism that causes them. The time has come to all speak out against male violence. Women's lives depend on it.

Julie Bindel (original article here)

translation by Giorgia Garda


A news agency reports a feminicide-suicide in the eastern suburbs of Milan. A sixty-five year old man stabs his wife to death and then kills himself. «[…] The illness» writes the reporter, «the heart operations and a strong depressive state: UP, retired tailor, he had entered a tunnel from which he was no longer able to escape, if not killing his wife and then taking his own life."

What could that poor man do? if not kill his wife? He is the real victim, her death is an unpleasant but inevitable consequence. It's natural that things should go this way.

We obsessively delve into the life of the feminicide-suicide from Francavilla - who after having pushed his wife out the window threw his ten-year-old daughter from the motorway overpass, prevented help for seven hours by threatening to jump himself and finally is thrown away – to understand if there was any reason for the extermination. As if a femicide could have any plausible reason, apart from the exercise of domination.

Was he depressed? Did you have problems at work? Was he on drugs? Had his mother died? Was he sick? In any case: what could he do, if not try to put his pieces back together in an act of terminal dominance?

It is, every time, about the idea of being able finding "one's identity lost in an act of extreme male supremacy".

To the Corriere della Sera there are many protests from readers for an article on the martyrdom of Pamela Mastropietro (the eighteen-year-old Roman whose body torn to pieces by her killer Innocent Oseghale was found in two suitcases)

It is told about one of the last people to see the girl alive, a man who took advantage of his state of loneliness and need, sit in exchange for fifty euros. «And now who knows what heavy weight this forty-five year old has on his heart with the red mechanic's overalls and the sandals of a Franciscan. Despite the intense cold he doesn't wear socks»

The gaze is on his solitude, on his afflicted heart, on the modesty of his condition – he is a mechanic −, on bare feet in Franciscan sandals. The thought haunts him that if only he could have imagined the horrible end that awaited Pamela, he would certainly have changed her fate. “It's atrocious, atrocious,” he can only say. «Do you think I don't think about it? Don't swear, please..."

So yesand had he known that the girl was alone, defenseless, with drug addiction problems and at high risk of getting into trouble, he would not have taken advantage of her sexually for fifty euros.

But the fact that the little girl was alone, defenseless, with drug addiction problems and at high risk of getting into some trouble was more than evident, it was the necessary precondition for the sex-money exchange. Otherwise she would never have agreed to offer herself in exchange for a few pennies.

So it is completely natural for a man - even for a good and "Franciscan" man - to use the body of a lonely and needy girl for his own sexual satisfaction, object on the market available to the highest bidder or the most domineering. A reflection stronger than everything: more than pity, than tenderness, than any paternal feeling, than simple human solidarity.

There's nothing natural about this at all. It is not at all natural for a man to dominate, exploit and rape a woman. This is only the first brick of the patriarchal construction that "poisons all of life". That a woman is free: this is natural. That she is left free to put her original wisdom, her mastery, her ability to govern things to work - every man knows very well what I am talking about: this is what is natural.

(from Marina Terragni, Men steal everything from us, Sonzogno 2016)

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