Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child.  She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here.  I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here.  It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never  forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’  en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s.  So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.

Of course male primogeniture is wrong.  Of course.  Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong.  But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality.  Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too.  She’s right and I will.  I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege.  Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters.  Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.

Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life.  She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery.  I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.

I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected.  Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone.  Food, shelter, safety, education  – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals.  I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t.  However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world.  In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression,  male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.

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Who gets to define femicide?

I’ve been undecided about the use of the term ‘femicide’  to describe the list of names of the UK  women killed through suspected1 male violence.  The term is useful because it takes the concept of fatal male violence against women beyond domestic violence and that’s important, many people’s understanding of the concept of fatal male violence against women stops and ends at women killed through domestic violence.  However, that the term ‘femicide’ in itself fails to name the male as the agent is problematic.  An early definition of femicide as “the killing of females by males because they are females” dealt with this, though there is a convincing argument for the inclusion of women killed by women because of the influence of patriarchal values.

In 2012, the participants of the Vienna Symposium on Femicide agreed the following:

Femicide is the killing of women and girls because of their gender, which can take the form of, inter alia: 1) the murder of women as a result of intimate partner violence; 2) the torture and misogynist slaying of women 3) killing of women and girls in the name of “ honour”; 4) targeted killing of women and girls in the context of armed conflict; 5) dowry-related killings of women; 6) killing of women and girls because of their sexual orientation and gender identity; 7) the killing of aboriginal and indigenous women and girls because of their gender; 8) female infanticide and gender-based sex selection foeticide; 9) genital mutilation related femicide; 10) accusations of witchcraft and 11) other femicides connected with gangs, organized crime, drug dealers, human trafficking, and the proliferation of small arms.

As a list of some of the forms that femicide can take, this is helpful and aids the understanding of femicide as something much wider than domestic violence.  The use of the term ‘inter alia’ meaning ‘among other things’ indicates that even they were not convinced that this included everything.  They’re right, it certainly doesn’t include everything.  The definition fascinates me.  It is 123 words long.  123 words and the words man, men or male do not appear once. The full declaration is over 800 words long.  It mentions men and boys once, in reference to ‘sensitising education programmes’. The argument that femicide can also include the killings of women by women because of the influence of patriarchal values is not so convincing that it warrants the absence of the identification of men as perpetrators in a declaration to take action to end femicide that spans over 800 words. The vast majority of women who are killed, are killed by men, whilst it is also true that the vast majority of killers of men are also men, this cannot warrant the failure to name men as the killers of women.  One of the significant achievements of feminism is getting male violence against women into the mainstream and onto the policy agenda.  One of the threats against this achievement is that those with power take the concepts and under the auspices of dealing with the problem shake some of the most basic elements of feminist understanding right out of them.  The exclusion of male violence from the declaration on femicide is inexcusable.  Inexcusable because failing to name the agent will not help us to end, or even reduce, fatal male violence against women.  Could failing to name men as the agents of femicide be a patriarchal political act?

I’ve written about the murders of 18 year-old Samantha Sykes and 17 year-old Kimberley Frank in other pieces.  It was their murders by Ahmad Otak that convinced me that a list of women killed by men through domestic violence, simply was not enough. Otak wasn’t the boyfriend of either of them, but of Elisa Frank, Kimberley’s sister.  The murders of Samantha and Kimberley don’t fit the definition of domestic violence, but they’re absolutely about a man trying to exert power, control and coercion in his relationship, reports of their murders have stated that he was attempting to show Elisa that he would allow no-one to stand in the way of them being together. The murders of Kimberley and Samantha were every bit about male violence against women, control and coercion through the display of the power to kill.  I doubt anyone would try to say that the murders of Samantha and Kimberley weren’t femicide.

I’ve been challenged about the inclusion of older women killed in the process of robberies and muggings in my work naming the women killed through male violence.  In 2012, six older women, aged between 75 and 88 were killed by much younger men, aged between 15 and 43 as they were robbed or mugged:

Irene Lawless, 68 who was raped, beaten and strangled by 26 year old Darren Martin. Pornography depicting rape and featuring older women was found on his home computer.

Margaret Biddolph, 78 and Annie Leyland, 88 were strangled and robbed by Andrew Flood, 43, who knew them through his job as a taxi driver. He’d also robbed a third woman elderly woman and threatened to kill her cat.  He was clearly targeting women.

Delia Hughes was 85 when she was killed by 25 year-old Jamie Boult. He struck her repeatedly about the head with a hammer, a hammer he was carrying specifically because he intended to kill.  When Boult was sentenced, Delia’s daughter, Beryl said

“I’ve never seen a dead body before. Seeing my mum her head battered, covered in blood, black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, blood splattered on the walls, this is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

The murder of Delia Hughes was not simply a robbery gone wrong.

Similarly, Jean Farrar, 77, was kicked and stamped on by Daniel Barnett, 20, until she was her virtually unrecognisable.  Her  son Jamie was absolutely right when he said 2Daniel Barnett did not need to enter my mother’s house that night. He chose to. Upon finding my mum at home, he easily could have left.  Instead he chose to beat her and throw her against the wall. And when she screamed in pain, he chose to kick her, stamp on her, and jump on her head until she was unable to scream any more.”

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Jamie Boult and Daniel Barnett’s choices to carry out robberies, that these choices also included choices to inflict fatal violence was not inevitable.

Paula Castle was 85 when she was knocked to the ground when she was mugged by Jiervon Bartlett and Nayed Hoque who were both 15.  They may not have intended to kill her, but they also mugged another woman the next day.  They were clearly targeting women.  

I’ve been told that the killing of elderly women as part of a robbery or mugging is “not femicide”.  I disagree.  These women were killed because they were women.  And if their killings are not femicide, then it is because the term femicide is being misused

Epistemology questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. The acquisition and identification of what constitutes knowledge does not escape structural inequalities of sex, class and race.  Dr Maddy Coy of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University calls for the recognition of practice-based evidence, for example from specialist women’s organisations, to be considered as expertise as worthy as that of academics.  It’s ‘participant observation’ when it’s produced by an academic, it’s ‘anecdotal’ when it comes from a women’s services provider.  Does the objectification of women and the valuing of us on our merits based on the patriarchal fuckability test mean that it is the murders of elderly women that are those most likely to be excluded from the term femicide?  Women talk about the mixed blessing of becoming invisible as we grow older, is that what has happened with the term femicide?  Has sex inequality, particularly in patriarchally infected academia and state bureaucracies, depoliticised them term ‘femicide’ to the point that male violence has been erased from the concept?  Until the hierarchies of knowledge  are eradicated, then the role of anything considered knowledge in upholding structural inequality, is open to question.

How easy is it to escape socially constructed gender? How many of us, if our values were assessed and measured, would be found not to be influenced – at all – by sexism and sexist stereotypes?  Do we know that the population of men who kill women are not more sexist and misogynistic than a control group? When misogyny and sexism are so pervasive, are all but inescapable, can a man killing a women ever not be a sexist act?  A fatal enactment of patriarchy?

If an 800 word declaration on  femicide is the best that policy makers and ‘experts’ can come up with and yet it does not mention the words ‘male violence’ ,  if it does not name men as the agents and beneficiaries of fatal male violence against women, it is time for feminists to take back the term and make sure that the definition is ours.

Footnotes

 1 I have to say ‘suspected’ until a trial has been held or an inquest in the case of a man who has also killed himself.

2 Credited to   Diana E. H. Russell

 

Quick fixes like changing gun control laws wouldn’t have saved the 13 UK women killed through suspected male violence in July 2013

This week the government published new guidance on gun control in the UK including a provision that those with a history of domestic violence should not be permitted to possess a firearm or gun.  The case of Michael Atherton who shot dead three women: Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull on 1st January 2012 is painful evidence that this was needed and overdue.   Michael Atherton’s history of domestic violence was known to the police, but he was still issued a gun  license and legally owned six weapons.

However, gun controls would have prevented the deaths of none of the 13 UK women killed in July 2013 alone, through suspected male violence,  the same month that this legislation change was introduced.  This is because, of those 13 women none were shot:

    • 5 were stabbed
    • 2 were strangled
    • 2 were killed through blows from a bunt object
    • 1 was asphyxiated
    • 1 was killed through head injuries
    • 1 was burnt alive, and
    • 1 was so badly decomposed that post-mortem results have been inconclusive

The men arrested for the killings have all been known to the women:

    • In 5 cases the man arrested was a      husband/ex-husband of the women killed
    • In 5 cases the man arrested was a      boyfriend/ex-boyfriend
    • One man has been arrested for the murder of his daughter
    • One man has been arrested for the murder of his grandmother
    • 2 men have been arrested for the murder of a woman from the same      address.

If the government is serious about ending male violence against women it need to look at the causes.   Of course tightening gun control is a good thing , but women’s lives will continue to be taken if the focus is on headline grabbing quick wins.  Male violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men upheld by divisive gender standards. Until a government seriously approaches the issue from that perspective, women and girls will continue to be beaten, raped, assaulted, abused, controlled and killed by men.

Counting dead women

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were murdered by men, three were shot, two were strangled, one was stabbed and one killed through fifteen “blunt force trauma” injuries. Maybe I would have noticed this anyway; unusually some of the murders received a fair bit of press coverage, perhaps because the three women who were shot were family members killed in a multiple shooting. But mainly I noticed them because the woman who was stabbed comes from Hackney and that’s where the domestic and sexual violence charity that I work for is based. I wanted everyone to know her name and who she was, but professional boundaries meant I couldn’t say much at all. What I could do was name her as one of the number of women killed in the first few days of 2012. The thing is, once I’d started doing that, I didn’t want to stop.

I started keeping a list of the names of women killed through domestic violence. Many people know the ‘two women in England and Wales a week are killed through domestic violence‘ statistic, but how many try to connect with that, to feel the impact of what it really means? For some reason, I thought naming the women killed made the horror of what is happening to women feel more real. I began tweeting the names of the women, eventually settling in to a pattern of doing it at the end of every month. By the 26th February, I’d counted 15 UK women killed through domestic violence.

Then, on 9th March, Ahmad Otak stabbed Samantha Sykes, 18 and Kimberley Frank, 17, to death. Otak, 21, was the ex-boyfriend of Kimberley’s sister Elisa, 19. After killing Kimberley and then Samantha in front of Elisa, he abducted her and drove to Dover in a failed attempt to get to France. The murders of Samantha and Kimberly do not directly fit the definition of domestic violence, (though if you see them as actions of control and coercion in the context of Otak’s relationship with Elisa Frank, then arguably they do), but they are absolutely embedded in gender, in male violence against women. There was no way I was going to overlook these two young women, so at the end of March, I listed the names of women killed through suspected gender related murder. Women killed by men because they are women.

This has had an impact on me that I didn’t really expect. I don’t know when I started understanding domestic and sexual violence as different but related expressions of male violence against women; I’ve certainly been aware of their overlap through my work for as long as I can remember. But, the longer times goes on, the less patience I have with them being treated as separate issues1.

In the course of the year, almost every month when I tweeted the complete and growing list, I’d receive one or two enquiries (some polite and genuine, some – almost always men – who refused to accept that this is a gendered issue or tried to find some other way to demean what I was doing) about what I meant by ‘suspected gender related murders’. So, at the end of the year, with what I though would be the final list of names, I wrote a small piece about what I meant, what and more importantly who I’d included and who I hadn’t. See below2. As well as thinking about issues around gender3, I was worried about legality, for example at least one case had already gone to trial and the male perpetrator had been found not guilty of murder but of manslaughter, also about whether I could be accused of libel, so I always referred to suspected murder and have only ever used information easily accessible in the public domain.

By 31st December 2012, I’d counted and named 107 women. 107 women UK women killed in 365 days, that’s one woman every 3.4 days.

What I hadn’t really expected was that even though the year had ended, the list would continue to grow. The organisation I work for joined One Billion Rising on 14th February 2013. We released a balloon for every UK woman killed in 2012. By the time we were planning the event, 107 women had become 109. I’d found a woman I’d missed and details emerging through the trial of the murderer of another, made it clear that there was a gender related element to her killing. Yet, even by the actual event, the list had grown longer. Andrew Flood was a taxi-driver who strangled and robbed two elderly women, Margaret Biddolph, 78 and Annie Leyland, 88. When I learned he’d also robbed a third woman who according to reports had not been killed because she had not resisted when he robbed her, it seemed to me that there was a clear gendered pattern to his actions. We read the list of names on Parliament Square, we were talking about 109 women, but we read out 111 names, confident that no-one would be counting. Since then, another woman, Corrin Barker, 31 has been added to the list. Corrin’s death was originally reported as a double suicide alongside that of her father, in response to the death of her mother. But following a Freedom of Information request, documents show that police believe that Corrin’s father shot her, that it wasn’t a double suicide, but a murder-suicide. So now it’s not 107, it’s not 109, it’s 112 women killed through suspected gender related murder in 2012; one woman every 3.2 days.

Though planning the One Billion Rising event, I was talking to colleagues that I respect a lot, about the list. Once of the challenges they put to me was asking why I was talking about gender related murder, why not simply male violence against women? I think at first I was resistant, the problem isn’t biology, it’s society. It’s the social construct of gender, it’s inequality, the oppression of women in patriarchal society that is the issue. That’s still true, but it is no less true that what I am looking at is men killing women because they are women. Name the problem? The problem is male violence. Even in the cases where a woman or women were killed by men that do not involve domestic or sexual violence, it is still a man or men killing a woman or women, because they are women. The 2013 list therefore is of women killed though male violence against women. I think I’m going to drop the ‘suspected’ bit too.4

Male violence against women cuts across barriers of age, race, class, religion and geography. Although my list is of UK women, fatal male violence against women happens across the world. The commonalities are greater than any cultural variations. The youngest woman on the list from 2012 is Megan-Leigh Peat, she was 15, and the oldest is Annie Leyland who was 88. The list of the 112 names gives hints of differences in ethnicity, class and culture. I was surprised by how many women were killed by their sons, 13 of the 112 women and also one by her grandson.

It’s almost a year and three months now, since the murders of Susan McGoldrick, 47; Tanya Turnbull, 27; and Alison Turnbull, 44; who were shot by Michael Atherton, 42. Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, he’d been granted a gun licence despite a history of domestic violence. A year and three months since 87 year old Kathleen Milward was killed through 15 blunt force trauma injuries inflicted by her grandson, and since Kirsty Treloar, a 20 year old new mother was stabbed 29 times by the father of her three-week-old baby. She was dragged out of the house by Miles Williams, leaving the baby covered in blood and her brother and sister also injured as they tried to protect her. A year and three months since Kirsty was shoved into the back of a car and driven away, to be later found dead two miles away, dumped behind wheelie bins.

I’ve been counting dead women for a year and three months; but not only counting, naming and trying to commemorate the UK women killed through male violence against women. Why? Because men are killing us and I want it to stop.

Footnotes

1 I acknowledge that legally and in terms of the support requirements of victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, there are often differences.
2 What do I mean by gender related murder? (2012)

1. They’re murders committed by a man or men against a woman or women
2. They include most domestic violence murders – but not all, the list does not include
• Patricia Seddon – who was shot along with her husband, Bob in July – their son and two other people were arrested
• Marie McCracken and Wendy Thorpe – who were both killed by women
3. I haven’t included Chrissie Azzopardi, 22, as I haven’t been able to find out whether the murder was primarily motivated by transphobia or misogyny.
4. I haven’t included Mary Saunders, 84 whose husband, aged 94 was arrested, as the police are pursuing a ‘mercy crime’ as one line of enquiry and the laws around euthanasia are overdue review.
5. I have included Khanokporn Satjawat who was visiting the UK, attending a conference, she was not a UK resident, but the brutality of her murder suggests that if it hadn’t been her that was killed, it could have been another woman.
6. I haven’t included Maria Ziemba, 89 whose husband also died, as police suspect their deaths could have been accidental.
7. I’ve included stranger crimes that wouldn’t count as domestic violence where there has been a sexual element to the attack.
8. I’ve included some where a jury has found that the legal definition of murder doesn’t apply. For example, I’ve included a case where a man admitted stabbing his wife but was cleared of murder and charged with manslaughter.
9. For lack of information/clarity aat the point of writing this, I haven’t included:
• Yong LI Qui, 42
• Edith Fuller,45
• Helen Pickering,37
• Tia Sharpe, 12 (not included due to age)
• Michelle Johnson,
• Sally Lawrence
• Aileen Dunne
• Mica Atkinson
• Jenny Methven, 80

If anyone has any information on the deaths of these women, please let me know. I recognise that there is a significant amount of subjectivity in the decision of who to include and who not to. Please let me know if you disagree. I’d like to hear from you.

3 I’m using gender, not as a substitute for sex, but as a social construct.
4 Any advice from legal bods would be appreciated.