Feminicide in the United States

What’s on my mind? Femicide. From the NYT: “The police said the suspect had previously been a customer of at least two of the businesses where eight people were killed.” Yes, people, in this case of Asian descent. Racism lethally infused this atrocity. Yet I think we are missing something here. What about the killing of women and girls because they are… women and girls? During the Trump administration, blatant misogyny was given full encouragement, as was racism. For some Trump supporters, this was Their Leader “just telling it like it is.” I disagree.  He was telling it like he wished it to be, tapping into angry white male nostalgia for the “good old days” when their entitlement came as naturally as the air they breathed and the pussies they grabbed — with impunity. To recognize these murders as hate crimes is important, but they are more than that: they constitute acts of femicide, a term widely used throughout Latin America, the region of the world in which I conduct my research. 

U.N. Women defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women because they are women, but may be defined more broadly to include any killings of women or girls.”  This builds upon the work of Mexican scholars Julia Monárrez and Marcela Lagarde, who analyzed the systematic killing of women in Ciudad Juarez in the 1990s.  They suggested the concept “feminicide,” based on the notion that femicide is a gender-specific word for homicide while feminicide refers to the killing of women based on their social or biological gender, and the characteristics attributed to that gender. With this term, they also aimed to hold states accountable for crimes of omission or commission: how can so many women and girls be killed with so little accountability? Where are agents of the state in ensuring the security of women and girls?  One thinks of the Chilean feminist collective lastesis, founded by Dafne Valdés, Paula Cometa, Sibila Sotomayor, and Lea Cáceres, four women from Valparaíso, Chile. On November 25, 2019, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, hundreds of women gathered around the Chilean capital of Santiago to denounce gendered violence. The women moved to a synchronized choreography while declaring with one voice, “¡Y la culpa no era mía, ni dónde estaba ni cómo vestía!” (And the fault was not mine, not where I was, nor how I was dressed!) Shifting the blame away from women who experience sexual violence and onto the state, they pointed to functionaries such as the police, judges, and the president declaring, “¡El violador eres tú!” (The rapist is you!) Pumping their fists defiantly into the air  the women chanted, “¡El estado opresor es un macho violador! (The oppressive state is a male rapist!). The protest, named “Un Violador en tu camino,” went viral. The rapist in a woman’s path assumes many forms, cloaked all too frequently in the patriarchal misogyny of the state.

Eight people killed: they were women, of Asian descent.  The United States is a dangerous place to be a woman or a girl.  Please, do not remind us that it is so much worse in Country X, as though we should be silently grateful.  There is an exercise I use in my gender class at the Fletcher School.  I ask the classroom full of students to help me compile a list of everything they did the previous week to avoid being sexually assaulted.  “Keys threaded through my fingers as I walked to my car”; “don’t jog with earphones in case someone sneaks up behind me”; “only walk on well lighted streets at dusk”; “drop off each of my female friends at her house and wait until she is safely inside the door before driving off”; “look in the back seat of my car before getting in” — the list grows ominously long.  And we pause to allow the men in the class to let this sink in.  They are frequently stunned by the list. How much time and energy do we women and girls expend to avoid being harassed, assaulted, killed? It can be exhausting.

Those 8 women in Atlanta were killed in their place of employment; they thought they had safely arrived to work.  Many more women and girls are killed in their homes by partners, husbands, fathers, boyfriends.  From home to work and back, how much longer must women and girls tolerate the lethal violence in their path?

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