What is Femicide?
Ever since my first seminar on Latin American history and politics, I have been absolutely enthralled by the stories and cultures of Central and South America. From indigenous rights campaigns, to the arts during the Mexican revolution, to the Guatemalan Civil War, I have flitted from subject to subject. Culture to culture. History to history in the respective countries of the continent.
I realised the how dire the situation was with femicide in Latin America when I was researching the Sepur Zarco trials in Guatemala and when I came across the Ni Una Menos movement that started in Argentina, rippling throughout both of the Americas.
Before Turkey reached number 1 in the world for its infamous rate of femicide, countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, and Brazil had damning reputations for the scale of gendered violence. While in a lot of studies, ‘harm’ against women can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and patrimonial, femicide focuses solely on the murder of women for their gender.
There are many theories as to why this is from organised crime to the use of sexual violence as a wartime strategy, but all the reasons imply the normalisation of violence against women, and the naturalisation of violence being employed by men. You’ve probably noticed if you’re gay, or trans, or non-binary, but the violence that comes from machismo and toxic masculinity does not have the time nor space for these nuances.
But why should I, as a woman in Britain, care (outside of my personal interest for the subject)? When I became aware of the concept of incels, I started to wonder how close to home this type of toxic masculinity is.
An incel is an ‘involuntary celibate’, meaning that they cannot attain romantic or sexual attention. There are, of course, women incels (the founder of the first incel forum was a bisexual woman) or incels who are trans and non-binary, but incels tend to be heterosexual men. You’re not necessarily an incel if you struggle with dating or sexual intimacy; incels tend to define themselves as such, building an identity around struggling with sex and romance.
But in a lot of cases, this is not a just harmless self-deprecating phase. In these forums, people keep each other down with constant degradation about appearance, personality, and their lack of wealth that would otherwise attract a woman. The experiences could range from edgy banter to real deterioration of mental health and self-esteem. But that’s not the worst of it…
There is a lot of political baggage that comes with the incel identity. As you can imagine, many incels feel that they are entitled to sex and romance, which they have been unjustly denied. On one hand, I agree in the sense that I think everyone deserves intimacy of some sort with other people, but that does not mean that any specific people must grant it. We live in a society that is getting increasingly lonely, and it is harder than ever for us to make friends and find partners, but the resentment that a lot of incels have about their own loneliness has led to a terrifying hatred of women.
The expressions of hatred towards women I have seen have ranged from irritating screams into the abyss about state-mandated girlfriends to a withdrawal of empathy to women (proudly boasting about not giving your seat up to a pregnant woman, for example). We have witnessed incel violence as well, Elliot Rodgers, who carried out a mass shooting in the United States (targeting women) because he felt his entitlement to sex with women was being ignored.
Ahhhh, I see the connection now….
The perpetrators of femicide are the same as any murderer, both in Latin America and Britain. The victim is likely to know their perpetrator, they are likely to be a male relative, a partner, or ex-partner. The narrative that murderers are unknown people lurking in dark shadows shifts the responsibility off of the monsters under our own beds. Clearly, Elliot Rodgers was an anomaly and doesn’t represent the average online incel, so why am I drawing this connection between incels and femicide?
The machismo that harms women across the Atlantic and the toxic masculinity that we face in Britain are not as far apart as we would like to think. These are mentalities in which sex is ‘taken from’ rather than ‘had with’: sex is not the mutual exploration and intimacy between equal partners, but the assertion of masculinity in which the ideal man has unending access to sex with as many women as possible. Female pleasure in heterosexual desire is disregarded, or simply a chasm in one’s knowledge. Violence is an exhilarating experience and (in this warped mindset) is an ideal place to assert your masculinity.
All of these outlooks on women and sex means that violence towards women is normalised and often expected as a form of punishment. This inherently puts women (and people who do not fall into this rigid binary) in danger.
We see the numbers. We put our hands to our chests with dismay. And we thank our stars that we are not in Buenos Aires or Medellín – but we should be aware about what is happening in our own countries that threaten us.
Photo courtesy of Dulcey Lima