WORKING ON EMPATHY ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: “IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOUR DAUGHTER”

In my previous post I argued that as feminism progresses the women already interested in power will claim it for (patriarchal) domination, and not at all to help other women. I also spoke about the women who are complicit with patriarchy from subordinate positions because they seek male approval, on which they are dependent. Today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it’s the turn of the women victimized by the patriarchal abusers. I aim to explain here how patriarchal masculinity, power, and entitlement work in order to try to raise empathy among the good men (and the complicit women), which is the best tool in preventing misogynistic violence.

Like many people today, I’m thinking of Diana Quer, who had the terrible misfortune of attracting the attention of a sexual predator when she was walking back home alone on a summer night, a few years ago, in a small town of Galicia. Her patriarchal abuser is being tried these days, and faces a life sentence. Yet, he is still lying about how he kidnapped, raped and killed Diana, and about how he later dumped her abused body inside the well of an abandoned factory. He kept silent about his appalling crime for 500 days, leading a normal life with his family, and was only caught after trying to kidnap another girl. During this self-confessed murderer’s declaration a few days ago, Diana’s father was expelled from the courtroom for telling him (not yelling, not screaming) “It could have been your daughter”. He has been himself accused of being an abuser by his ex-wife, a matter I will not consider if you allow me. I want to focus on the words he used to have his daughter’s brutal killer see what he did. As it turns out, this awful individual had re-tweeted an image of a t-shirt with the message (in Spanish) “Warning! Regardless of age, place, or job my daughter will always be my little angel. If you hurt her, I will take your life”. He has a young daughter aged 11. Diana was 18.

Men find themselves very often on opposite sides of the patriarchal divide, as perpetrators of violence and as secondary victims of the damage done to the women they love. The cry ‘It could have been your daughter’ can be certainly read from a patriarchal perspective, coming from one man telling his Other ‘come, we’re both men! How come you did this to me?” Bertrand Russell reminds us in Power (1938) that most so-called civilizations have treated women as property so that if a man’s wife, daughter, sister, or mother was killed by another man he could demand that the corresponding female relative be killed in revenge. This monstrosity is no longer endorsed by extant legislation, though, of course, it is still practised in obeisance to codes of honour routinely applied by recalcitrant patriarchs. Yet, going back to Diana’s father, I want to read his cry as a desperate attempt to appeal to the only feeling that his daughter’s killer might have: the capacity for empathy for any young girl, based on imagining another man harming his daughter in the same way he hurt Diana. This is not patriarchal, and the cry can be rephrased as ‘if you love your daughter, how can you hurt any woman?’ This is about feeling empathy.

I can hear some radical feminists raising sharpening their tongues against my argument and claiming that all men are patriarchal and none is capable of full empathy for women. If that is the case, then we women are doomed and campaigns like the one being run today all over the world are useless. Women alone cannot rescue women from patriarchal violence without increasing men’s empathy for our plight, there is no other way. Repressive legislation does not work, preventive education is not producing the expected results, and it’s now men’s turn to develop a mechanism to shame the patriarchal abusers. Telling the perpetrators of violence that they are abject monsters is not solving the problem, for many are proud of their patriarchal monstrosity. Sentencing them to prison is useless: placing them among men for long years can hardly teach them to value women. And that is the whole point: patriarchal abusers commit violence against those they despise, who are also those they consider weaker and inferior–mainly women and children, but also, of course, other men.

Patriarchal violence is, then, the expression of a feeling of superiority which emanates from a sense of entitlement to the power promised to all men by patriarchy. Many men reject that promise and never use violence, often suffering it themselves from the patriarchal men. Other men have so much actual power that they need not use violence directly, though they might exert colossal violence through the institutions of power, which include war. We tend, however, not to think of this kind of patriarchal man when speaking about the violence against women but of the men in the circles of family and friends surrounding the victims of patriarchal violence. Or the strangers who, like Diana’s abuser, strike at random, though they are rarer than the news and the abundant fiction about serial killers might make you believe.

Misogynistic violence stands out because it is, no doubt, gendered, regardless of what the deniers claim: women are killed by patriarchal men because they hate women, particularly those whom they see as a reminder of their inability to control their life. Why are so many of the victims women going through a process of separation? Because the patriarchal perpetrator hates them for making a decision affecting their lives, over which they have no longer control. Why do other strike at random? Because that is their chance to show who is master and act out their sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and lives. The patriarchal man is always afraid of being exposed as a powerless non-entity with no control over his life and so he uses violence to impress himself with his mastery over others, to the point of depriving them of their life. It has nothing to do with evil (which is anyway a patriarchal construction sustained by religion), uncontrollable urges conditioned by testosterone (please…), evolutionary hang-ups, psychopathologies, human nature and so on. It’s the patriarchal obsession with power.

Those who maintain that women are also capable of great violence against their partners and who complain that this is made invisible because a) men do not report their abuse, b) the feminazi media overreport violence against women, have a tiny point in their favour: violence is caused by an imbalance in power, with the victim being powerless and the victimizer feeling powerful. The question is that currently 95% of the victims are powerless women and 95% of the victimizers are men trying to feel powerful (mostly, these are men with no actual power in patriarchy). There is couple-related violence in lesbian couples, indeed, which proves my point: this is a question of power. Yet, as long as the figures are what they are we need (we MUST) speak of misogynistic violence. Just try to imagine a woman perpetrating the kind of crime Diana was a victim of but with a young man in her place and you will see immediately that patriarchal violence is gendered on both sides: the perpetrators are (mostly) male, the victims (mostly) female.

Empathy for women will grow only if women stop being presented and represented as objects. The perpetrator of patriarchal violence always dehumanizes his victims, so that he can feel no remorse: the Nazis believed all Jews were sub-human, which enabled them to carry out the Holocaust. It is far harder to kill human beings that you respect as such, though it is always possible. In any case, the rapist, the abuser, the killer already sees women as sub-human objects and it takes just one more step for him to see women as mere objects to be used and discarded. This is where entitlement comes into play: I don’t believe for a second that patriarchal abusers ever consider matters of right and wrong, personal freedom, etc. Most likely, they only think of their own sense of entitlement: Hitler thought the German nation was entitled to conquer most of Europe and eliminate the Jews, and he acted accordingly; all other patriarchal abusers act within their own sphere following a similar sense of entitlement. Whether they know the women they attack or not is immaterial: the main point is that the victims are seen as objects to which the attacker thinks he is entitled. To abuse, use, even kill, regardless of the possible personal cost in years of imprisonment. That’s how strong the pull of patriarchy is.

The men who reject patriarchy are usually capable of a high degree of empathy, which makes them see that women are human beings like them. Yes, I know: it’s really sad that half of mankind does not automatically feel that the other half belongs to the same species, and has the same rights. But please bear with me. Suppose for the sake of my argumentation that one third of all men feel genuine empathy for women, another feels less empathy but is little inclined to using any kind of violence, and the rest are the patriarchal abusers. Can these men with no capacity whatsoever for empathy be re-educated? And who should re-educate them? I really think that the hypothetical third who are empathetic and at heart anti-patriarchal should bear the main burden of re-educating the others by developing mechanisms based on persuasion, which also include shaming. I know that I am terribly old-fashioned but we need a new vocabulary that shows patriarchal perpetrators that they are not acceptable as men and as human beings. Monster, psychopath, madman and so on are not useful.

In the middle of his duel with Voldemort, Harry Potter tells this patriarchal villain ‘Be a man… Try for some remorse’ and these words, Rowling writes, make the Dark Lord angrier than ever. Remorse can only be felt out of empathy for the victims and is the foundation of repentance, which is a step necessary for re-education. Obviously, Voldemort cannot be re-educated and, so, Rowling plays a nice trick by which the villain technically eliminates himself, not understanding how he has been disempowered by Harry. Please, notice that since Harry cannot appeal to Voldemort’s better nature, for he has no good left in his split soul, he appeals to their shared masculinity. ‘Be a man’ does not mean here ‘be a patriarch’ but ‘be a human being capable of empathy and with no interest in power’ as Harry himself is. I do not care if I sound naïve but this is what we urgently need: more good guys willing to challenge the patriarchal abusers to be ‘men’ in the sense Rowling uses the word. Unfortunately, all too often ‘be a man’ means be brutal, callous, violent, homophobic, racist, misogynistic… patriarchal in one word.

Empathy, to sum up, is our most precious value: if you put yourself in the other’s shoes, if you shift perspective, then you can see the other as a full human being. The women trapped in violent situations are in no position to teach empathy to their victimizers but the rest of us, both women and men, need to work in that direction. Punishment is necessary and so are the measures for immediate protection, but education in basic humane values is far more important in the long range (not too long!). Today’s campaign seems a step forward but I hope that we soon see it abolished, in a very near future with no misogynistic violence thanks to much increased empathy.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

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