Two women were tragically killed in Europe in the first two weeks of 2022. Paulina Dembska (29) was murdered in Malta when feeding stray cats in a public park, and Irish teacher Ashling Murphy (23) was murdered in the broad daylight while jogging.
After Paulina’s murder, a debate ruled the nation: was this femicide, as she was raped and murdered, which might not have happened if the victim was a man, or was the perpetrator mentally ill and psychotic, meaning he had no control over his actions?
I said, perhaps too soon, that murder doesn’t instantly become femicide just because she was a woman. Jumping to conclusions delegitimises true cases of femicide and gender-based violence, and I saw how the story was bent a certain way to make this a feminist issue.
When the details of the murder slowly unfolded and it turned out Paulina was violently raped before she was strangled, my view was challenged. It was probably never one or the other, but a combination of misogyny and mental illness.
The fact that the murderer had also attacked two men before murdering Paulina goes to show that this was maybe not about gender, but a case of someone who had clearly lost their mind and harmed whoever was in his vicinity.
However, what shocked me was the tone with which fellow feminists spoke to me.
“Plenty of people have mental health issues, but they don’t become murderers,” some argued, illustrating the general lack of understanding of what undiagnosed and untreated mental illness or psychosis can do to a person.
I was told I was “doing women a disservice”, my words did “more harm than good” and I was “urged” to remove my post. “What are you doing for women in this country?” someone asked. (Quite a bit, I thought.)
Rather than changing my mind, their words made me understand why people hate feminists. We can be vile. Hateful, even.
And while we, as women, have the right to be angry about sexual harassment, femicides, and a justice system that generally feels like it doesn’t have our best interest in mind, I notice how it drives those who don’t identify as feminists to the other side of the spectrum.
Hell, it even drives me away from wanting to associate with the women I usually love to side with.
Men, who could (and should!) be our greatest allies feel like they cannot do anything right, like they are not listened to, and that the white male is being used to blame for everything wrong in our societies.
Instead of uniting people of all genders over an issue that affects women, men, and everyone in between, we are polarising people over definitions and ideologies.
It made me wonder: have we been doing feminism wrong all along?
Globally, 81% of homicide victims are men. 82% of intimate partner homicide victims are women. Most importantly: it is almost always men (90%) who commit homicide.
As much as misogynistic ideas might contribute to these murders, they are committed by those who have also been failed by the system. It is those who are neglected by society, ignored by social and mental health services and left helpless by their family and friends, who turn to aggression.
Rather than begging men to speak up against themselves instead of stating that “not all men” are that way, shouldn’t we focus on the care and attention they need in a patriarchal society that doesn’t only harm women, but men too?
By not allowing other perspectives into the debate, we are ostracising men, when they should in fact be the ones at the centre of it.
We can scream about the symptoms of misogyny as much as we want, but as long as we remain angry at men rather than looking at what is at the root of violent behaviour, we are having a debate that doesn’t help anybody.
And then we wonder why so few men speak up about women’s issues when they (sadly still) have a more powerful voice in our society.
But doesn’t our behaviour itself answer that question?
Perhaps we should care for men, instead of blaming them. Maybe that's how we actually get them involved in this debate.
Because would these murders have happened if there was the right psychiatric and psychological care for the men who committed them? Would they have happened if there was proper education on respect, consent and sexuality? Would this have been the case if there were proper social services to help and support them?
As a psychiatric emergency doctor told me, there are two victims here: one we have unfortunately lost forever and one who can still be saved.
Rather than ostracising men from a debate that we should be having with them instead, why don’t we listen to, work with, and support them?
Let me know what you think. I write because I want my views to be challenged as much as I want them to be heard. I want to know what you think, whether you agree or respectfully disagree. We're all learning here.