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More American Carnage

Women are relentlessly targeted by “ego killings”

On the morning of February 16, police were called to a house in the town of Waukee, Iowa. Inside, the police found two bodies—a male and a female. The woman, Nelcybert Estafani Castillo Mata, was an immigrant from Venezuela. The man was Felix Baccam, and he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after killing Castillo Mata. Baccam had been charged with domestic assault against Castillo Mata in 2019 and 2021. In those cases, the charges were dismissed at the request of the state. He was charged again with assault against Castillo Mata last year, charges that were still pending at his death. There was a no-contact order in the 2021 case but with that case dismissed, the order had been lifted February 15, a day before the deaths. Castillo Mata, it was later revealed, had left behind two children.

On Saturday night last week, police were called to a home in Galena Park, Texas, by a twelve-year-old who had managed to flee with her one-year-old niece after being sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. When police got to the scene, they found that the thirty-eight-year-old man had killed three young girls in the home before turning the gun to himself. The three girls who were killed were nineteen, fourteen, and thirteen years old.

On Sunday, police found the bodies of two off-duty police officers in a home in Livonia, Michigan. Twenty-two-year-old Maria Martin had been shot several times. Twenty-six-year-old Matthew Ethington II died from a single gunshot wound. A domestic dispute is thought to be the cause of the incident.

That same day across the country from Michigan, police were called to the North Park apartment complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Inside, more carnage: eighteen-year-old Isabella Bewley was dead, likely killed by her boyfriend, twenty-one-year-old William James Jr., who then shot himself.

This list is gleaned from newspaper reports over just four days. Every now and then journalists attempt to convey the gory picture of a society addicted to gun violence—and of the increasing vulnerability of young women who are most endangered by the men around them. Statistics can be gathered that tell of a cultural addiction to violence in general. Despite this, there is still an aspect of these deaths of women­—shot, beaten, choked, and strangled on the regular—that is not understood.

Not a single news source will present the murders together as an example of what should be called “ego killings.”

In my book Against White Feminism, I point out how the murders of women carried out by their close male relatives are called, in some cultures, “honor killings.” These kinds of killings, carried out because of injury to a man or a family’s “honor” or standing in the community are understood as endemic to these cultures. They are not geographically limited to these regions; if any of these men travel abroad to the Western world they are understood as bringing this problem with them. Simply put, if any of the perpetrators of the murders recounted above were Muslim and/or of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent the deaths might be assumed to be “honor crimes,” denoting the perpetrator’s particular cultural proclivity toward the elimination of women who had in some real or imagined way had gone against their will. Western media pounce on these stories, whose horror guarantees a moment of unity in their readership, and silent nods of gratitude that such crimes do not happen on the law-abiding, woman-respecting shores of Europe and North America.

It is this premise, one that presents violence against women by men who are close to them as culturally endemic in non-Western cultures and separate and distinct aberrations when the perpetrators are white and Western, that is duping women everywhere. Women in Afghanistan, for example, are led to a particular kind of cultural self-hatred that envisions culture itself as static and impenetrable. Even worse, the men in these societies begin to imagine carrying out such crimes as a requirement of tradition and even cultural authenticity.

The consequences for Western women are also egregious. Despite the fact that so many women were killed last week between Thursday and Sunday, not a single news source will present the murders together as an example of what should be called “ego killings.” Indeed, all the cases presented involve women who were killed by abusive men. In the first case of Castillo Mata, there were even reports of previous assaults and a no-contact order that had been lifted before her murder. The fact that these deaths are not grouped together and there is no tabulation of “ego killings”—paired with the fiction of femicidal crimes being endemic to “other” cultures rather than to the West—renders them a pernicious sort of invisibility. Each crime is thus rendered singular, the actions of the murderous male at the center of each an aberration rather than a reliable product of a misogynistic society. Yet we should know that such a society will produce such crimes and that what we saw last week will replicate itself and kill women today and tomorrow and the day after that.

Misogyny is universal, and the idea that the men of one society are more dangerous because of ideas about “honor” is a myth that divides women, particularly feminists. Instead of making the alarming rates of femicide the basis of feminist solidarity they get entangled in the quagmire of measuring degrees of misogyny and anti-women toxicity instead of apprehending the extent of the problem everywhere. The examples I have presented all involve men who killed themselves, but even when they do not kill themselves they can devise mitigating defenses—if they are caught—like “heat of passion,” which can reduce their sentences because they occurred in response to a woman’s real or imagined betrayal. Ironically, this “heat of passion” defense originates in the Napoleonic Code and has been included in criminal statutes in Syria and Jordan, where they operate in the same way.

A resurgence of feminist solidarity requires that women reassess facts that have been presented for centuries by men. The tussle over which or whose culture is more misogynistic or has a greater potential for feminist liberation has blinded women on both sides to the common roots of femicide and the need for a united response. In the Western world, the greater resources available to law enforcement mean that killers have a better chance of being caught and punished. However, the enduring misogyny of this society means that even when these men finish their sentences they return to the same sick society where the expectation of female subservience is just beneath the surface (or sometimes at the surface). In the Middle East and South Asia, the lack of law enforcement mechanisms available to cash-strapped states means that disputes where women are killed are often dealt with privately with the same expectation of female subservience legitimizing the outcomes.

Without a doubt, women are being killed as I write this, and many more will be dead by the time this article is published. Making lists of dead women, killed by men wherever in the world they may be, should be a feminist project. Categories and labels have an integral part in eliminating inequity and injustice, in making visible what has been obscured by patriarchy. The deaths of women should not be in vain. Body after body, falling to the rage of men, should be a cause of sustained outrage—and of action.