Wednesday, November 12, 2008

For Men It's Until Infidelity Do We Part

One of the issues I have with the traditional concept of marriage is the ownership of women by men.  Within the very ceremony are embedded traditions that clearly institutionalize the male as the dominant partner.  Even within the most egalitarian relationships we often end up performing our gender. 

These gender traditions are written into the common law of England.  A man who commits a crime of passion (read:murder his unfaithful wife) is charged with manslaughter.  A woman who kills a husband who has abused her for years is charged with murder.  Clearly there is a gender imbalance.

By charging men with a lesser crime we are agreeing that a woman is property and further legitimizing the fact under certain circumstances male violence against women is acceptable.    To kill a woman for being unfaithful, a man is not punishing her for the violation of her marriage vows, but for sullying property that he has come to view as for his exclusive pleasure. 

Traditional marriage reinforces the idea that we own our partners rather than the relationship being one of free will.  In a patriarchal world where men are routinely violent towards women this is problematic.

How is it that a woman who kills her abuser of years can be charged with murder? How is it that the death of man can be weighted of more importance than the death of a woman socially? 

It is a known fact that many domestic violence situations end in death for the victim.  Even when women manage to escape their abusive marriages many are forced to live a life in hiding, because they are stalked for years.  Even with what we know about the outcomes of these relationships it is still murder.  A pre-emptive act in many cases may be the only thing that saves a womans life.  The laws in most western countries fail to adequately protect victims of domestic violence.  What good is a restraining order when your husband is holding a knife to your throat, or blackening your eyes?

The government is finally looking to overhaul this law.  According to the Independent UK, Harriet Harman, the minister for Women, who is introducing the changes said, "Ending the provocation defence in cases of infidelity is an important law change and will end the culture of excuses." Of course the men are resisting the removal of the right to kill.  Lord Phillips, at the London headquarters of the law firm Clifford Chance, said: "I must confess to being uneasy about a law which so diminishes the significance of sexual infidelity as expressly to exclude it from even the possibility of amounting to provocation. Nor have ministerial statements persuaded me that it is necessary for the law to go that far."

Perhaps dear Lord Phillips needs to see the actual corpses of the women who have been murdered by their abusing husbands for him to realize the seriousness of domestic violence.  Maybe he should sit and have circle time with children who are growing up watching daddy beat mommy for him to realize that domestic violence effects every single member of the family.

A woman that is unfaithful to her husband hurts his pride and breaks his heart but he is is whole.  A man that beats his wife destroys her soul, batters her body, and permanently scars any children that they may have together.  I cannot for the love Christ see how the two could even be comparable. 

As a pacifist, I am not advocating violence.  I do not believe that women should just kill their abusers, however after suffering from years of abuse even a dog bites back.  The simple solution to this is to stop the abuse of women.  The judicial system needs to be more proactive in arresting these men before it escalates to the point of murder. 

This push to have a more equitable law has been described as a feminist agenda, but I must ask why isn't it a human agenda?  How is it that equal rights before the law is considered more an issue for women than it is for men?....Oh silly me the patriarchy isn't about equality, it is about privileging men unto death, and oddly enough that is where we all part ways.


Jenn said...

Great post!

I'm a law student right now, and I'm writing my thesis on the Extreme Emotional Disturbance defense which translates homicides to manslaughter. It's an American law, not English, but it works basically the same way. While we still question the validity of "battered wife syndrome" like a bunch of complete fuck ups, we portray complete assholes like Richard Herrin--who brutally pulverized his sleeping ex-girlfriend's skull with a hammer after she broke up with him and refused to have sex--as poor slighted men (no shit, the Catholic church loved this idiot and let him live with them instead of staying in jail before his trial) while judges doubt the authenticity of the distress of women that were domestically tortured by the man they loved for years.

My research on the EED cases, where murder trials have successfully been acquitted or transmitted to lesser sentences as manslaughter (particularly when the defendants were seen as victims themselves by the media) is that they overwhelmingly transmit the sentences of white men. They even successfully transmitted the sentence of some douche who flipped out and killed a 14-year old black boy on a subway because he thought he was robbing him. The kid was asking for the time, if you have to know.

You're right that the law is deliberately structured and interpreted to benefit white men, particularly privileged ones (as in the Richard case mentioned above... he was a hometown hero and Yale graduate) while vilifying genuinely wronged women, people of color, other minorities, and people with the audacity to speak out against corporations. It's no secret in law school, we discuss daily how messed up the law is.

Jenn said...

Sorry for posting again, but here's a good synopsis of the Richard case I was referring to:

This kind of stuff isn't the exception... it's the rule.

julie said...

Gosh, I am shocked English law does this. I thought we had sorted out that problem long ago.

I had a good conversation on gender roles today. It is often a hot topic on the radio.

I think today we are writing a new page for genders but I think in relationships we may slip back into Man stronger, Woman weaker.

One only has to look at 9/11 and how it was the men who rushed into save lives and only men who died as far as I am aware. Women seemed to act as the old stereo type also. They were helping in a different way.

It is going to take hard work to get men and women equal but I don't think it is men's fault entirely. Many men would be more than happy to be considered equal in every way. And yet I have heard them speak up how they held back by women's expectations of men.

I guess this is going to take a while.

julie said...

Renee, have you been following the spread of Bash Back. This group is growing fast and radical as?

Holy cow. Proposition 8 is going to cause some major injuries and be costly in damages.

selkie said...

I want to see the whole expression "domestic" violence taken out of common language. It somehow minimizes the whole thing, makes it "less than" assault and battery - which is what it is. It also lends a different sense of seriousness to the situation at hand. And while we're at it, can we for the love of CHRIST, get the language "honour killing" banned as well - that's MURDER people... adding the word "honour" is so inherently appalling that it amazes me that it is still tolerated.

And you're right - it is a HUMAN issue, not a feminist one - and the sad thing is, flawed as our laws are, we in the western world are STILL so much better off than our eastern sisters - sometimes the magnitude of work that needs to be done in terms of reeducating people is daunting and depressing.

Rj said...

I want to see the whole expression "domestic" violence taken out of common language. It somehow minimizes the whole thing, makes it "less than" assault and battery

Great point, selkie.

James said...

Renee, I strongly agree with most of what you've written here, but I'm a little confused about one point:

A man who commits a crime of passion (read:murder his unfaithful wife) is charged with manslaughter. A woman who kills a husband who has abused her for years is charged with murder. Clearly there is a gender imbalance.

The existing law is gender-neutral, isn't it? In other words, a man or woman who kills a spouse caught being unfaithful can use the provocation defense, and a man or woman who kills an abusive spouse has no defense against murder.

I'm certainly not saying the law shouldn't be revised, and I'm confident that the difference here is that it was men who typically killed spouses caught being unfaithful, while domestic violence (especially in the past) was typically male-on-female violence.

But I don't believe that describing one law as applying to men, and the other to women, accurately represents what the two laws say (as opposed to their impact).

fantome14 said...

It used to be worse. In England, female husband-killers, along with servants murdering their masters, used to be charged not with murder but with petty treason. Thats right--TREASON. (Greetings from my dissertation on Renaissance stuff!)

Depresso said...

I recently read a different article concerning domestic violence as a proportion of all violence reported to the police (in England and Wales, the rest of the UK reports seperately) in which a member of the Home Office made grand statements about chaning the (English/Welsh) legal system to "put the victims at the heart" of it and how the Home Office were seriously committed to finding out what made a victim. So it's absolutely no surprise at all that the law lords are defending crimes of 'passion' and seem to wish to maintain the current status quo. The whole legal system (and now I am including Scotland and N.I.!) is virtually useless when it comes to gender-based violence. I could go on, but I fear that I might break the whole internet by trying to post what would be an epic that Tolstoy would blanch at.

space said...

They still have that on the books in England? And we vilify Arabs for having a stronger version of that same rule...

Danyell said...

Great post, Renee. So sad to be true.

feministblogproject said...

The existing law is gender-neutral, isn't it? In other words, a man or woman who kills a spouse caught being unfaithful can use the provocation defense, and a man or woman who kills an abusive spouse has no defense against murder.

Speaking from a U.S. perspective, laws concerning crimes of passion, abuse, etc. vary from state to state. While many are gender-neutral in theory, in practice/application, they are often used differently with different genders. If you want a nice, big compendium that gives summaries and examples of actual cases, try this.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Great post Renee!

GallingGalla said...

The encoding of women-as-property is one major reason that I just cannot get very excited about marriage as an institution. Marriage also reinforces cis/heteronormativity, and locks out many people in long-term committed relationships that do not meet that norm: People with genders outside the binary, trans* folk, relationships involving more than two people, long-time friends living together (the relationship doesn't have to have a sexual / romantic component to be committed and very deep), parent and adult child (perhaps the child is caring for an elderly parent and does not want hir parent to end up in a nursing home), single parent and children,...

Sure, if an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment comes up in my home state, I will vote against it; that is the only fair thing to do. But I just cannot feel committed to granting access to a cis/heteronormative ritual to a small number of assimilationist, generally white, cisgender gays and lesbians while we leave so many other people behind (or outright stepping on them, as is happening with the racist backlash wrt prop 8).

I will always favor an approach that legitimizes *all* committed relationships, not just those that fit a narrow and fundamentally unjust mold.

GallingGalla said...

Regarding my comment #14, I want to make clear to other readers that I am myself white.

Anonymous said...

My family went through the Australian legal system when my mum divorced my dad. I don't know where this urban myth came from, of poor, slighted fathers struggling against a system that is biased in favour of bitter, vindictive women. Every single step of the way the abuse suffered by my mother and siblings at my father's hands was constantly ignored or downplayed, because apparently the more important issue at hand was his right to a relationship with his children. One judge went so far to say my mum made the whole thing up, despite years of meticulously documented evidence, photos and police statements.

That experience gave me an insight to how the legal system values human life that honestly, I'd rather not have. I wish I could go on naively believing that all people are equal in front of the law, but it turns out that if you're a female victim of male violence the violence is practically irrelevant. No experience in my childhood ever made my body, my life, feel as worthless as it did in the courts.

If a man assaults another man on the street - punches him, blackens his eyes, breaks his arms - he is tried and punished. If a man does that to a child, or his wife, behind closed doors, for decades, it's somehow an "other" crime. Society looks away. And if anyone tries to give statistics or anecdotes that attest to the opposite, I guess I can only laugh.

Anonymous said...

The the central point is incorrect. From what I understand, crimes of passion (i.e. non-premeditated murder done in a jealous rage) are mitigating factors for husbands **AND** wives.

So the property concept goes out the window unless you're willing to accept that wives also own husbands.

Additionally, I have never heard of a successful use of battered husbands syndrome the way I have battered wives syndrome aka as in the very spurious claims of DV by Mary Winkler. Obviously, there have to be battered husbands, and obviously there have to be battered husbands that have killed their violent wives. The fact that this mitigating factor only exists for women betrays your whole point.

John D

Renee said...

@John more misleading arguments. The defense of crime of passion is routinely used by men and not by women. Though the law may indeed apply to both sexes if only one sex is taking advantage that proves an inequality.

Women are not slaughtering men wholesale the way that men are slaughtering women and that is fact that you MRA refuse to acknowledge. Women are capable of violence but are not committing it to the same degree so your what about the mehnz routine fails.

K said...

Thanks for the information on infidelity. You bring up some really good points, sometimes it is really like that with a man!

We recently wrote an article on infidelity at Brain Blogger. Cheating implies doing something wrong and not normal, being unfaithful to your partner. But what if it turns out that it’s not so abnormal for people to cheat? Would it make it normal?

We would like to read your comments on our article. Thank you.