Not All M&Ms Are Poisoned

I wrote some time ago about the massive sense of entitlement that men have that lies behind every rape story I ever heard.

Toilet outdoors Around 7pm on Tuesday 27th May, two young girls of the Dalit caste (the lowest-rank caste in India) were grabbed by men of a higher caste who were lying in wait for them – or other girls – to go to the fields after dark to have a pee and a crap. (The girls had been required to hold it in all day because they had no access to an indoor toilet, and modesty ruled they were not allowed to go out for this purpose in daylight.) The men raped the girls – they were fourteen and fifteen – and then murdered them.

Men in India often do take advantage of the near-universal practice of requiring girls and women to be “modest” and only go to the fields after dark, to lie in wait for a girl or two and rape them. (In areas where Hindu women practice chaupadi – isolation during menstruation and after childbirth – men find the isolated huts where menstruating girls and women sleep and rape them there.) The government and the police do not regard men raping women as a serious crime, nor do they regard it as a problem that the men who rape have found that the simplest way of disposing of the evidence is to kill the girls or women whom they raped.

Now what kind of person, hearing that story, reacts with: they should have had indoor plumbing! Lack of indoor sanitation killed them!

Lack of a toilet didn’t kill the girls of Katra, in Uttar Pradesh: the men who thought themselves entitled to rape them killed them. So much is obvious: why not say it? If the girls could have used an indoor loo, the men who wanted rape and kill would simply have found another opportunity to take what they wanted. That’s what men do, when they want to rape and kill. We know that: it’s what happens here in the UK, too.

The other day, touched by yet another man whose feelings had been hurt by the reference to men who kill women, I tweeted a quote from Joanna Russ (1937-2011, science-fiction writer and feminist).

Joanna Russ: Not All Men

In 2012, Karen Ingala Smith began the project of counting how many women, each year, in the UK, are killed by men. In 2012, 126. The project still continues: Counting Dead Women.

Across the UK, official homicide statistics are counted by the government’s year rather than by the calendar year, and England and Wales produce a separate set of statistics from Scotland. While the government statistics cover the gender of the victims and the relationship of the killer to the victim, no official body counts are made of the gender balance between killer and victim, though it is noted that women are more likely to be killed by a partner or an ex-partner. The Counting Dead Women statistics for the same period (2012-2013) show 122 women each of whom was killed by a man.

Adding Karen Ingala Smith’s figures into the official homicide statistics gives us new information. The total number of homicides for 2012-2013 was 614 (551 in England and Wales, 62 in Scotland). 188 of the people killed were female (171 in England and Wales, 17 in Scotland). (Homicide rates in Scotland are the lowest since records began.) Finally, while there is no comprehensive record of children who are the victims of homicide, the NSPCC estimates that “on average” 53 minor children are killed every year in England and Wales, two-thirds of them under the age of 5: assuming roughly 50/50 for the gender of children killed (I’d be happy to take any more detailed data if someone can provide a valid source) that would suggest 162 adult women homicide victims, 122 of them killed by men – 3 out of 4 women killed, are killed by men.

But there’s an additional factor. In about 15% of homicides – almost equally for male and female victims – there is no known suspect.

Fairly obviously, none of the homicides counted by the Count Dead Women project fall into the “no known suspect” category: nor children who were killed. (Children are overwhelmingly likely to have been killed by a parent or a step-parent or another relative, not a stranger.) In 2012/13, that would mean about 26 women who were killed and we don’t know who did it – or about two-thirds of the adult women victims of homicide not known to have been killed by a man.

Unless we assume women are far more effective at killing and remaining unsuspected, it seems reasonable to say that the pattern is the same as where the killer is known: which suggests that the real ratio of women killed by men in the UK is nearer 90%.

Why aren’t we discussing the homicide of women as a problem of misogyny – the bigotry felt by men against women that causes men to think and act as if women’s lives, women’s autonomy, were worth nothing?

If nine out of ten of adult male homicide victims were known or reasonably guessed to have been killed by women – if even three out of four adult male homicide victims were known to have been killed by women – what do you suppose the public reaction would be? The careful, qualifying “Some women” before the dramatic splash “Women killing men” headline?

Overwhelmingly, the reaction of “SOME men” and “Not ALL men” comes from men. (Not all of it, of course.) As a woman pointed out: supposing a bowl of M&Ms is in front of you, and you are invited to help yourself, but you are warned: one in 20 of the M&Ms is poisoned. (Only one in 20 men are rapists, and murderers are rarer than rapists.) At least one in 20 of the M&Ms will make you feel very sick for a long time, and some of the M&Ms will kill you. There’s no indication from the outside of those brightly-coloured candy shells which ones will be delicious and which ones will make you ill or make you die.

M&MsIf you are a man whose reaction to “Men kill women” “Men rape women” “Men sexually abuse women” is “Not all men!” tell me: presented with that bowl of M&Ms, are you going to happily eat handfuls of them, knowing that one in twenty is poison? Because only some M&Ms will make you sick or kill you, correct? Is your first concern, faced with that bowl of M&Ms, to keep reminding people that 19 out of 20 of those sweeties are totally harmless tasty treats, as if the harmlessness of most M&Ms in that bowl is more important than warning people of the existence of the poison M&Ms? If you pull a handful of M&Ms out of the bowl and offer them to someone, are you really going to be offended if they say “No – they could be poison”?

If there is a serious discussion going on about what the poison is, and why it sometimes kills, and how it got into the bowl, why would you want to keep interrupting that discussion to repeatedly tell participants in that discussion that 19 out of 20 of the M&Ms in that bowl have not been poisoned?

On 14th February 2015, a book Joanna Russ wrote in 1970 will celebrate its 40th anniversary:

“This book is written in blood.

Is it written entirely in blood?

No, some of it is written in tears.

Are the blood and tears all mine?

Yes, they have been in the past, but the future is a different matter.

As the bear swore in Pogo after having endured a pot shoved on her head, being turned upside down while still in the pot, a discussion about her edibility, the lawnmowering of her behind, and a fistful of ground pepper in the snoot, she then swore a mighty oath on the ashes of her mothers (i.e. her forebears) grimly but quietly while the apples from the shaken apple tree above her dropped bang thud on her head:


1 Comment

Filed under Women

One response to “Not All M&Ms Are Poisoned

  1. That is brilliant. I hadn’t seen it before now. In the 90s I used to give talks about domestic violence including the home office figures on the number of women murdered and the numbers of women affected, and I wish I’d had this example to help me explain.

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