by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 20 July 2007)
I simply cannot allow an article on the increase of passion crimes against women slip by without analysis. On Tuesday, this newspaper published an article entitled, “Ten females murdered in six months,” which listed the names of these women who were murdered and how they were killed in crimes of passion.
This information is not a surprise to any of us because it has been addressed several times over the past few months. I suppose when all of the names are listed - when the victims have names to make them real – and we see each name running one right after another, it really hits hard.
It struck me on Tuesday when I read the article that all of these women are gone forever. They are gone from their children, gone from their friends and gone from their communities. The loss of these women is great.
Moreover, the article did not list the number of women who survived being hacked, stabbed and beat during crimes of passion. Some did survive, but their lives will never be the same.
It so happens that I read the information from this article during the same week I picked up a Virginia Woolf book for some light reading. The book I chose is one of her most popular, A Room of One’s Own, which was first published in 1929 – soon after women received the right to vote.
And so it was that as I read about the number of women murdered in crimes of passion for the past six months in Guyana, the information was filtered through the pages of Woolf’s writings on the struggle of the woman to be creative in a patriarchal world that shunned her work.
Of course, the usual questions assailed me as I read about the murdered women in Tuesday’s paper. Why did a woman have to die so a man could feel somehow bigger or better over her small, helpless form? Why must so many of the male gender use physical force to deal with emotional problems?
Will the police find the murderers and collect some tight evidence against them so that at least from the grave these women will know justice? Will the justice system consider the last precious moments of these women’s lives – each filled with terror and pain – before handing out a sentence?
These questions and so many more fill my head as I read about each woman murdered by a man. However, my many questions are usually never met with any real answers because such violence, such sadism, is never reasonable. Instead these questions usually just fester in me, as in so many women, and I continue to hope for a better day for women.
Yet Virginia Woolf offered me some words of comfort as I pondered my questions. It struck me as ironic that she too hoped for a better day for women so many decades ago. Her book reveals the obstacles she faced in her academic pursuits, such as being turned away from a library because she had no male escort.
No man can turn me away from a library, or museum or even a school now. She talked about how just forty years before women were not allowed to own land, manage their own money or run a business – all this must be done by her husband. Today women look after their own financial affairs.
At face value, the lives of women today are far better off than Virginia Woolf’s life. Except that women are still beaten, raped and murdered. Again the questions fill my head. What did Woolf say that helped me to better comprehend these incomprehensible actions?
In remarking about the musings of a particular misogynistic man of her time, she said, “Perhaps when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That is what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis, because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price.”
At this I wondered what had changed in the last six months that could cause men to become so hot-headed that they would hack, stab, burn, strangle and shoot women? The statistics show these crimes of passion have been on the rise during the past six months. What has changed that could cause these men to loose it?
Then I remembered some of the stories behind these brutal murders and many of them chronicled a woman who was headed for independence. The man felt spurned or jealous and could not come to terms with the fact that the woman had a mind of her own and a will of her own to do what she wanted with her life.
In general terms, one could come to the conclusion that the air of male superiority is failing in Guyana and there are some men who are not willing to relinquish the notion of being automatically superior to half of the world’s population because he was born with a penis.
In fact, it seems some men are willing to fight for this long-held idea (by beating the women back into submission) and some are even willing to kill for it. It is as if some men blame women for the loss of their superior status when, in fact, all women want is to be removed from their inferior position.
I suppose it would be easy for some to conclude that by shaking their long-held status of inferiority, women do impose themselves on the superior status of men – because it is necessary to raise women up, and subsequently bring men down, in order to assert gender equality.
Again, Virginia Woolf has a fitting passage to address this notion of blame pushing. She said, “But why say ‘blame’? Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place?”
In other words, since male superiority was never real in the first place - it was all an illusion – we should now be glad to finally know the truth, destroy that illusion and put truth in its place.
The answer is not to murder the women who take a stand for their independence. The answer is to begin to work together as a society – both genders side-by-side as equals – to create the best life possible.