Violence is part of our contemporary world and the classifications with which crimes are named are expanding and diversifying. Crimes transcend gender, race, and age, but some take on the particularity of targeting a specific population. Is it possible to argue that the crimes of women and men are symmetrical in terms of their subjective functioning? The figure of “femicide” arises to examine this question.
When a woman is killed
Women are murdered in different contexts that do not specifically involve their condition as women, for example in terrorist attacks, in street violence, even in wars. In psychiatry, a psychotic passage à l’acte is presented as a discharge of the jouissance of the invader. The French philosopher Althusser strangled his wife while giving her a massage without realizing what he was doing. Barreda, a notorious Argentinean criminal, killed his wife, his two daughters and his mother-in-law, in the midst of a paranoid delirium of vindication. However, there is a set of men who kill their wives in violent episodes. This is the context where femicide takes on its specificity.
Although the term femicide has been used only incidentally since the 19th century, it began to be used as such when the South African activist Diana Russell used it in 1976 before the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women.
Femicide is defined in different ways and its scope is a subject of debate within the feminist movement itself because it calls into question who is included in the group of women. As of 2018, it is being portrayed as the murder of a woman at the hands of a man due to machismo or misogyny. It is taken as a manifestation of hatred and contempt towards women, as a male vindication, or a mechanism of control and power over women.
On November 14, 2012, the National Congress in Argentina passed Act 26.791, which amends Article 80 of the Civil Code, introducing the concept of femicide as a homicide committed against “a woman when the act is perpetrated by a man and through gender-based violence”. It is not an autonomous criminal figure, but it is considered an aggravating circumstance of homicide. Since 2016, the sex/gender category of the victim was incorporated in Argentina, including not only cis‑gender women but also trans women and transvestites, according to the “Gender Identity Act” also enacted in 2012.
A social movement called “Ni una menos” (Not a single woman less) was created in the meantime, during 2015, as a way of protesting against femicide and gender-based violence. This Argentinean movement later spread throughout Latin America. The trigger was the murder of a 14‑year‑old teenager by her boyfriend. The crime aroused a public call for repudiation in eighty cities and was supported by many public figures. Their demonstrations has continued since. Their motto is “Not a single woman less, not another woman dead”, as the poet Susana Chávez, also a victim of femicide, put it, thus giving the name to this women’s collective.
Fire and its accompanying metaphors are usually associated with passion or sexual arousal: to love with ardor, the sparks of her gaze, being “on fire” to refer to sexual excitement, being “hot” to refer to a woman considered sexy, and many others. These are ways of saying that which takes place in the encounter between two partenaires. But the fire that burns with passion and leads to the search for the encounter with the other, has paradoxically become one of the ways in which crimes are being committed against women in Argentina.
Wanda Taddei was a woman murdered by her husband, the musician Eduardo Vázquez, in 2010. He burned her during an argument. Vázquez claimed that they struggled while fighting with a bottle of alcohol and that the contents spilled all over them. Then, when he lit a cigarette, his arms caught fire, and Wanda was burnt when she hugged him to put out the flames. Their children heard a fight, a beating, and their mother shouting “you’re going to kill me.” A doctor testified that Wanda in her agony said that he appeared with a bottle of alcohol and a lighter. He was then sentenced to eighteen years in prison for the crime of “homicide aggravated by relationship, mitigated by the fact that the murder was committed in a fit of violent anger.”
With this verdict, a controversy arose about the use of the figure of “a fit of violent anger” as a mitigating circumstance. This discussion contributed to the fact that two years later this title for the cases was replaced by “Femicide” and sentences were subsequently increased.
On the other hand, a great debate emerged around the proliferation of homicides of women by means of burning elements: is it a “Wanda media effect”? Is it a way of disguising the aggression under the pretext of “accident”? Do they want to leave the mark of the man on a woman’s body?
Although the general discourse on “gender-based violence” belongs to the social domain, which includes men and women, and that of femicide belongs to the legal field, it should not be restricted to a purely classificatory or nominalistic issue.
Eric Laurent points out that in gender-based crimes, rape, is quintessential to the marking of a new way of living the relationship between the sexes (1). Private violence emerges in the relationship between a man and a woman, giving an account of their discomfort and misplacement. The place of women’s discourse has shifted in our Civilization. However, while women are gaining a delayed recognition of their rights and freedoms, the discomfort in the relationship with their partenaires remains.
The question arises as to why some women stay with men who abuse them and may even kill them. We are far from the myth of “women’s masochism.” Their suffering is real, and the subjective reasons why women are trapped in relationships that hurt them are not of a masochistic nature.
To begin with, there is no knowledge in the real about sexuality, which Lacan expresses as a hole in his statement, “There’s no such thing as a sexual relationship.” Men must decipher the entanglements produced by the feminine jouissance of women, they must be able to lodge them because they are the object of their desire. The value of jouissance that a woman can have towards a man makes her symptomatic, says Laurent, and then, she is a symptom to be deciphered in terms of the encounter in the partner of symptoms; she becomes symptom of another body (2).
On the feminine side, Jacques-Alain Miller points out that “ravage is the other face of love”, so that a man can become a ravaging‑partenaire (3), ravaging the body of the other sex. And from this position, women lose their limit and are unable to escape from the violence to which they are exposed to.
In women, what prevails is murder committed in the heat of passion or infanticide, both partners and children, objects of passion. But on the man’s side, femicide testifies to how men beat, abuse, or kill women’s bodies.
A homicide is a crossing line, the turning point. It is not dialectizable in the discourse of love. It cannot be justified by an excess of violence. The motives are varied but they never make the subject unaccountable for his act. The examination of the homicide of women is still a burning question.
1. E. Laurent, “Psicoanálisis y violencia: sobre las manifestaciones de la pulsión de muerte. Entrevista a Eric Laurent” [Psychoanalysis and violence: on the manifestations of the death drive. Interview with Eric Laurent], A violência: sintoma social da época, Scriptum-EBP, Belo Horizonte, 2013.
2. E. Laurent, El reverso de la biopolítica [The Other Side of Biopolitics], Grama, Buenos Aires.
3. J.-A. Miller, El partenaire-síntoma [The Partner-Symptom], Paidós, Buenos Aires, 2008.