Toxic Masculinity, Femicide, and the Cowardly Abuser
“It is cowardice to hit a woman,” reads one of the ten commandents vs violence against women, as released by the administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. These rules, released last year after a series of protests that followed the brutal murder of Ingrid Escamilla in Ciudad Juarez, followed a sharp rise in femicides (the murder of a woman primarily driven by her gender) in Mexico – of nearly 137% percent in the few years leading up to this particular murder. Nearly 1,000 women were murdered in cases classified as femicide in Mexico last year; seems like calling the people who did it cowards didn’t do much to change things.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the femicide epidemic in Mexico in the last few weeks (and, if it’s something that you’re able to do, I would strongly suggest you do, too – it’s at absolutely fucking devastating levels right now, and if anyone has any links to fundraisers or charities related to the epidemic that they want to share, please drop them in the comments and I’ll link them here). And something that really stood out to me in all of this was the familiarity – and total uselessness – of the “coward” narrative that surrounds violence against women, especially when that violence is committed by men.
It’s only recently that I’ve been able to put my finger on what pisses me off so much about this approach to violence against women; seeing it used in such a painfully ineffectual way in the aforementioned release in Mexico just really underlined it for me. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen it; it didn’t take much searching to find so many accounts of men murdering, assaulting, and otherwise brutalizing women described as cowardly, cowards, pathetic, whatever specific that a certain case decides to lay on thick this time around. In fact, it’s something I’ve heard a lot from men in my real life, too – one of the most significant conversations I heard surrounding men who hurt women was that real men don’t raise a hand to women. It’s only cowards, boys, nothing close to this real man who do things like that.
And now, my issue with this comes in a couple of forms. The biggest issue I have with it is how often this sentiment attempts to separate the “real” men from those who commit violence against women; it’s a classic case of the No True Scotsman fallacy, a way for abusers to hide in plain sight because they can cloak this aspect of themselves in real manhood. Real men don’t hit women, right? Which means that, if you meet the parameters of a real man, you can’t be an abuser. What a relief. Except, not at all, really – it just allows for more blank space for abusers to hide.
But my biggest issue with it is the way it frames men’s violence against women as, first and foremost, a negative reflection on their own manhood. It’s a way to tie a condemnation of violence against women into a culture of machismo that often empowers it; toxic masculinity and misogyny are so deeply intertwined with each other, and there’s something that just feels so painfully stupid and antiethical to try and address violence against women using terms that back up the hegemony that often allows it to thrive. Am I saying we should defend men against this kind of language after they murder women? Obviously not. But the constant re-iteration of this idea that the threat of being seen as a coward is such a major reason to not murder women just feeds in to the toxic gender roles that thrive on forcing men and women into certain boxes, and set the scene for this kind of violence. Even more so when it comes from official sources who are claiming to be making steps to address that violence.
The issue with the femicide rates in Mexico is not that it makes the people who commit these murders cowards; it’s because the women they kill are fucking dead. And that’s true whenever this shit happens across the world. This kind of language consistently centres the abuser, not the victim, and serves to try and back up the very systems that help empower this kind of violence in the first place.