15 November 2018

When Men Murder Women by Rebecca and Russell Dobash



So, this is a textbook. A full blown, academic textbook that my sweet sister special ordered for me last year because I wanted to read it after reading about the study by Rebecca and Russell Dobash in Murder in Plain English. I didn't know it was a textbook, and honestly, it was too textbook-y for me to enjoy the way I wanted to. I expected it to be more like Murder In Plain English in that it's based on fact but it's still told to the everyday reader like a story... When Men Murder Women is written for sociologists, criminologists, and academics who understand statistics in a way that I did for about ~5 seconds while doing my MA but have since retained nothing. I did read it, however. I was still interested in the content and I really wanted to learn about the study they did. Since I would never recommend any of you read it, I will try to talk generally about the research and try to avoid it sounding like a thesis or literature review.

For context, the Dobashs compiled this research after a 3 years of interviews with male prisoners in the UK who were convicted of sex related murders. While both Rebecca and Russell are professors in the Criminology department at the University of Manchester law school, and are clearly used to it, I feel like doing this type of work would completely ruin your life. Meghan talked more about how investigating crimes infiltrates your every minute when she reviewed I'll Be Gone in the Dark earlier this year. Personally, I'm not sure I could interview one single prisoner, nevertheless murderers for 3 years straight.

Rebecca and Russell Dobash, a sweet little Danish couple who love studying murderers


Much of the book is spent discussing the profile of the type of men who commit violence against women, and really what it boils down to is that there is no real 'profile'. Some of them come from violent families, some of them are drunks, some are super wealthy and have never been told 'no' before, etc. Meghan has spoke to me before about a psychological theory that victim profiles somehow make the public feel safer. If the serial killer is targeting blondes in high heels, then I don't have to worry because I'm a brunette in flats... that kind of thing. I feel this works now both ways because having a criminal profile for violent offenders would mean there's not the risk of violence with EVERY MALE WE MEET... but alas, that's not the case.

What is true, is that the majority the men they studied felt they had some inherent right to commit the crimes they committed. HOW FUCKED IS THAT? One of my favourite quotes by Margaret Atwood goes as follows:

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

Men are afraid of ridicule more than anything else. To be put in a position where they've been undercut, made to feel small, less powerful, less important than they believe themselves to be, is their rock bottom. Naturally, denying them (sexually, emotionally, etc.), cheating on them, disobeying them, etc. would fall into this category. When the men studied in the book felt provoked (likely through some form of ridicule), they felt they had the grounds to commit violence against women.

There is a wealth of research indicating that men who abuse, coerce, and assault their partners do so within the context of conflicts common to daily life, including issues of domestic work, children, and money as well as those involving questions of male authority within the household along with possessiveness and jealousy, and various forms of violence and controlling behaviours are linked to these orientations."

One type [of familicide] may be viewed as acting out of anger while the other may be seen as acting out of a false sense of 'mercy or rescue,' but the male perpetrator in both types has a proprietary sense of possession about those he kills and 'feels entitled to decide his victims' fates.'"

Another main summary of their research into the psychology of male violence against women is that while not all men have the intent to hurt women, the ones they studied didn't limit themselves either if they felt violence was necessary to achieve their objective, whether it be authority, sex, etc. To re-phrase that, the men they studied weren't necessarily looking for violence, but if the women didn't do what they wanted they resorted to it:

He physically assaults the woman in order to have sex with her, and kills her either as a part of the sex act and/or as a 'punishment' for her resistance...Fundamentally, the men began with a sexual intent and a willingness to use violence in order to obtain it.'

Another interesting thing is this research's relevance to the gun debate happening in the USA right now. The Dobashs show over and over again that a male history of violence is a precursor for murder. Domestic abuse, animal abuse, public outbursts even, are all foundational elements in the murders they studied. Shouldn't any or most of these episodes then be enough for the government to take away your guns? Shouldn't knowing that you're prone to events like this, even if it's only once, be enough for us to say let's disarm of you weapons that can kill? But unfortunately, it's not (yet).

The qualitative data suggest a pattern of sexual assaults that go undetected, as well as those that are detected but do not result in an arrest and/or conviction."

The research is broken into different categories, violence against women in general, against sexual partners specifically, against elderly women (which was interesting), and reviews the differences and similarities between each type. In traditional research form it includes the methodologies, the results, and the summaries for each sections. I think from an academic perspective, because of how specific they were with the demographics it would make a great study to replicate in a different location.

As I previously mentioned, this book was written for academics. I was definitely learning while reading it but I definitely feel like the research only serves to support the things we already know about male violence with date. From a cultural perspective, it echoes what women are telling us today with regards to #metoo: the world has created a system that paints males as the authority and as such their violence when that authority is questioned is somewhat expected? Regarded as normal in some cases? The violence also often goes unpunished, as we just saw with the most recent US Supreme Court nominee... how can women prove men guilty in a system that presumes their innocence and a system that also values the male voice over the female's? There's a lot of work to be done. I'm not an expect and couldn't even finger a place to start.

For those who have lived and worked to end violence against women in this transformative era, the world seems a better place, yet women are still raped and murdered. They are still assaulted and murdered by intimate partners, and older women are still being attacked in their homes and murdered. In some countries, the perpetrator can do this with impunity."

Honestly, this was interesting at least, but there have to be ~1000+ less textbooky versions of these same concepts written in books somewhere that are more enjoyable. I want to apologize to the Dobashs for saying this as I am 100% aware I was not their intended audience.

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