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Machismo, Honor Killings, and Femicide: The United States’ Ethnocentric Rhetoric on Gender Violence

By | [email protected] | July 12, 2018 5:55pm

Murders of women per 100,000 women average per year 2010-2015, higher in the United States than in ArgentinaMurders of women per 100,000 women average per year 2010-2015, higher in the United States than in Argentina, via The Economist

The debate on gender violence in Argentina has recently reached pinnacle exposure, especially as feminist groups such as #NiUnaMenos organize massive marches in Buenos Aires and denounce Argentina’s high rates of femicide—estimated at one death every thirty hours.

However, in a time of increased global coverage of gender violence in Argentina— especially by the western world— it is important to critically examine the rhetoric used in western newspapers and media outlets when discussing these incidents, chiefly that of the United States.

Often, when discussing violence against women in Latin America,  an age-old, ethnocentric rhetoric comes into play—one that points to regional culture, mainly “machismo,” as being the culprit for cases of gender violence in Argentina and beyond. Femicide is portrayed as tragic, yet ultimately to be expected within the region. Meanwhile, US media outlets continue to discuss domestic cases of gender violence as isolated instances of “domestic violence”—never femicide, even though women are often killed as a result, and often by men who are not their partners. At the same time, while the US media often paints gender violence in Latin America as a country-wide endemic, inherent to the very social fabric, in the US domestic violence against women is portrayed as interpersonal, rare, and ultimately as the exception to the social norm—in spite of evidence to the contrary.  

In 2015, an estimated 235 women in Argentina were victims of femicide. Yet, while many US media outlets were quick to point out a cultural endemic of Latin American machismo as the culprit of such violence, the murder rate of women in the US was actually higher than that of Argentina for that year. In the US, 3,519 women were murdered in 2015, out of a total female population of 163.82 million. Meanwhile, 235 Argentine women were murdered in 2015, out of a total female population of 22,172, 551. This means that 0.00215 percent of US women were murdered in 2015, compared to 0.00106 percent in Argentina. In other words, the US experienced over twice the rate of femicides per capita in 2015 than Argentina.

Murders of women per 100,000 women average per year 2010-2015, higher in the United States than in Argentina, via The Economist

Yet, it is nearly impossible to find statistics for femicide in the US. While the US government makes a big show of tracking femicides around the world, citing “women’s rights” as a cornerstone if its foreign policy agenda, it does not bother to track femicides within its own borders. Much of this is the result of an imperialist mindset that lingers in modern US attitudes toward Latin America and the Middle East, especially in terms of a “white savior complex” that portrays women around the world as victims that need to be rescued from their own men, positioning the “civilized” west as the only possible rescuers.

In other words, while the west is quick to criticize Latin American countries for violence against women, it is just as quick to sweep similar instances of violence or sexual abuse within its own borders under the rug. This hypocrisy is evident, for instance, in the language commonly used in US media outlets, which describes violence against women in Latin American countries as fueled by cultural values of “honor,” “pride,” and “machismo,” while referring to the same violence in the west as individual cases of “domestic violence.”

Furthermore, while these types of violence are portrayed as the norm in Latin America, and as emerging from an “uncivilized,” “backwards” culture, the same instances of violence in developed regions are portrayed as the actions of a single, disturbed individual and—of course— as the exception rather than the norm. This, in spite of the fact that a staggering 10,018 women were killed in the US in only 18 states between 2003-2014, a staggering one in five women are sexually assaulted in American universities, and it is estimated that—not only have 17,700,000 women been victims of rape in the US since 1998—but also that roughly 99 percent of perpetrators ultimately walk free.

via Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy


While US media outlets are quick to point out so-called Latin American “machismo,” they rarely discuss the toxic masculinity that permeates the American social fabric. This toxic masculinity has not only led to high numbers of domestic violence and general violence against women in the country, but has also undoubtedly contributed to the staggering, disproportionately large number of mass shootings that take place every year.

While women make up around 50 percent of mass shooting victims, only three have been perpetrators of such crimes themselves since 1982. This should not altogether come as a surprise, given the way in which US culture worships men with guns and encourages males to be aggressive in demanding what they want, taking it by force if necessary. In fact, many of the mass shootings in the US seem to be driven by a sense of male entitlement, in which these men felt that they had been slighted by the world, that they had not received what they were “owed,” that they had been wronged by society at large.

A large percentage of mass shootings in the US are carried out by men who believed their honor was slighted in the workplace, or that they were “owed” a job after being fired, with nearly 30 percent of mass shootings occurring in the workplace. A number of other shooters feel that they were snubbed by women and often have a history of domestic violence. Yet, while the American media regularly identifies the murder of women in Latin America as “honor killings,” it never does so for men who killed women because they feel their honor or pride had been wounded within the US itself.

via Deccan Chronicle

Elliot Rodger, for instance, killed six people near UC Santa Barbara. Before the shooting, he recorded himself saying: “You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime because I don’t know what you don’t see in me, I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it.”

Instead of condemning Rodger as the monstrous killer of six innocent people, fan pages for Rodger began to pop up all over Facebook, many influenced by alt-right branches of thinking that condemn feminism, celebrate “male dominance,” and tout white nationalist rhetoric, brandishing titles such as “Elliot Rodger is an American Hero.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been over 100 people killed or injured by attacks from perpetrators influenced by “alt-right” thought.

One particularly notorious branch of the alt-right rife with toxic masculinity is the Incel group, short for “involuntarily celibate.” The group is composed of white, male, heterosexual men who are unable to find sexual partners despite desiring one. These men feel that they are owed sex by women, and not only promote self-pitying, racist, and misogynistic thinking, but also endorse violence against women for not making themselves sexually available to them. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights, has added the Incel community to their list of hate groups, describing them as “part of the online male supremacist ecosystem.” So far, men linked to the Incels have committed at least four recorded mass murders in North America.

Yet, in spite of the fact that the number of women killed in the US remains high, in spite of an American society that not only does not punish but often applauds and facilitates male supremacist thought, in spite of groups within the US that encourage white, heterosexual men to believe that they are owed something by society and to take what they want by force, US media outlets continue to speak of femicides, “machismo” and violence against women in Latin America but never within their own borders. These hypocrisies branch from a long history of ethnocentrism in the US, stemming from western imperialism, which assumed that natives of colonized lands were inherently culturally backwards, and in need of being “civilized” by white Europeans.

The imperialist self-image, Civilization versus Savagery, Puck magazine

According to this line of thought, women in Latin America and the Middle East were inherently passive and oppressed by their men. The excuse of “saving” these women was used by western powers to occupy or invade territory during colonial times, in spite of the fact that these same powers regularly oppressed women at home. A classic example of these double standards, emphasized in Leila Ahmed’s book Women and Gender in Islam, is that of Lord Cromer,  the leader of the British occupation of Egypt, who used women’s rights as an excuse to occupy Egypt in spite of being president of the anti-suffragette movement at home.

“Save me from my friends!” Uncle Sam shelters Cuba, illustration from Puck, 1898.


Similar rhetoric has seeped into recent conflicts that the US has become involved in. These attitudes were put into practice, for instance, during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by the US, when “saving women” was positioned as one of the main reasons behind the necessary invasion of the country. Meanwhile, at home, the Bush administration waged a contradictory war against both abortion rights and access to contraceptives for women through a string of harmful executive orders that, according to the New York Times, undermined “the reproductive freedom essential to women’s health, privacy, and equality.” At the same time, the Bush administration tried to shut down the Department of Labor’s women’s bureau, which helped inform women about their rights in the workplace, forced cutbacks at the equal opportunity employment commission in spite of the fact that the number of complaints of workplace gender discrimination had hit a multi-year high, and ceased funding for a program that monitored gender discrimination in US federal agencies.

Thus, while violence against women is certainly an issue in Argentina and Latin America, and there is much work to still be done to assuage institutionalized sexism and gender violence within most aspects of society, it is important to note that these issues are certainly not limited to Latin America. Yet, US media outlets continue to portray violence against women in the region as unfortunate yet unavoidable, as components of an intractable “machista” culture that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

via Evening Standard

This is harmful in two ways. On the one hand, violence against women in Argentina is portrayed by the developed world as regrettable but also normal and unavoidable, a rhetoric which sweeps such instances under the rug and lets Argentine lawmakers who should be working to better the situation of women too easily off the hook. On the other, it paints gender violence as an issue foreign to the US, as rare and limited to the domestic realm. By ignoring the fact that the US too has “machismo,” woven into the very fabric of society—a toxic masculinity that is not just disadvantaging but also killing women—the US places itself on a pedestal, shields itself from criticism, and allows itself to fall into complacency, endangering much of the progress that has been made for women in the country thus far.