Hatred of women and girls is an underlying factor in many violent crimes. It’s time for society to take this seriously.

In the aftermath of the deadly stabbing in Bondi in early April, one very important factor has been seriously downplayed – that the killer, Joel Cauchi, primarily targeted women.  

If Cauchi had targeted any other group, particularly if they were white people or members of a religious group, such a fact would have led to a national debate. It would have likely been labelled terrorism. Yet, in this case, this important factor has been largely overlooked.  

This is, in part, due to a lack of clear evidence behind Cauchi’s motivations. More broadly, however, it is part of a global trend, where mass misogynistic violence is on the rise, but where sexism is often being ignored as a motivating factor.  

Misogynistic mass violence is a real and potentially growing threat in the Western world. Anti-feminist and anti-women sentiments have been behind several mass shootings, massacres, and terrorist events around the world.

The most prominent of these attacks have been undertaken by self-described incels, men who become resentful to women because of their inability to obtain a relationship. Attacks have included the 2014 Isla Vista shooting, in which Elliot Rodgers killed six people before killing himself, and the 2018 Toronto van attack in which Alek Minassian killed 11 people. 

Misogyny also underpins a lot of other mass violence. Research I conducted with four other experts in Australia found that misogynistic world views underpin the beliefs of many violent extremist organisations, ranging from the far-right to jihadists. These groups often ascribe to beliefs that women’s natural place is in the caring roles in both the home and family, while men should act as providers and protectors. Hostile sexist attitudes towards women and support for violence against women are also strongly associated with support for violent extremism.  

Those who commit mass violence also often have histories of violence against women. A 2019 analysis, for example, found that more than a third of mass shooters in the United States had a documented history of violence against women. Such statistics are often true for other perpetrators of mass violence events.

Violence against women, is, as journalist Jessica Roy argues, often a precursor to terrorism. As she says: “Domestic violence is a useful apprenticeship for men who are planning to crush passers-by under the wheels of an SUV or stab strangers with kitchen knives; men who have become desensitized to violence in the home are very dangerous.” 

Leaders such as Prime Minister Albanese must acknowledge society’s ingrained misogyny. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU.

Much of the debate around such statistics has focused on cultural factors that may drive these crimes. In other words, research and media point to ‘toxic masculinity’, saying that such crimes are driven by a culture of masculinity that promotes violence. While this is true to an extent, it is important to note that the misogyny that underpins such violence is ideological.

When it comes to mass violent attacks such as those undertaken by incels, the far-right or jihadists, the misogyny serves political agendas and collective interests. The violence is political.  

Despite all of this, misogyny is often overlooked in debates around these events. Misogyny is rarely part of national debates following such events and is poorly tracked by security agencies. Even when leaders such as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese call out men for being the common perpetrators of violence, they are rarely willing to take the next step and say that part of this may be an ingrained history of misogyny.    

Why is this? The main reason is that the misogyny that underpins these violent attacks is just an extreme version of the same misogyny that still underpins our mainstream society. Sociologist and gender historian Alva Träbert, for example, says we should be careful talking about anti-feminist ideologies as the purview solely of extremist groups, because misogynistic rhetoric is still so pervasive in mainstream society.

She says, “further research should focus on antifeminist sentiment within the political and cultural mainstream,” not only to “counter the antifeminist men’s rights movement,” but also because “heterosexism and misogyny where it affects vast numbers of diverse individuals, namely, in our mainstream culture.”  

To put it in other words, many of those in power are unwilling to point to misogyny as a reason for violence, in large part because that very misogyny is still so ingrained in our society. It’s unlikely the police have any interest in drawing links between violence and misogyny when they still commit much higher rates of domestic violence than the mainstream population, just as we can’t expect our political leaders to look at how misogynistic sentiment can drive mass violence, given misogyny is still rampant in our politics.  

This, however, is a growing reality we have to face. Violent misogynistic crime is real. It comes from a culture and social structures that are highly misogynistic. If we want to tackle the causes of mass violence, we should be looking more seriously at misogyny as an underlying factor in violent crimes.  

Top image: Women gathered to protest gendered violence and assault at a March 4 Justice rally in Sydney. Photo: Holli/shutterstock.com

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