“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” Though this phrase may appear to be straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, it is actually a quotation from Hollywood’s favourite Science Fiction writer, Philip K. Dick (author of the books/short stories behind Blade Runner, Total Recall, and AI).
The unfortunate conjoining of two words that have nothing in common, ‘honour’ and ‘killing,’ has not merely ‘manipulated’ ‘reality,’ it has distorted and everted reality. The only ‘killing’ that can arguably be qualified as ‘honourable’ is one that comes about from a fairly-fought duel between equals. Yet a ‘killing’ is qualified with, and considered one of, ‘honour’ under probably the most unfair and unequal circumstances imaginable. And what is most troubling is that this misbegotten and dreadful term, ‘honour killing,’ used for a particularly heinous and dishonourable deed among certain cultures, has gained credence and is becoming an established term. Mainstream media outlets and influential writers now use this term to denote dishonourable, unfair, and unequal slaughter. A Stanford University researcher, Lera Boroditsky, recently published the results of her research into whether or not words, and even differences in word-ranges and word-forms across languages, influence perception and cue behaviour. Boroditsky’s findings conclusively prove that Dick was indeed right—words do control how reality is manipulated and perceived. When it does so for the worse, even—not to be Manichaean or Bush-like—for the evil, then it is time to change the words.
Because the backdrop to a so-called ‘honour killing’ so often involves matters of the heart, it is important to distinguish it from a crime of passion. The latter—typified by Canio’s double-murder of his faithless inamorata and her paramour in I Pagliacci—is committed by a spurned or betrayed lover in an emotionally aggravated state in ‘the heat of the moment’ whereas the former is carried out by a biological family-member in a cold-blooded fashion and is premeditated. Therefore, unlike a crime of passion, a so-called ‘honour killing’ (by definition and in reality) is always first-degree murder.
That which is honourable may or may not be brave or courageous, but it certainly cannot be cowardly—honour and cowardice are mutually exclusive. The word ‘coward’ has become a devalued word through misuse and overuse. It is now often used to denote a man who has carried out a despicable deed even though it may require physical bravery; as such, the perpetrator cannot be called a ‘coward’ because, simply put, he is not one. Contrariwise, a man who commits a so-called ‘honour killing’ is a coward in the word’s most essential and perfect sense, as follows: Consider that the (perceived and imaginary) transgression of most female victims is that they were raped or had premarital consensual sex or wished to marry a man of their own choosing. It is obvious at once that a second party—a man—is also involved; and, in cases of rape, it is this second party who is actually the guilty one. However, it is the woman, and that at her most vulnerable, who is almost always exclusively murdered by design and in cold blood; the male counterparty is usually left unharmed. Why, though? Surely the plain and simple reason is that the would-be murderers realize that killing some man may not be an easy task of simple slaughter; the tables could get turned and the murderer may become the murdered—one of the morals of Bluebeard is intuitively known and understood by men in lands that have never heard of that Franco-German folk tale. It is fear and the instinct of self-preservation thehat leads these purportedly ‘honour killing’ murderers almost always to turn a blind eye to the rapists, seducers, and paramours of their female relatives. They take the easy—and safe—route of murdering the vulnerable and helpless, knowing that they will not have to pay any price. These supposed ‘honour killers’ are surely the poster boys for, not honour, but, Cowardice.
Therefore, the diabolical, dishonourable practice in question should not any longer be termed ‘honour killing’—the term is not only misleading, it is an outright lie. But what to call the practice, then?
In cases of so-called ‘honour killing’ where a woman is killed because she exercised her prerogative of free choice, she is killed because she exercised her prerogative of free choice (a proper tautology). In cases where a woman is killed because some man or men victimized her, she is killed because someone else improperly or criminally exercised his free will upon her and against her choice. In sum, these amount to the first-degree murder of a woman because she exercises her free choice or because she was an unwilling victim to someone else’s (improper or criminal) exercise of his free will. But men too exercise their free will about all kinds of matters and men too are victimized in any number of ways against their choice (such as being given a brutal thrashing by a gang or being kidnapped and held for ransom), yet no men are murdered by family members for such (ridiculous and intolerable) reasons.
Using formal Symbolic Logic (I am not, and do not presume to be, a logician), one can write out equations to capture the above facts and arrive at a proper, logically sound conclusion. In English these ‘equations’ of a kind amount to: (1) A female person of culture-Set A in circumstances b or c implies that the person is targeted for murder. (2) A male person of culture-Set A in circumstances b or c implies no action. The two equations have different outputs, and the circumstances and culture-Set in both equations are constants; the only variable is the gender of the person. It is this variable that is the sole determinant of the output of the equation. The equations reduce to the conclusion that a person in a particular culture under particular circumstances is murdered because she is a woman.
We discount Dick’s insight and Boroditsky’s research at our peril—literally so in the case of innocent women who are targeted for murder because of their gender. Language indeed influences perceptions of reality; indeed, it appears to influence human behaviour itself: if a killing is somehow associated with ‘honour,’ then why not. . . . To bring the words in line with the reality they are to convey, and to de-distort and de-evert our perceptions, I propose that the practice in question should be identified and referred to by an apposite term: Gynicide. Then and only then will this practice be perceived and understood to be what it truly is: the first-degree murder of a woman because she was a woman.
Next: A companion article: Eliminating Gynicide
Copyright © 2010, Kersasp Shekhdar. All Rights Reserved.