Saturday, 30 March 2013

Retribution or Justice?

Part of my feminist discovery journey has been to question my previous steadfastly held beliefs and look at them through a feminist lens in the context that we live in a patriarchy. One of these closely held beliefs is the abolition of the death penalty. All the usual reasons apply:

I couldn't kill someone, why should I expect others to do it for me?
It could be a mistake.
Two wrongs don't make a right.
Civilised society shouldn't be killing people.
The distastefulness of an eye for an eye type mentality i.e. lowering ourselves to the criminal's level.
The inhumanity and torture of keeping someone locked up only until it is time to kill them (and them knowing that).
In my lofty, privileged position I also felt that I had to make this decision for myself before anything awful happened to my family or someone I loved as obviously raw emotions would kick in then and death to the perpetrators may look very appealing. And that would be seen as revenge, which, of course is very wrong. We are also told that raw emotions are never a good foundation on which to base a decision.

And then we come to the horrific rape and murder of Jyoti in Delhi, India. The perpetrators of this crime are facing the death penalty if found guilty. Immediately I felt my conditioning kick in. My first thought was who are we to execute these men, no matter what they did?

This thread on Mumsnet, however, prompted me to have a rethink about where these beliefs are coming from. On the thread, a couple of people were quite vociferous in stating that we couldn't be feminists if we didn't think these men should have the death penalty. Now there are only a handful of reasons why I think a person can't be a feminist and opposing the death penalty isn't one of them. But it did get me thinking as to why I almost unthinkingly accept that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances and whether that was a feminist stance or an anti-feminist stance in the wake of extreme violence against women.

I did realise quite early on in reading the thread that I just don't care what happens to these men. Not at all. Which was uncomfortable. I would prefer it if they could just slink away and die without me having to think about it emotionally or critically, but that won't happen, so here we are. How real are my convictions about capital punishment and how much is social construction? Well I'll probably never know the answer to that. But I do wonder whether the resistance to capital punishment is gendered. Women are socially constructed to be less violent so it would make sense that we would oppose other forms of violence more than men. Which then led to the thought that is this a trick of the patriarchy to keep us submissive. Engender in us this hatred of violence so that we won't use it against men. Could violence against men in particular circumstances be exactly what is required to gain freedom from oppression? If women were to start killing their rapists and abusers would that actually stem and even stop male violence? And if it did then capital punishment would seem to be more like justice, not revenge.

Then I think, am I being hypocritical rethinking this subject in light of the monstrous attack on Jyoti? Is it the nature of the attack that makes me have less care about the fate of the perpetrators? I mean it was so brutal and as a fellow woman I am frightened to the core by how much pain and suffering this woman went through. Would I feel this way about a brutal murder of a man? Possibly not, although I was highly disturbed when the BBC aired the depiction of the murder of a man in very similar circumstances. But the investigation into a similar crime on a man would not be scattered with victim-blaming and man-hating (instead of the misogyny seen in this case).

I know I would feel the same about a similar crime committed against children though. So, are crimes against women & children special? Yes, I think they are. Children for obvious reasons - their size, age, vulnerability and general innocence. Women because we are still oppressed and it is male violence keeping us oppressed. The oppression keeps happening and people, more specifically men, seem unwilling to do anything about it. And not only that we get blamed for the crimes against us. That feeling of impotence is rage inducing.

Would my feelings be different if violence against women were actually dealt with properly on any level? Very probably. If I felt justice was being served to women who were being raped and murdered; if I felt that we were winning the war against male violence then yes I would care about being humane towards the perpetrators of this terrible crime. But justice isn't being served and we aren't winning the war at the moment. These men thought that Jyoti didn't matter, that nobody would make them be responsible for their actions because they see women being treated appallingly everywhere and nobody does anything about it. That is why they felt it was OK to do this, in plain view. They thought they would get away with it. Surely justice in this case would be to send out a message to deter other men from casually raping and murdering women. Draw the line in the sand. Except of course it isn't a line in the sand. Because there are so many fronts to fight on. And is capital punishment even a deterrent?

I really don't know what my conclusions are on this. I know you can still be a feminist and not believe in the death penalty even for crimes against women. In fact I find that whole argument quite bizarre. And it certainly isn't my place to say who is or isn't a feminist (unless they are actively anti-feminist and then I reserve judgment!). Somehow, I would feel happier if Jyoti had survived, tracked her torturers down and killed them single-handedly. That would seem much more like justice and probably send out a much stronger signal. But it isn't about whether I feel happier and of course Jyoti can't do that. Part of me, a significant part, just doesn't think that the way to handle violence is with state-condoned violence, especially when that state is a patriarchy. It is just more patriarchal, bullshit violence. Whether that is the conditioning kicking in or something else does it even matter? Part of me, though, a small part, would like those men who did this to her and all those other men who torture and kill women and children to die. I can live with being a hypocrite on this.

I started writing this ages ago but it seems appropriate to publish it today in honour of International Women's Day and for the Million Women Rise march, today in London. So this is for all the women fighting the fight against male violence in a peaceful manner.

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