It’s been two days since Chantelle Chetcuti was fatally stabbed, and while the law courts have not yet reached their conclusion, many people seem adamant that it was allegedly her ex-partner who committed this horrific crime. While most people had nothing but sadness and grief to express, there have been some comments which left much to be desired.
I’m not going to be naming and shaming, I don’t think the majority of people wake up in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to hate women today’ or ‘I’m going to think women are lesser human beings’… But that doesn’t change the fact that their rhetoric points towards an innate misunderstanding of how certain cultural traits breed words and actions that lead to certain scenarios becoming possible in the first place.
When people’s reactions to the alleged murder of a woman by her ex-partner (or indeed, a current partner) are, ‘She should have left’, ‘Maybe she cheated’, ‘We don’t know what went on behind closed doors’, or, even worse, ‘Whoever’s fault it is, the children are the ones who will suffer most’, then, Roger, we have a problem.
It doesn’t matter what had been happening between the victim and the perpetrator behind closed doors, or whether the victim had cheated on the perpetrator or not: murder can never be justified or excused. And, I’m sorry, but while my heart goes out to the children of such victims, children who have been forced into such a terrible situation arguably by a person who is supposed to protect them (very often their father or another close male relative), my thoughts are firmly fixed upon the main victim, a person in her own right with hopes and dreams for a future that have now been snuffed out.
Indeed, we must learn how to change our vocabulary and our thought processes when it comes to women:
- We need to stop looking at women as someone’s something, be it their mother, their wife, or their daughter. By doing that, we are saying that a woman on her own is not complete or worthy of our attention or grief;
- We need to stop justifying femicide because a woman may have been difficult, may have cheated, or may have not lived up to her partner’s or society’s expectations. Unless the woman in question is literally putting your life in danger, and you are resorting to self-defence, then murder can certainly never be justified;
- We need to stop treating women with opinions as harpies. Just to give you an example, there are many male journalist and columnists who have strong opinions, but I’ve never seen any of them being called ‘saħħar’ jew ‘ikrah’. Juxtapose that with the flak Daphne Caruana Galizia got. Her assassination can definitely not be classified as femicide, but a lot of the hate she got during her lifetime from the general public stemmed from our society’s deeply ingrained misogyny;
- We need to start holding authorities responsible whenever they fail to act upon reports. It is simply not enough to note it down and do minor investigations. Going to the police to say you are feeling harassed or are scared for your life is not easy. Authorities should ensure that each case is investigated properly, that steps are taken for the protection of the person in question, and that monitoring is done regularly thereafter;
- And we need to work harder at rewiring our brains about what a woman has to do to be ‘good’. The number of people who don’t see a woman’s role as being fulfilled until she’s got married and had children is ridiculous. The number of people who think that a woman who is not dressed appropriately (according to society, that is) is fine to rape, insult or abuse is insane. The number of people who treat girls and boys differently, even from a young age, is worrying.
We need to do all this because there are too many people out there who genuinely believe that men are better than women, that men have some form of hold over women, that men’s work is more valid than women’s, that men’s opinions on what a woman should and shouldn’t do are worth more salt than her own. And it’s this culture that continues to give people the belief that, ‘Hey, my woman is not behaving properly so I will punish her.’
Sadly, Chantelle’s murder will probably not be the last in a series of Maltese femicides that is truly beyond shocking, but please don’t let her death be in vain. Simply put: we need to learn something from this.