“Honor Killings” Not All About Culture

By Jonathan Adams Jul 11, 2008

H/T Feministing Two stories in Georgia about violence against women in which the perpetrators are South Asian men have revived a discussion of "honor killings." An Indian professor was sentenced to life for the contract killing of his son’s wife because she was Black and a Pakistani man is accused of killing his daughter because she wanted out of an arranged marriage. Samhita at Feministing unpacks the media’s frame on these stories:

Sounds so simple right? He killed her because his "culture" made him. Not because he might be mentally ill or pathological. There is no denying that in basically every culture there is pressure put on women to act a certain way and especially with regard to marriage or the ownership of her sexuality. But the way that "honor" killing is discussed in the media you would think it is some normal cultural phenomena, when it is not. It is a sign of illness, culture gone awry and patriarchy at its most exaggerated. In a ground-breaking essay, that I recommend you read if you are into theory, Leti Volpp talks about the notion of the cultural defense. One of the moments that this plays out is through the justification of violence against women as a cultural norm (usually based on racist ideas of culture). It appears that there are two ways the mainstream US media talk about "honor" killings. The first is in a way the demonizes the horrid, brown, ugly, probably terrorist perpetrator, that is trying to hurt the innocent child like brown female that must be saved. Or making assumptions about the role of women in a given non-American culture as much more misogynist than our own and thereby engages in these forms of blatant abuse of patriarchal power that are cultural. Neither scenario gives us much hope for how the case will go or allows for an intersectional analysis of the ways gender, culture and power play out. And when it is revolving around a violent murder of a young woman, it is very difficult to understand the nuance.