ANNETTE BURFOOT. SUSAN LORD
On 4 October 2004 Amnesty International released Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada: A Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns. The summary states:
A shocking 1996 Canadian government statistic reveals that Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44, with status under the Indian Act, were five times more likely than all other women of the same age to die as the result of violence. Understanding the true scale and nature of violence against Indigenous women, however, is greatly hampered by a persistent lack of comprehensive reporting and statistical analysis…the role of discrimination in fuelling this violence, in denying Indigenous women the protection they deserve or in allowing the perpetrators to escape justice is a critical part of the threat faced by Indigenous women. (http://web. amnesty. org/library/Index/ENGAMR200012004)
On Tuesday, 5 October, the cbc presented the following headline for its Web story: “Canada Accused of Ignoring Violence against Aboriginal Women." The opening line of the story reads: “Canadian officials and police are failing to protect aboriginal women from violent attacks and ignoring the acts when they occur, according to a report from Amnesty International" (http://www. cbc. ca/ story/canada/national/2004/i0/04/ai_aboriginai04i004.html). If you click on the “In Depth" button to the left of the story, the link takes you to a sublime
image of Mount Saint Helens—the soon-to-erupt volcanic mountain in Washington State. The other possible in-depth stories available to the reader anxious to know more about the Aboriginal women are listed with the following keywords and in the following order: Montreal Expos, Deadly Dust, Assisted Suicide, Afghanistan, Face-Off, Sudan, and so forth. There is no in-depth story available. The Aboriginal women are missing.
There is, however, an “in-depth” story about rape in Darfur, written by Martin O’Malley: “Consider the use of government-sanctioned rape to humiliate, terrorize and control black Africans in the Darfur region at the western edge of Sudan. Amnesty International released a report this week that says government-backed Arab militiamen—janjaweed—are raping and killing pregnant women and girls as young as eight. Pregnant women are a favourite target, with rapes followed by mutilation and killing done in public, in daylight, in front of their husbands and families with Arab women watching and singing songs of praise” (http://www. cbc. ca/news/viewpoint/vp_omalley/20040722.html). The Darfur rapes were part of the Canadian international news for the better part of a week—after the United Nations raised the Genocide Convention to address the violence in the region.
Both of these stories were found on the same day in Canada’s national news broadcaster’s website; in both cases Amnesty International is cited; in both cases the cause and the potential solution to the problems is referred elsewhere—that is, the media do not reflect on their role in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of the relationship between gender, violence, and representation. More than coincidence brings these two stories to our attention for there is something horribly familiar about the hide-and- seek the major news organizations play with the representation of women and violence. Amnesty International’s report on the issue of violence and Aboriginal women makes a clear case for the role the media have played in the perpetuation of the racism and sexism that lie at the heart of these women’s deaths. In O’Malley’s story the role of misogyny in the long history of rape during wartime is deflected onto the spectacle of Arab women “watching and singing songs of praise.” And, of course, when a woman murders, the media is saturated with details of her private life and her manner of killing. What is it that one wants of representation in such situations? What would a just representation be? Is the representation of violence drawn so heavily from genre and gender codes that even the most horrific realities are destined to become “stories”—normalized and folded into the everyday racist and sexist ideologies that form our senses of belonging to a nation, a gender, a race, an ethnicity, a class?
The chapters in Killing Women address these questions by focusing on the conceptual space that connects two powerful images in the contemporary social imagination: women who are killed and women who kill. The theme of women and violence is hardly new; however, traditionally it has been restricted to only one-half of the spectacle—women who are killed or who are the victims of violence. When women murderers (fictional and actual) make a rare appearance, their representation tends to be restricted to reactive roles, such as the vengeful wronged woman and the maternal protector. Recently, there have been significant shifts in the characterization of women who can kill, which may be seen in both popular culture (e. g., the character Ripley from the film series Aliens has been joined by the female kung fu fighter, Lara Croft, Buffy, and Kill Bill) and in the current global political landscape (e. g., the so – called angels of death of Palestine).
The purpose of this collection is to explore the territory of gender and violence anew by focusing on visual culture—both historical and contemporary—in fiction and non-fiction film, museums, art, archives, and the news media. This focus is presented within a broad cultural context and engages with contemporary theories, the practice of identity politics, and the debates over the ethics and politics of representation itself. The contributions intentionally weave between fact and fiction in order to illuminate engendered violence as a form of cultural materialization and, thus, to recognize the powerful role culture plays in the production and reproduction of social meaning.
Killing Women offers fresh analyses of well-established sources for the study of women and violence: the horror film genre and the court trials of women who have killed their abusive husbands. It also adds significant new dimensions to the characterization of gender and violence by looking at nationalism and war, feminist media, and the way in which violence is circulated through non-obvious sources, such as medical cultural practice and the information society. The collection thus moves beyond what Jyotika Virdi describes as “the static two-dimensional portrayals of women as victims or vamps, madonnas or whores, suffering mothers or pleasing wives.” Nor is this simply a celebration of vibrant new roles for women involving kick-boxing, butt – kicking, and killing—even though these images may be welcome as apparent antidotes to the conventional controls prevalent in the cultural materialization of femininity. The chapters gathered here explore how violence is culturally produced in complex and sometimes contradictory forms; how feminist resistance appears in unexpected places and in unusual ways; and how traditional forms of the patriarchal imaginary re-emerge in postmodern style. They also critically investigate women’s varied resistances to and engagements with violence in light of contemporary problematic social and political contexts: “postfeminism,” the discourses and technologies of dematerialized identity, and globalization.
In gathering the chapters for this collection, we wanted to give priority to visual culture within a global context and to make space for new methods of historiography, media analysis, and critical writing alongside the well – established illuminations of textual and genre analyses. Our decision to focus on women and the representation of femininity and violence is a political one, as we state above and as is evident in all of the chapters compiled here. It is also meant to point to and to provide an alternative to the problematic erasure of feminism and women from the new discourses on screen violence (Prince 2004; Karl French 1996). Notably, many of the contributors refer to foundational theoretical works about gender and screen violence, such as those by Carol Clover (1992) and Barbara Creed (1993), and they rework them by filtering them through more recent cultural studies approaches. Sociological literature is vital to many of the chapters compiled here as well as to the overall approach of the collection, which is adopted from cultural studies. However, our focus on representation meant that we could not include social science approaches (such as those undertaken in sociological and political studies) to the question of gender and violence. New literature on violence against women, analyzed from social science perspectives on gender, race, and class, has been recently compiled by Katherine M. J. McKenna and June Larkin in their anthology Violence against Women: New Canadian Perspectives (2002). Other recent avenues of social and political inquiry include analyses of girlhood violence and bullying (Artz 1998); stalking (Davis, Frieze, and Maiuro 2002); violence against women of colour (Bannerji 2002) and immigrant and refugee women (Moussa 2002; Agger 1993); women and terrorism (Randall 2003); women and development (Kapadia 2002); and the politics of culturally specific violence, such as Veena Talwar Oldenberg’s study of dowry murder (2002).
Helen Birch’s ground-breaking Moving Targets: Women, Murder and Representation (1993) remains the only collection on the portrayal of women who kill and women who are killed. Killing Women is both an update and an expansion of the largely Anglo-American views provided in Moving Targets. Readers will note that we did not include analyses of already well-covered territory, such as Ripley in the Alien films (Bundtzen 1987; Creed 1990; Tasker 1993,1998; Taubin 1993; Davies 2000) or Buffy, Xena, and so on (Early and Kennedy 2003; Inness 1999; Wilcox and Lavery 2002). Also, we found that books such as When Women Kill: Questions of Agency and Subjectivity by Belinda Morrissey (2003),
Discerning Eyes: Viewers on Violence by Julie Firmstone (2002), The New Avengers: Feminism, Femininity and the Rape-Revenge Cycle by Jacinda Read (2000), Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Weimar Germany by Maria Tatar (1997), and Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic by Elisabeth Bronfen (1992), as well as articles such as Elayne Rapping’s fascinating discussion of US television dramas, “The Politics of Representation Genre, Gender Violence and Justice” (2000), covered their specific areas so thoroughly that we were permitted to attend to many as yet unwritten histories and analysis of gendered violence.
The chapters collected here are framed by questions and debates that have been part of the feminist public sphere for at least three decades. Does representation produce or reproduce the conditions of violence? Is representation itself a form of violence? If we consider the discursive constructions of violence—the “rhetoric of violence”—are we abandoning the material body and the conditions of its suffering? If we look only at the empirical, can we comprehend psychic and symbolic forces and their role in oppression, power, and, ultimately, the struggle over the meaning and value of a person?
In the mid-1970s through the 1980s violence-against-women debates, as set out by the American cultural feminists (Andrea Dworkin, Susan Brown- miller, Mary Daly, Susan Griffin, Robin Morgan, and Catherine MacKinnon), were linked to pornography. Robin Morgan and Susan Brownmiller’s (in)famous equation “Pornography is the theory, rape the practice” was situated within a heteronormative, white framework of essentialism (one of the dicta of the day was “All men are potential rapists”) and found its legal argument in the Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-pornography bill of 1983—the Minneapolis Ordinance—which defined pornography as: “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words” (MacKinnon 1987,176). The critical responses within feminism to this position were both politically and philosophically motivated: the conflation of sexually explicit material with sexual violence, as anti-censorship authors argued, fed into patriarchal forms of control over images without confronting social and economic inequities, and it also fed into a moral majority agenda. While the anticensorship position opened the pornography debate to a more complex set of social and sexual contexts, it is important to remember that the body politics of feminism that drove the anti-pornography movement in the 1970s and 1980s was, like other social projects related to the violence and exploitation of women’s bodies (e. g., rape relief centres, women’s shelters, abortion clinics, women’s medical centres, etc.), tied directly to feminist legal struggles around rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, and abortion rights.
The feminist poststructuralist theories that were being articulated in the 1980s and early 1990s presented a nuanced critique of the cause-effect thinking at the heart of cultural feminism’s critique of violence and its link to pornography, looking instead to the complexity of representation itself (see Hanssen 2000). Central to the poststructuralist project is a twofold analysis: the institutional production and circulation of discourses and techniques of power and knowledge, on the one hand, and the psychic complexity of the female subject in relation to symbolic meaning, on the other. In 1989 Teresa de Lauretis wrote a critique of French theorist Michel Foucault’s blind spot with regard to gender, in which she argues that Foucault’s discourse analysis of the technologies of sexuality needs to be balanced with an analysis of the technologies of gender. She spots a danger in the foundation of the theory (what is known as the “linguistic turn”) and calls for a more instrumental turn in the theory, which would allow for the analysis of “the techniques and discursive strategies by which gender is constructed and hence…violence is en-gendered” (de Lauretis 1987,38). The 1990s saw the debates about identity politics, cultural relativism, and media politics address the problematics of violence and representation within three constellations of inquiry: (1) the history and memory debates (the interrelation between trauma, fantasy, archives, and historiographies); (2) technologies and techniques of violence (the discourses and institutions that construct identity—and the body—through scientific or legal methods); and (3) nationalism (neo – and postcolonial subjects, war and representation, and ethnicity and violence). The chapters in Killing Women are situated within these arenas and the book is organized to reflect this. The book as a whole considers how representation functions as a materialization of violence: that is, how violence is “engendered in representation” (de Lauretis 1987,33); how “epistemic violence” (Spivak 1988) is a political and juridical tool used to maintain a phallogocentric and racist system of knowledge and power; and how “feminist counter-violence” is a strategic response to the saturation of violence in the linguistic, legal, and media worlds that comprise the everyday. However, our focus on representations, strategies, and institutions does not eclipse either the murdered or the murdering women. In several of the chapters the very problem of the techniques and technologies of representation are analyzed in the shadow of the ongoing murders of women in Juarez (Zoey Michele) or in the ongoing searches for the missing women of downtown Vancouver (Margot Butler). Likewise, Dorit Naaman’s analysis of the images of the female suicide bomber works to show how specificity is eclipsed by media spectacles of the Middle East and by discourses of nationalism. Sharon Rosenberg’s analysis of the monuments erected in memory of the women murdered in the Montreal massacre is set beside the analyses of archived lives and murderers’ testimonies in Sylvie Frigon’s and Kathleen O’Shea’s chapters, respectively.
Killing Women is organized so as to highlight the constellations of inquiry mentioned above: history and memory, techniques and technologies, and national cultures. Clearly, there is overlap between the three parts, with the matter, for example, of the abject body being of concern for several authors, and with the issues of specific representational modes, media, or genres being found across several chapters. Part і presents chapters that consider the way we live with, and construct histories and memories of, gendered violence. The complex relationship between history and memory has been a focus of much feminist research, connecting it to other studies of trauma and violence, such as those concerning the Holocaust, colonialism, and war. The chapters in Part і consider issues of how an archive is made to tell a certain truth about gendered violence, how the record is mediated by the subjective work of memory and repression, and how contemporary writing about or representations of the victims or murderers of the past must reflect upon the processes of history making and memory work.
The collection opens with Sylvie Frigon’s historiographical analysis of how women accused of, and often imprisoned and executed for, killing their husbands were depicted between i866 and 1954. Unable to appreciate domestic violence, Canadian society throughout this period mediated women who had murdered in public representations as either the sexualized family traitor (e. g., Evelyn Dick in the so-called Torso Murder Case) or the protective mother (e. g., Angelina Napolitano, seven months pregnant and with four children at home). With revealing excerpts from contemporary press releases, court transcripts, and popular culture (plays, songs, novels, and films based on some of the cases), Frigon brings to light the historical depth of the problem of representing women who kill in modern society. She points to more recently contested ground in her comparison of historical characterizations with contemporary, Western popular film portrayals of murderous women, where the traditional stereotypes persist but are accompanied by more complex and feminist renderings.
Sharon Rosenberg’s chapter on the politics of memorials and memory relating to the Montreal Massacre traces the ways in which the murders at the Ecole Polytechnique have been publicly remembered through tenth anniversary commemoration. She argues that, far from settled (and hence a matter of “the past”), “what remains is an ambivalence in memory that cannot be addressed without an opening of present-day frames and commitments.” The profound emotional experience of loss and grief have been recorded in particular ways, thus constructing not just the past of this terrible day but also the present. She works with the monuments and other public memorials by analyzing “public memory as those selective and contested social formations that circumscribe a set of terms and bounded symbolizations, through which past events are remembered and living attachments to that past are formed.”
Zoey Michele’s chapter on the contemporary case of over three hundred murdered women in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez examines how documentary and media representations of the victims further violate the women by affording them meaning only through the frameworks of “truth” that are reproduced by racist and sexist institutions. She engages with feminist and poststructural theories of representation, particularly Jacques Derrida’s metaphysics of presence, Laura Marks’s metaphors of fetish and fossil, and bell hooks’s insistence on including personal and political contexts when considering domination and oppression. In pointing out the oversimplification, mystification, and exoticization of the murdered Other found in the depictions of what happened in and around Ciudad Juarez, Michele attempts to stifle any further violation of these women.
Kathleen O’Shea’s personal reflection on her work with women on Death Row in the United States plays between the intensely personal and the public with regard to state-sanctioned killing and its ideological rationalization in the American media. O’Shea focuses on one highly visible character condemned to death, Karla Faye Tucker, and demonstrates how she is played by the media to fit social norms of femininity (much as are the Canadian women analyzed by Frigon). Through the use of diary-like prose, O’Shea also draws a quiet comparison between Tucker and another Death Row inmate, the much less – known Cherokee woman Nadian Smith. The connections between trauma, testimony, and memory are shown to mediate each other and to condition the way in which the official histories are written.
Part і ends with an examination of the media and legal frameworks that represent convicted murderer Karla Homolka. Australian legal theorist Belinda Morrissey offers some critical distance on a very sensitive case that is extremely well known within Canada. For Canadian analyses see Davey 1994; Dorland and Walton 1996; Crosbie 1997. Morrissey considers the framework and the gendered discourses within which the public has come to know Homolka and offers a way of thinking about a figure that even feminism has had difficulty approaching. By offering an analysis not only of media representation but also of representation within legal theory, Morrissey asks us to struggle with our sense of horror and our designation of Homolka as evil and to instead consider her within the psycho-sexual framework of sadism—a framework usually reserved for men.
Throughout Part і there is a significant movement between (1) actual women’s lives and their experiences of violence and (2) the characterization of those lives when the women turn to murder or when they are memorialized or forgotten as victims of violence. Part 2 focuses on that process of mediation as a political and aesthetic force with the power to make bodies and their social contexts appear or disappear, on the one hand, or to make them perform and signify strategic or critical alternatives, on the other. The chapters in Part 2 focus on the strategies, discourses, and technologies of the representation of violence.
Annette Burfoot opens Part 2 with an unusual but revealing study of eighteenth-century anatomical models. The models are an important example of the early modern treatment of the female body and femininity both as pacified by male desire (carefully disguised as scientific objectivity) and as posing an active threat (in the form of the abject). In terms of this collection, these models represent the feminine as both murdered and murderous. The analysis of these models, the comparisons between the female and male models, and an appreciation of their historical context demonstrates how medical visual culture renders sexual difference in terms of violence as well as how the female form figures as a prime arbiter of life and death. Also significant here is the reassignment—from the Church to modern medical science—of the authority to publicly characterize femininity as something inherently dangerous.
Lisa Coulthard also engages with the terrain of medical science, in this case through the “the forensic aesthetic” in feminist artworks. In her close and critical reading of two feminist exhibits centring on women and violence, Bloody Wallpaper and Lustmord, Coulthard demonstrates the operation and significance of absence: “the hidden and quotidian aspects of violence against women.” She expands on oversimplified conceptions of violence and the violated subject, and criticizes the exploitative nature of normative renderings of murdered women in terms of forensic “debris.”
Like other contributors to Killing Women, Jack Boozer examines the realm of representation and its connection to material conditions; however, he turns to the images of violent women in American film and considers them in terms of “televisuality,” or the materialization of subjectivity within the context of the “contemporary simulational environment.” His close reading of the films To Die For and Nurse Betty pays crucial attention to an obsession for violence within virtual representations or simulations themselves. In this virtual space of highly figurative subjectivity, gender and violence become part of a much more complex arrangement that includes the techniques and technologies of representation itself.
The disappearance and murder of women in San Diego and Vancouver compels Margot Butler to engage the reader in the act of probing the telling of the tales of these murdered women. Butler’s chapter recreates parts and processes involved in the No Humans Involved exhibition, which focused on forty-five unsolved murders of women in the San Diego area, and she uses this as a foundation for addressing the techniques, ethics, and politics of representing the immediate and ongoing horrors of the BC Pickton farm investigation and excavation. She works through visions and voices: hers and those of other women associated with the constellation of events in both cities. “Implicatedness” is central to this piece—who is in the picture from the gallery of murdered women’s faces? Why? When? How? Configuration and subjectivity are not secure in that the treatment of the stories further violates the murdered women and extends the violence to others.
Susan Lord concludes Part 2 with an analysis of feminist films that feature female murderers, arguing that a strain in feminist media performs a “strategic counter-violence.” She demonstrates the significance of time for feminism and how the violent sites in feminist cinema can be analyzed as a response to the lack of futurity to which images of women are subjected in Western culture. As a project of creating and reflecting upon representation as a collective formation of a social imaginary, feminist cinema and its discourse of violence permits the complexity of gendered subjectivity to enter and to disrupt the image bank of media culture.
Which leads us to Part 3, where collectivity, in the form of national cultures, figures prominently in the discussion of women and violence. Whether they consider the relationship between gendered violence and nationalism or between the representation of gender within specific national cultural traditions, the chapters in this part have something interesting in common: all of the central characters/subjects are women who kill. This tells us less about specific women than it does about the imaginary for female agency within a national context in which the female character is either a surrogate for the nation or, due to cultural tradition, is imagined to have autonomy. However, curiously, in the case of the horror genre, whether in Italy or in the United States, the image of female agency is tied directly to the character’s body as a site of desire, abjection, or rage.
Frank Burke’s chapter on Italy and its specific variant of the horror film turns to the representation of a female violence and its conditioning by national culture and traditions. In the reading of one film in particular, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Burke demonstrates how it is possible to reinterpret female protagonists within the problematic genre of horror “beyond a misogynist projection of male anxiety" Especially when considered in terms of its national socio-political context, the film can be seen as a representation of women’s rage based in a collective experience of violence against, and the suppression of, women in Italy by a dominant masculine culture.
Suzie Young’s chapter examines the connection between the gendered identity of its subjects, cultural tradition, and recent popular representations of femininity. She addresses this connection through an analysis of flight in two recent films featuring violently active yet lighter-than-air Asian martial artists: the well-known Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the much less well known but ultimately more progressive (argues Young) Wing Chun. These almost hyperactive female fighting bodies obviously control the scene and narrative as embodiments of justice, courage, and honour. But Young asks, “how far do they push the limits of cinematic femininity in neoconservative culture?” At the crux of this question lies a much older ambiguity regarding the popular and public mediation of female figures that defy, as well as take flight from, social norms.
Steven Schneider explores representations of women and violence within the American horror film, focusing on the female psycho-killer. Schneider finds some common ground between the female psycho-killer and her male counter-part: early childhood abuse. In an extensive overview of the Hollywood slasher horror film, Schneider comes to a novel conclusion regarding the significance of the female crazed killer: he sees this figure as representing a form of animated femininity—one that provides political resistance to patriarchal gender stereotyping within the framework and history of American popular genre cycles.
Within the context of popular Hindu cinema (particularly its “woman’s film”) and the national women’s movement, Jyotika Virdi investigates women who kill. She challenges feminist charges that recent reinscriptions of women as avenging dare devils continues to panders to male desires. As with Young, Frigon, and Schneider, Virdi is interested in whether these new representations of the avenging female body inspire a political transformation by providing women with an active and possibly feminist role. She explores three films, Teesri Manzil/Third Floor, Aradhana/Prayer, and Insaaf Ka Taraazu/Scales of Justice, each of which depicts rape as the motive for the female avenger. Virdi examines feminist criticisms of the popular depiction of rape-revenge and offers a crucial contextualization of the woman’s film in terms of the Indian women’s movement, which was founded on issues of sexual violence.
To conclude Part 3 and the collection, Dorit Naaman enters the highly contested ground of Palestinian and Israeli women fighters, suicide bombers, and “angels of death." If, historically and recently, Western ideology has struggled with the spectacle of women-who-kill and has tended to force them into constraining gender stereotypes, then the same can be said for how contemporary media and film treat Middle Eastern women warriors. Significantly different however, and presaged by Virdi and Burke’s attention to national political contexts of violence against women, is the interaction between the brutal struggle for nationhood and the public materialization of gender. Naaman examines a selection of films devoted to the struggle for national liberation in Algeria, Palestine, and Israel, all of which feature women combatants and guerrillas. She interweaves this analysis with crucial information on Middle Eastern politics as well as with excerpts from interpretations found in both the Western press and the Middle Eastern press. She discovers crucial differences between the ideological manifestation of freedom fighters of Israel and Palestinian angels of death—differences that co-implicate engendered violence and international hostilities.
The process of developing Killing Women was facilitated by an e-mail list – serv and two focus panels at the 2002 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The authors were encouraged to recognize points of contact and to share resources, thus enabling us to build a bibliography and a list of visual resources for the volume. This process also permitted us to highlight the politics of representation as a particularly powerful and complex process of social meaning production. Whether in the pages of Adbusters or in a news report from Ciudad Juarez, the globalization of media culture and the geo-politics of gendered violence find in the image of the female body a familiar and horrible home. The chapters collected here are meant to provide critical distance on the visual culture that we—broadly and globally—share.