Death by Slut Shaming: The American Honor Killing

Today, the headline that kept showing up in my newsfeed was Jordan Honor Killing: Pregnant Woman’s Throat Slit In Ruseife.  While this is obviously one of the most horrifying things I could read first thing in the morning, what frightened me the most was my complete lack of surprise.  Honor killings, rape, and other murders committed in the name of religion are all too common.  What is frequently ignored in the political rhetoric is how often they occur in the Western world and how in North America we have made them our own.

Sitting at my allergist’s office in 2011, I picked up a copy of Time and was shocked to read about the murder of Noor-al-Maleki and the attempted murder of Amal Khalaf in Arizona.  Not Jordan, not Syria, not Afghanistan, but the United States.  Later on, I was surprised to read that similar cases had occurred in England and Canada.  I was disappointed that the only news sites apparently keeping track of these outrageous murders are conservative watchdog sites, which are easily dismissed due to their rabid anti-Islamic rhetoric.  Honor killings are not sanctioned in Islam.  They are less a part of Islam than witch hunting is a part of Christianity.  They are a socially permissible way to dispose of difficult women in a theocracy.

Until very recently, a woman’s body has been seen as property for her father and later, her husband.  The vast majority of theological rules regarding assaulting a woman are very different from those regarding harming another man.  When a man assaults a man, he is attacking a person.  When he assaults a woman, he is damaging another man’s property.  While this is no longer legally the case in the US, the idea of it still remains.  “No one hurts MY girl and gets away with it.”  Women’s bodies are not our own.  Religion and the societies it has shaped have convinced us that the female form is a public commodity.

Slut shaming is a relatively new term, but is an extremely old idea.  Often, as in the case of Audrie Pott, Rehteah Parsons, and Felicia Garza, it is a prime example of victim blaming. We hold girls accountable for how boys react to their bodies instead of teaching boys to work around the distraction of the female form.  In the case of Hope Witsell and Amanda Todd, an ill-advised moment of revealing their bodies to the wrong people led to their social destruction and assured belief that there was no recovery.  These girls were both 13 when they took their own lives.  Rachel Ehmke, another 13 year old, was a victim of vicious rumors that permeated every aspect of her social life.

Just as in Jordan, where a lenient sentence is granted for those found guilty of honor killings, the people who led these girls to their deaths will most likely never be punished.  Audrie Pott’s tormenters may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, but that is hardly justice.  They may not have physically killed her, but they are directly responsible for the situation that led to her death.  We can say that these girls were ignorant, troubled, or mentally ill, but that merely excuses their tormentors.  In many of these cases, the girls were too frightened to tell their parents what was going on.  Partially this is because teens in general cringe at telling their parents anything, but also because they were afraid as being seen as “slutty.”  Damaged goods: another term used to relegate women to the status of objects.

Plenty of teens are bullied and do not end up committing suicide.  However, the reactions in both the West and the Middle East to women expressing agency through their own bodies are remarkably similar.  In this viewpoint, a woman’s body is never for her own self-motivated actions pleasure.  Instead, it is a vehicle for the pleasure of others and for the utility of society (generally, reproduction under the strict confines of marriage).   Noor-al-Maleki and Amanda Todd both made the mistake of assuming their bodies were their own.  Audrie Pott and Rehteah Parsons suffered physical violence merely for existing as young women.  We can put on xenophobic blinders and chalk honor killings up to Islamic extremism, or we can open our eyes and see what is happening in our own homes and classrooms, every day.

In memory of Rehteah, Amanda, Audrie, Hope, Rachel, Felicia, Noor, and countless others.

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6 thoughts on “Death by Slut Shaming: The American Honor Killing

  1. unrelated and related simultaneously- my tween, upon hearing about the boston bombings, said, and I quote, “Only two people died? Is it really that bad?”
    Clearly, I need to pay attention. But before you judge me OR my daughter, consider her perspective.

  2. scary. and now consider the perspective of females all around, formed by the obvious and the subtle surrounding them. Fathers, be good to your daughters! (Mothers too.)

  3. An interesting article, one full of problems. But just to be pedantic, Amanda Todd was 15. I have not looked into too much detail about the others, but I have concerned myself with the Amanda Todd story, as it is, perhaps, unique. The video she made was, unfortunately, a series of lies. This means that it is damaging to use it as an example slut-shaming. Once the public realised that such a high profile case was so flawed, people have a tendency not to trust any other stories. To mix the Todd story in with the stories of Parsons et al only makes things worse – the Parsons story and others are appalling examples of something gone horrendously wrong with the way that teens, male and female, are behaving, whereas the Todd story was, to be brutally frank, the tale of a kid who was way out of control. But one thing puzzles me. Increasingly in modern societies, the slut shaming isn’t coming from an older age group, it’s coming from the children. The cases you mention (Parsons, Todd etc) all involved attacks by young kids, and a tide of post-event hatred from their peers. The sympathy and understanding is coming from older people – rampant persecution of victims is coming from children. This is the opposite, to a certain extent, of the types of reaction we see from Indian and Pakistani cultures. I’m at a loss to explain this.

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