Sydney Stabbings: violence against women is too frequent to be considered a motive 

On April 13 2024, Joel Cauchi, a white, 40-year-old man, went into Westfield Bondi Junction and stabbed 6 people to death. With the exception of a male security guard who attempted to protect one of the female targets, all the victims were women. Where religious fundamentalism is considered a specific and driving force of mass violence, misogyny is not. Instead, misogyny-fuelled violence, both domestically and publicly, is a trend most often viewed apathetically. And yet, it is violence against women that appears to be a consistent motive we find in all corners of the world. When will we recognize the impact of patriarchal masculinity on male acts of violence, and treat it as the driving force that it is? As incel communities continue expanding online, we can only expect to see public acts of violence against women – and violence committed by men, generally – increase. Why are we surprised that violence so prevalent within the domestic sphere is becoming public? 

Western racial assumptions about violence 

When violence occurs, conclusions as to the motive are drawn from the perpetrator’s appearance. Acts of violence committed by people of colour, most notably brown people, will almost instantly be equated to terrorism. Crimes committed by a person of colour will be neatly reduced to their presumed religious beliefs (most preferably for the Western world, Islamic). There is a presumption amongst white spectators that brown perpetrators are motivated by religious fundamentalism. This has allowed many benefits for violent white men. If men of colour all commit violence for the same reason, white men exist as the more complex and virtuous other. Racist assumptions fuelled Cauchi’s characterisation before his identity was even confirmed. Online commentary under various social media posts suggested most commonly that Cauchi was an Arab, and thus automatically motivated by fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. Second to this assumption was that he was a Jewish Zionist. Channel 7 actually named Benjamin Cohen, an innocent Jewish student from the Bondi area, as the perpetrator before police confirmation. This rumour was sourced back to a known antisemitic social media account. 

The same reductionist takes, and quest to find the roots of the perpetrator’s violence are not applied to white men. Instead, they are treated as a complex and multifactorial case, with motives that couldn’t possibly stem from their whiteness and maleness. Colour is a motive where whiteness is not. Where a person of colour is exactly that, of colour, white maleness assumes a sort of neutrality. It couldn’t possibly be the fact that he is white and male, and thus more prone to the chauvinistic and misogynistic beliefs rising in this demographic, that motivated his violence. Where this racial divide abandons nuance for the man of colour, it affords complexity and compassion to the white man.

Cauchi was in fact a white, mentally ill Australian man with documented incel tendencies. As if in a unanimous sigh of relief, the media named him the mentally ill exception to a mentally well rule, wiping their hands of further analysis. The ABC reported on Cauchi’s schizophrenia and discussed all the ways in which he wasn’t a murderous killer (despite him murdering and killing), the fact that he was “sleeping rough’ and had simply lost touch with reality. What wasn’t discussed was why Cauchi decided to target only women in his massacre. Or how over 50% of Australians suffer from mental health issues and aren’t all inclined to kill multiple women. If Cauchi was truly on a senseless and indiscriminate, murderous rampage, wouldn’t he have been a little less selective with his victims? Only when the New South Wales police commissioner told ABC News that it was “obvious”  Cauchi focused on women, did the media begin to investigate this further as a motive. While social media commentary now predominantly acknowledges the attack as misogyny-driven, women online who had highlighted this fact prior to the police acknowledging it, frequently received pushback in the comments, dismissing the claims. ‘Cal 2.0’, a Tiktok social commentator with 156,000 followers, had to defend her claims to a commenter under her video in which she blamed misogyny for the attacks. The commenter claimed Cauchi was off his medication and felt there was more to the story. Why must there be more to the story? What is unbelievable about misogyny-fuelled violence? 

@cal_cifer_2.0 Replying to @Frog7617 This man clearly had problems with women before anything else. There is no mental illness that list the side effect of hating women. #australia #breakingnews #womenssafety #waronwomen #mentalhealth ♬ original sound - Cal 2.0

Maleness is the only common thread

Maleness in and of itself is the most common thread between almost all violent acts. Stephen Paddock, Seung-Hui Cho, Omar Mateen, Adam Lanza and Devin Kelley are responsible for the five deadliest and most recent shootings in the USA. Today, women are three times as likely to experience mental health issues, and yet, since 1982, 143 mass shootings have been committed by men in the US. 4 have been committed by women. On average in the UK, a woman is killed every 3 days at the hands of her male partner.  So, why aren’t patriarchally masculine men generally reduced to their maniacal views and violent tendencies similarly to their non-white counterparts? 

The alt-right, most populated by white men, expresses hostile and benevolent sexism and blatant dehumanisation of derogated or opposition groups (Forscher & Kteily, 2020). Misogyny and violence against women are far more frequent than religious terrorism. In fact, the one thing that terrorists seemingly have in common is that they all abuse women. Cauchi’s father declared his son felt rejected by women and was frustrated he was unable to get a girlfriend. There presents a clear motive, and yet the most dominant narrative remains that his mental illness motivated the killings. Only when Cauchi was blatantly declared by the police commissioner as targeting women was the elephant in the room – resentfully and begrudgingly – acknowledged.

Those who blame Cauchi’s mental health fail to see that schizophrenia was not the reason he intentionally avoided men and targeted women on April 13. This is not an issue of mental health; this is yet another instance of male rage. Who Cauchi chose to target does indicate an underlying motive behind his seemingly senseless, psychosis-driven attack. It is the far more insidious (and yet, hiding in plain sight) trend of female hatred and male entitlement growing amongst men. Perhaps it is exactly because women are the most frequent victims, that our leaders are apathetic in targeting it directly. Experts are beginning to fear that the rising of ‘incel’ culture worldwide will lead to terrorism. We are already there.

Article by Mia Separovic


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