Beyond Tragedy.

  • 12.06.2024, 14:40
Unraveling Femicide, Immigrant Marginalization by Far-Right Blame, and Art's Redemption Quest.

On February 24th, a troubling wave of far-right propaganda reshaped the tragic events of the previous night. Five women were murdered in crimes deeply rooted in gender bias, yet the narrative quickly shifted—immigrants were blamed, and the term 'femicide' was called into question, implying that the victims somehow brought this upon themselves. Among the chaos, three women were savagely killed in a brothel, and in a separate, equally tragic event, a mother and daughter were victims of domestic violence. This misdirection, which scapegoats immigrants for deeper societal issues, distorts public perception and adds to the struggles of those who are already marginalized—particularly immigrants, women, and sex workers. This article dives into the effects of such far-right narratives on public discussions. We'll also look at how art, especially cinema, challenges these distortions and offers a way to see, understand, and maybe even correct these harmful views.

 

A Bloody Friday. February 23rd witnessed a horrific tragedy when a 51-year-old woman and her daughter were brutally murdered by the husband and father in their family home. This grievous event alone marked the day with profound sorrow, yet the violence did not cease there. Just a few hours later, three women working in a brothel were also killed under brutal circumstances.

All five deaths share a common, unsettling theme: they were victims of what is increasingly recognized as femicide, targeted for their gender in acts driven by entrenched societal roles. These crimes underscore a grim pattern of gender-based violence, highlighting urgent issues of safety and equality that demand attention. This is indicative of the broader issue of marginalization, a process where certain groups, in this case, women, are pushed to the edge of society, given lesser importance, and systematically deprived of resources and rights. Such marginalization not only limits their opportunities but also exposes them to greater risks, including violence. The tragic events of February 23rd are a stark reminder of the deadly consequences of such societal neglect.

Surprisingly, a review of the coverage in various news outlets, including diverse magazines like 'Der Standard', 'Heute', and 'Krone', reveals a troubling perspective in the comments section. A significant proportion of these comments, more than 60 percent—with over 75 percent in 'Heute' and 'Krone'—either question the very existence of the term 'femicide' or wrongfully shift the blame onto immigrants. These responses are not only misinformed but also alarmingly xenophobic, with some even suggesting that immigrants should be barred from entering the country. This kind of rhetoric serves to further marginalize already vulnerable groups, intensifying divisions and perpetuating a cycle of misunderstanding and prejudice. This is an example of how far-right rhetoric can manipulate blame, shifting it from one marginalized group to another, or even blaming the victims themselves for their predicament.

To those who argue that barring immigrants from entering Austria could halve the number of femicides, since allegedly half of the perpetrators are immigrants, I present a crucial counterpoint. It is vital to recognize that a significant number of the victims are also immigrants. Applying the same logic, one could absurdly suggest that banning all men from Austria might eliminate nearly 100% of femicides. Clearly, this points to the flaw in scapegoating specific groups rather than addressing the root causes of violence.

Addressing domestic violence is crucial, as many femicides begin with less severe forms of violence that escalate over time. Notably, in 2022, women in Austria earned 18.4% less than men. Such wage disparities undermine women’s independence and can trap them in violent domestic situations. Moreover, the social stigma fueled by far-right narratives against sex workers—a profession predominantly chosen done by women—deprives these workers of the respect typically afforded to male-dominated professions and can put them in additional danger.

Simone de Beauvoir poignantly noted in 'The Second Sex,' 'One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.' This transformation is heavily influenced by societal norms and cultural narratives. In this vein, Joseph Beuys’s assertion that art can instigate societal change becomes particularly poignant. Cinema, as a powerful form of art, holds the potential to reshape society’s views on women and impact the perception and treatment of further marginalized groups such as sex workers.

 

As Nozhat Bady elaborates in her article "Kill, My Love" on 1940s noir films, works like "Gaslight" and Fritz Lang's "Secret Beyond the Door" vividly depict how victims of domestic violence can become trapped, unable to perceive the truth or acknowledge the violence committed by a loved one. These films expose viewers to the grim realities of such situations, emphasizing the psychological manipulation and harm involved. In more recent years, feminist cinema has taken proactive steps beyond merely raising awareness. It has begun to advocate for liberating actions, featuring films that not only highlight issues but also inspire women to take transformative steps. For example, 'A Single Woman' by Paul Mazursky portrays how a woman alone can achieve her dreams and be self-sufficient, by showing her transformation following a forced divorce.

However, it is crucial to distinguish between films that call for change and those that cater to neoliberal sentiments. Mark Fisher, in his book "Capitalist Realism”, critiques how certain films, like "Wall-E”, perform our anti-capitalism for us—what Robert Pfaller has termed 'interpassivity.' These films allow us to feel enlightened about our awareness while enabling us to continue consuming without prompting real change. This critique is now applicable to the movie "Barbie”, which, despite displaying feminist values, leads to no substantive action or systematic change. Moreover, it generated significant profits for a company long criticized for perpetuating unrealistic body standards among women.

Lastly, let's examine how cinema can reshape perceptions about sex workers and help break the social stigma surrounding them.  A notable film is Yorgos Lanthimos’s recent work 'Poor Things' which illustrates how working as a prostitute becomes liberating for the protagonist, Bella, enabling her to gain independence and forge human connection. Another example is 'Belle de Jour' by Luis Buñuel, which explores the mystery and allure of prostitution through the eyes of a wealthy woman who becomes a sex worker, revealing the complex motivations and experiences behind such choices.  More films like these in coming years could significantly alter public perceptions.

I hope this serves as a compelling example of how art can function as a powerful tool to instigate change and provide cultural policy solutions to de-marginalize diverse groups. This stands in stark contrast to far-right distortions of narratives, which further marginalize these communities.

 

Mehrta Shirzadian
 PhD Candidate, Molecular Biology, Vienna Biocenter (VBC) PhD Program, University of Vienna Master's Student, Art and Science, University of Applied Arts Vienna

 

References

Beauvoir, S. (1952). The Second Sex (H. M. Parshley, Trans.). Knopf.

Harlan, V. (2004). What is Art?: Conversations with Joseph Beuys. Clairview Books.

Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books.

 

Online Sources:

Cahiers du Féminisme - Article: https://cahiersdufeminisme.com/?p=2702 (Accessed April 14, 2024)

Der Standard - "Fünf sind fünf zu viel": https://www.derstandard.at/story/3000000208962/fuenf-sind-fuenf-zu-viel (Accessed April 14, 2024)

Kronen Zeitung - Article: https://www.krone.at/3266308 (Accessed April 14, 2024)

Heute - "5 Femizide an einem Tag: Frauen fordern jetzt Taten": https://www.heute.at/s/5-femizide-an-einem-tag-frauen-fordern-jetzt-taten-120021912 (Accessed April 14, 2024)

European Institute for Gender Equality - "Gender-based violence": https://eige.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/20211560_mh0121100enn_pdf.pdf (Accessed April 14, 2024)

Eurostat - "Gender pay gap statistics": https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Gender_pay_gap_statistics (Accessed April 14, 2024)

 

AutorInnen: Mehrta Shirzadian