'Deviant victims' and 'deficient men'

Azza Baydoun
25 November 2008

Dr Azza Baydoun has analysed every ‘honour killing' in Lebanon that has gone before the courts since 1999 and found that behind the plea of offended honour lies the crime of femicide. She describes the patriarchal concepts of ‘deviant women' and ‘deficient men' in her research. Here she outlines some of her findings.

This article is part of 50.50's coverage of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence from 25 November to 10 December 2008

An analysis of the sixty six "honour killings" tried before the Lebanese courts between 1999 and 2007 provides an exceptional lens for viewing the horror prevailing in the families, where one or more of the male members resorted to fatal violence against a female member. It is exceptional because the family in Lebanon is exempted from any kind of examination by the unwritten law of its strict inviolability.Dr Azza Baydoun's research is part of the movement behind the introduction of Lebanon's first ever law to protect women against violence. The draft Family Violence Bill is now being considered by the government and the campaign to have it passed into law is being run by KAFA.

Professor Azza Baydoun teaches at the Lebanese University in Beirut. She is the author of a number of books including ‘Manhood and the Change in women's State of Affairs'. Annahar Publishing House (2007) and ‘Women and Associations: The Lebanese women between doing justice to themselves and serving others'. Annahar Publishing House, Beirut. (2002).

A salient finding of my research is that the gender order within these families had been disrupted, rendering the power relation between the female victim and the defendant "abnormal" by patriarchal standards. 

A close look at the documents of the 66 court proceedings shows that the killer was as much responsible for the disruption as the victim: both failed to live up to the expectations of the roles prescribed for them within the patriarchal gender order; for as much as the female victim was "deviant" from the norm, the defendant was equally a "deficient" man".

The "Deviant" Victim

As portrayed by witnesses and other trial actors in excerpts from the trial proceedings, the victim was neither weak nor submissive to her "feminine" fate. She was in most cases confrontational, promiscuous and unwilling to abide by the rules and regulations dictated by her partner or male kin ‘authority' figures of her family.

The defendant says his life with his wife Claudette lacked harmony and their sexual life was unsatisfactory. She left the house without permission to unspecified destinations. She was a spendthrift and neglected her children. She did not cook his meals as she was busy visiting around. She cheated on him with other men so the "devil whispered maliciously in his ear" to set fire to their apartment. She was burnt to death together with their two children

Claudette was killed by her husband for "trivial" reasons, but Rola was killed for a more "serious" one:

Rola did not wait for the divorce court verdict, and was meeting with her lover in one of the mountain cottages. Her husband ambushed them and shot them both dead.

Blood relatives, immediate or further ones, were similarly provoked by the victim's behavior:

In spite of the frequent attempts her uncle made to persuade Ahlam not to divorce her husband, the victim did not give up the idea, but was bold enough to bring her lover to her parents' residence at which point her uncle shot both of them dead.

Most of these female victims did not stop confronting their killers until their last breath, which angered the defendants and rendered them- allegedly- in an uncontrollable emotional state:

The father of thirty years old Mona told the judge he did not mean to kill her. He only meant to threaten her with the knife. "I asked her are you pregnant? She shouted back: how long do you expect me to wait (for a man to propose to me) before I can have a child of my own?"

"Deficient" Men

These "deviant" victims are complemented by "deficient" men.  The manhood of the defendant is deficient because he fails to live up to the prescription of the masculine stereotype: to be the provider of his family and the controller of "his" woman's sexual behavior if he is a blood relative, or to satisfy her sexual needs if he is her partner.

Excerpts from the trial proceedings:

Ilyas rushed to kill his ex-wife and her lover in church because rumors circulated about his sexual impotence in spite of the fact that he was known to be a ferocious militia fighter (during the Lebanese civil wars.

Men are equally provoked by blood relative women's out of wedlock sexual activity:

Fadi knew that his aunt's husband divorced her because he caught her in a "state of fornication". When she returned to her natal village Fadi killed her because her behavior was an "offence to our family's honor".

The second pillar of men's patriarchal masculinity is their ability to provide for their families and to occupy a legitimate salient position in their immediate circle. Preponderant among the defendants are unemployed men or men socially marginalised by drug or alcohol addiction, or by being ex-militia fighters whose income was substantially diminished after the cessation of  military activities of the Lebanese civil wars.  

Ali tried incessantly to find a job in Germany but was deported to Lebanon with his family and was currently provided for by his brother. His wife was constantly belittling him on account of his condition and for his inability to control his daughter's unruly sexual behavior so he shot both of them.

These excerpts from the trial transcripts (the trial documents provide numerous similar ones) identify and define "deficient" men defendants and "deviant" victims. By being a subject who actively pursues her desires, the victim deviates acutely from the feminine stereotype. By challenging her male protégé (partner or kin), she furthermore undermines the privileges given to him by the unwritten patriarchal law:  to be the keeper of "his" women's sexuality. The "deficiency" of these men is thus exacerbated by "their" woman's behavior, revealing to the world at large their failure to fulfill the basics of their manhood and making them undeserving of the authority and privileges bestowed upon them by virtue of their biological sex.

The circumstances surrounding women killings in Lebanon reveal that they are the final and desperate acts that men resorted to, in an attempt to exercise their poorly founded authority and to maintain unwarranted privileges within the sanctuary of their inviolable household.  It is a tragic attempt at restoring - to a presumed "normal"- the power relations within the gender order by resorting to violence against "their deviant women" - a culturally condoned behavior - and to what the killer presumed to be legally sanctified means:  the physical "elimination" of the female disruptor of the gender order.


Dr Azza Sharara Baydoun's book ‘Crimes of Femicide before the Lebanese Judiciary' (2008)  جرائم قتل النساء أمام القضاء اللبناني  is published by KAFA (Enough Violence and Exploitation) Beirut.

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