16 Jan 2019

The word femicide does not dehumanize women. Killing them does.

Angelina Petrou and Eleni Topaloudi were both murdered for resisting the demands of men. Despite recognition of the phenomenon of femicide, news outlets in Greece continue to sensationalize this type of violence and obscure the facts.  

Dialekti Angeli
Dialekti Angeli NewsMavens, Greece
The word femicide does not dehumanize women. Killing them does. - NewsMavens
Woman, PixaBay

In Greece, 2018 ended with a murder -- on the island of Rhodes -- when two men brutally beat and murdered 21-year-old student Eleni Topaloudi. Then the new year brought another brutal killing -- 29-year-old Angelina Petrou was killed by her father on New Year’s Eve on the island of Corfu, because he did not approve of his daughter’s love affair with an Afghan refugee. 

For both these crimes, many used the word “femicide” -- a term that has ignited arguments that threaten to overshadow coverage of the murders themselves.  It also revealed a larger pattern of sexist reporting in these types of cases that favors sensationalism and stereotypes.


The horrible murders of Eleni and Angelina were the latest in a series of murders with female victims in Greece over recent years. Whenever such a tragic incident is prevalent in the news, the media reports include outdated sexist stereotypes, treating these crimes as another opportunity for titillating tabloid-style narratives, pointing out the good looks of the victim and accompanying the articles with personal photos:

The murder of the mother of three children in the town of Trikala, was described by online media, last May, as follows:

“The pathological jealousy of her 52-year-old husband allegedly armed his hand and led him to attack her with fury, mangling her with 60 stabbings”.

The media did not seem to be particularly concerned with the fact that her husband had repeatedly abused her and that the woman herself had taken out an injunction against him.

In another article we read that “Jealousy clouded the mind of the 45-year-old, who drowned his wife”. In the same article, there are many personal photos of the victim. Or in another case, where we read that a man attacked a woman because of his “unfulfilled love for the beautiful 20-year-old”. In this second case, the victim was the young woman’s grandmother who stood between the perpetrator and her grandchild.

In yet another case:

“The serpent of jealousy seems to have been deep into the heart of the former police officer who shot and killed his 55-year-old wife in Corfu with a shotgun”.

In this article, the writer pointed out the good looks of the victim and how the former police officer was jealous “every time she received a compliment”.

Maria Yannakaki, general secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, discussed the murder of Angelina Petrou as “A new femicide on the dawn of the new year. Once again, patriarchy kills."

Yet this designation aroused a lot of annoyed reactions that focused on the following argument: If you label a "homicide" as a "femicide", it means you do not consider women as people and therefore you are dehumanizing them.

Here is such an example used by a known journalist. All that is written in Twitter using the word “γυναικοκτονία” (femicide), can easily be a case study of the same attitudes. For example, we read:

“Does that mean that you separate women from the human species? If this is not sexism, then what is? What kind of bullshit is that? Who gave you the right to assassinate the Greek language and also insult women?”

“Besides the term femicide, that some stupid people use, are there any other terms that depend on the face, the weight, the height of the dead? Like let’s say fuglycide, fatcide, shortcide?”.


Violence against women is a phenomenon that has been known to social anthropologists and the special criminologists since the mid-1970s, thanks to the pioneering work of Carol Orlock and Marcela Lagarde. However, the term “femicide” became widely known and adopted by criminologists after 1992, thanks to the book “Femicide: the politics of woman killing”, a collection of essays edited jointly by the academician Jill Radford and the criminologist Diana E. H. Russell. So, the term is far from new.

Not all murders which have a woman as a victim are called femicides. If someone starts shooting in the crowd, and among others kills women, we will not talk about femicide. The term “femicide” denotes the killing of a woman because she is a woman. The recent murders in Corfu and Rhodes are two typical cases of femicide. In the first case, the father considered his daughter to be his property, giving him the right to control her relationships. In the other case, two men killed a woman because she refused to satisfy their sexual demands.

But the Greek media still doesn’t treat these murders as “femicides”. The fact that a woman has been murdered is always hidden under the alleged motives of the perpetrator which at the same time “acquits” and obscures their guilt -- presenting them as “crimes of passion”, “family tragedies”, and “bad moments” and even cases where “jealousy has armed the perpetrator’s hand” or “sexual chaos has blurred his mind”.

According to the recent Global Study on homicide by the United Nations, in 2012, 58% of women victims of homicide internationally were murdered by sex partners or members of their families. The corresponding percentage for male homicide victims is less than 6% for the same year. Also, according to official data from 23 Latin American countries and Caribbean countries, 2,795 women were murdered in 2017, triggering the “Ni Una Menos” movement as a collective cry against male violence.

In Greece, it is estimated that there are over 4,500 rapes, every year, but only a small percentage of the victims report their rape. According to Eurostat data, the reported incidents increased by 8% in 2016 compared to 2015. Moreover, according to a recent Amnesty International report, one in twenty women aged 15+ has been raped in the EU and one in ten has been subjected to some form of sexual violence.

“Femicide” is nothing more than the culmination of misogyny’s violent hidden side. It is a crime that simply condenses all the -- twisted -- logic of the patriarchy into lethal violence. Surely, not all men assimilate this patriarchal logic, but there are enough of them to make women afraid of walking alone in the dark, consider every date as a risk, and to feel uncomfortable when being approached by strangers. And even if those who commit such crimes seem few, those who support them by giving them excuses are too many. The problem is not that not all men are rapists and murderers -- but that all women live with the fear of being raped or murdered.


The term “femicide” refines the broader term homicide in order to highlight the problem of gender violence, not to dehumanize women by excluding them from the broader category of humanity. The fierce opposition to the use of the term is not a “defense of women’s humanity”. It’s a display of the same kind of problem which exists in reports which try to find specific “reasons” to justify murder, and deny that in these femicide cases women were murdered because of their sex.

We therefore rate these examples as the negation and trivializing of violence against women.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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