Ok, so this is fairly long post inspired by a NSWATM post. It's about the question of whether someone who thinks him or herself a feminist could ever imagine there could ever be a circumstance where Becker's actions could be justified in contemporary, non-fringe feminist terms. The answer isn't just no in humanitarian terms, nor is it just no in never-blame-the-victim terms. It's no in terms of 40 years of feminist activism!
While pondering the problem of blaming the victim in response to limited but loud reactions to the Catherine Kieu Becker, DoctorMindBeam said
You might’ve heard about Catherine Kieu Becker, the woman who recently attacked and mutilated her husband, apparently without provocation. If you haven’t, here’s the short version of the story: They were estranged, and he had filed for divorce. She drugged him, tied him up, waited for him to wake up, cut off his penis, turned on the garbage disposal, and threw it in.
We talk a lot about not blaming the victims of rape, sexual harassment, assault, etc. So why is it suddenly acceptable to assume that this guy cheated on her or did something else to provoke it? Not even mentioning that even then, this action is heinous and indefensible. But why are people making that assumption?
It started for me on Facebook. I wrote about the story, briefly, and one of my friends said something to the effect of, “Why do I think that he did something to provoke this?” This morning, it spread over to The Pursuit of Harpyness. Now, I want to don kid gloves for this section. I discovered the blog because they recently gave [NSWATM] props, and so I don’t want to assume ill intent and slap them in the face. But ladies, seriously…
The victim reportedly told the police that her husband—who had initiated divorce proceedings—”deserved it.” Maybe. Maude knows, I’ve been keeping a list of men I think deserve it for some time now (yeah, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, you’re at the top).
No. Just, fucking, no. No one deserves to have their genitals brutally mutilated.
Source: No Seriously, What About Teh Menz?
First of all this is an obvious point: no blaming victims, m'kay? No speculating about why they should be blamed. No assuming the victim must have done something to deserve it.
Secondly, as DMB points out, in civil society no individual acting alone has the right to render another person unconscious and then mutilate them even if their victim really is a very bad person.
But third of all? Almost no matter how you look at it, even if you could construct a case where Becker's husband "deserved" it, in contemporary non-fringe feminist terms Becker's assault is no cause at all for feminist celebration. In fact quite the opposite!
A few years ago I took a continuing-ed course that included a feminism 101 section (the other two were sex education and communications. Best non-degree course I've ever taken!)
Anyway, at one point the women's studies professor brought up the Lorena Bobbett castration case and pointed out that contrary to popular imagination and conservative Senator's wive's bravado (“I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” Wendy Vitter told Newhouse News. “If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.”) most actual feminists were horrified by Bobbett's act. Here's why, here's why this is relevant to the Becker case, and here's why anyone who claims to be a feminist yet celebrates rather than abhors husband castration is a really bad feminist.
My professor pointed out, correctly, that instead of trying to escape an abusive relationship by cutting off her husband's dick she instead could have contacted a number of hotlines, agencies, support groups, and shelters, and relied on a huge array of policies, procedures, and laws that were available and well-publicized in her area.
Instead, in keeping with her deeply religiously-conservative upbringing she didn't initiate divorce proceedings against her husband the first time he came home after sleeping with prostitutes. Or the second. Or the Nth. Because of her upbringing she didn't dial 9-1-1 the first time he physically assaulted her. Or the second. Or the Nth.
In fact, when she'd gotten literally to the end of her rope and began contemplating, and then fantasizing, and then resolving to violently disable her husband in hopes of being able to get away she didn't instead contact one of the many public or private resources that could have helped her non-violently divorce her husband. She didn't try to locate of the shelters that would have helped her quietly establish a new life.
Instead she took it upon herself to wait till her husband had incapacitated himself with alcohol, cut off his dick with a kitchen knife, jumped in the car with some belongings, and drove... not really all that far because she didn't have a plan, didn't have resources, and just plain had no idea there was any real way out to begin with!
In other words, said my professor, there were multiple points where a feminist would have decided she wasn't going to put up with her husband's shit, there were multiple points where a feminist would have known she didn't have to put up with his shit, and there were multiple resources that a feminist would have known she could have taken advantage of rather than put up with his shit, and multiple resources that a feminist would have resorted to long, long, long before.
In other words, Lorena Bobbett did was a triumph of anti-feminism and not a feminist act at all.
Now this long digression is relevant to this post for two reasons:
First, it invalidates any hypothetical assumptions that Catherine Kieu Becker's actions could somehow be "justifiable." Thanks to the hard legal cases, legislative action, social activism, and educational outreach of mainstream feminists the answer is no. Even if there was any substance to speculations or assumptions about abuse (so far at least there isn't) then Becker could, and should, have made use of any of those legal, accepted, and entirely non-violent ways to exit her relationship and protect herself from her husband. Instead her decision not use any of those resources but instead to commit violence invalidates any possible justification within a feminist framework.
Second, any actual feminist who imagines Becker or Bobbett's in terms of "delightful as the thought is of some particularly loathsome men having their junk cut off…” is at best alienated from or ignorant of the achievements of contemporary feminism, or, at worst completely contemptuous of it.
Even if there was ever any justification for blaming the victim of a violent crime Bobbett or Becker's actions would still be a repudiation of feminism rather than a feminist act. Consequently anyone who entertains fantasies of justifiable castration rather than speculating instead about the long chain of missed opportunities to avail one's self of feminist resources is just looking at these cases from at least a pre-feminist and possibly an anti-feminist perspective.
I mean, let's go waaay back up to the top of this too-long comment to that quote I pulled from Sen. David Vitter's arch-conservative wife Wendy Vitter:
I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” Wendy Vitter told Newhouse News. “If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.
That's not feminism talking.
Bottom line: do not ever assume that someone who either commits castration (or other violent assaults) on her husband is a feminist. Don't ever assume that someone who approves of such an act is a critically-conscious feminist either. For the most part the clowns and asshats we see on The View and elsewhere around the cable networks are going to have a lot more in common with Wendy Vitter than Shulamith Firestone. And not to put too fine a point on it but the trolls and "harpies" around the blogosphere who've been nodding approvingly have far, far more in common with Spearhead-style MRAs than they ever have or ever will have with mainstream feminism.