The World History Of Honor Killings: Part VI

We’ve discussed that the very notion of violence for honor may have been passed down through mythological stories. We’ve discussed some of the seeds planted throughout history that may have helped provide the cultural relevance for these murders. Now we’ll consider another question: Does an honor killing help a family absolve itself of the “sin” of the person killed, or is it done for the community as a whole?

We ask this question for a simple reason: Self-preservation has always extended to the family. Parents would often die for their children. In evolutionary terms, that makes a lot of sense. The goal of life is to reproduce. The genetic code is passed down from one generation to the next. Parents protect their offspring in order to ensure this occurs — even when it means they lose their lives in the process.

But this isn’t what happens everywhere in the world.

An honor killing often represents the opposite. And to fully understand why such a murder might transpire, we have to ask ourselves who the murder is meant to “help.” One hypothesis by many scholars is that the act of killing allows the greater community to feel as if a stain has been lifted. 

After all, honor-based murder is based on the family’s dishonor — and family already represents a collective unit made up of more than one person. Why not take it one step further and assign the stolen honor to the entire community? The “injured” party might feel the need to restore honor through murder as some sort of a twisted debt settlement act.

One anonymous author writes: “Men are the only possible sources, or active generators…of honor. The only active effect that women can have on honor, in those cultures in which this is a central value, is to destroy it. But women do have that power: they can destroy the honor of the males in their household. The culturally defined symbol system through which women in patriarchies bring honor or dishonor to men is the world of sex — that is, female sexual behavior.”

It might come off as somewhat imaginative that the entire power hierarchy is so flipped on its head, but the logic is sound: Women are nearly always the victims of honor killings because the ability to give or take honor through sexuality is theirs and theirs alone.

The author continues: “In this value system, which is both absurd from any rational standpoint and highly dangerous to the continued survival of our species given its effect of stimulating male violence, men delegate to women the power to bring dishonor on men. That is, men put their honor in the hands of ‘their’ women.”

And it’s because of this transferral of power that men come to believe that women, who are supposed to be submissive and bend to the will of their male overlords, that men will sometimes commit murder to settle the debts when women fail to meet their unspoken part of the bargain.