Kirjat &






Yläkuva:  Kaarina Kailo Kaarina Kailo - kuvassa

UNESCO Conference on International Education held in Jyväskylä, Finland on 15-18 June 2003.

Honour, Shame, Culture and Violence


Kailo, Kaarina, Oulu University, Finland,

kuva Unescon konferenssikirjan kannestaAbstract: The paper discusses the relationship between dysfunctional concepts of male "honour", the social regulation of women (shameful femicides) and their implications for an eco-social sustainable future. I challenge dualistic views contrasting the world's "civilized" and "barbaric" sex/gender systems and expose the affinities between gendered cross-cultural fundamentalisms (religious and economic). The way boys are brought up to denigrate as "feminine" the ethics and rationality of care, the "gift economy of abundance" and interdependency, and to measure their manhood in relation to the "other" as property are key elements in the persistence of multilevel violence.
Keywords: shameful femicides, honour, violence, gender, socialization

"[War] is, for men, at some terrible level the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: the initiation into the power of life and death."
Vietnam War veteran, William Broyles, Jr. (Miedzian 1991, 95.)

In addressing the threats to peace and an eco-social sustainable future, one has to take issue with the gendered processes that have led to cut-throat globalisation and the dominant neo-liberal ideology: they are intimately connected with current trade and technology wars, and on another level, with violence in all its other forms--not least violence vs. women. The different manifestations of structural violence are best analysed in light of their interconnections. Today's global economic agenda is neither value-free nor gender-neutral. It is the epitomy of timeworn colonial and masculinist paradigms from religious patriarchies to exchange economies and hegemonic masculinity. The "original" contract said to initiate civil society in fact established orderly access by men to women's bodies. What I add to the dominant feminist analyses of sex/gender systems is the central importance of "male honour" and "female shame" which I see as epitomizing the asymmetrical gendered power relations. The former aspect of the sex/gender "contract" legitimates male control of women as currency of exchange while adding insult to injury: placing undeserved cultural shame on the very victims of this abuse of power. The same master technique operates within the World Wide Wedge which has resulted from "free trade" globalisation: the people(s) marginalized economically and politically by multinational corporate take-overs of resources are shamed and blamed as if individuals and entities without access to resources had control over structural policies and violence within high-level politics (e.g., Korten 1996). Male cultures based on the exchange economy and notions of male honour, pride and heroism have existed for centuries; however, it is in the context of today's economic and religious fundamentalisms, exemplified by the Bush administration and certain Muslim extremist regimes among others that peace, and particularly women's rights are under an unprecedented global threat. Visions, policies and debates about eco-social sustainable development are mere rhetoric unless they take into account the deep psychosocial and cultural roots of the global dysfunctions, the growing wedge regarding well being between men and women, the rich and the poor. We cannot transform the misogynistic and eco-phobic global culture--terminator patriarchy, macho-technology, in which men, too, are victims--unless we make visible and tackle the deep roots of "male" or nationalistic pride and honour in all of their ethical contradictions.

Genevieve Vaughan (1997) suggests that despite cultural variations, the patriarchal exchange economy and aggression-oriented male conditioning are the source of violence against the earth, democracy and women, preventing intercultural peace through a philosophy based on artificially created demand and scarcity to boost economic growth and profits. Vaughan argues that there are two dominant gendered paradigms coexisting in the world today. The exchange paradigm is based on shortsighted and divisive self-interest, giving in order to receive an equivalent of what has been given. In contrast, the more unconditional gift-giving paradigm (Gift Economy) seeks to satisfy needs, to create positive relations, communication and to consolidate communal life for everyone's benefit. These paradigms are logically contradictory, but also complementary. The masculinist one is visible and highly valued while the woman-specific one is undervalued, taken for granted, naturalized and rendered invisible (Vaughan 1991, 84). The economic invisibility and the subtle, manipulative appropriation of the Gift or sustenance economy provide the context for the parasitical gender relations that allow men to dominate women. The exchange economy is essentially connected with elite men; the latter with women and Indigenous cultures based on traditional gift economies and values more respectful of peace, balance and sharing (Kailo 2002).

"Honour" has radically different implications and meanings within the two world-views. Exchange economy conceals its dependency on women's and nature's free gifts and represents a forced appropriation of women's emotional, nurturing and domestic labour, comparable to the Marxist notion of workers' surplus value to the capitalist. Boys raised to be soldiers play with war toys and video games as fun, without pain. At school, they learn that their country is the greatest and that the highest honour befalling them would be to defend it heroically-as casualties of war or as suicide heroes (eg. Miedzian 1991, 56). In contrast, women have been assigned the role of caring unilaterally for children which is why they are more likely to develop the logic of the gift (Vaughan 2002, 3, 7) as well as the attitudes that best promote a collective sense of responsibility rather than individual entitlements and rights. Indeed, many studies show that girls are less racist, hierarchical, violent and ego-oriented (eg. Miedzian l991, 59). Vaughan sees male socialization away from gift relations as the root cause of male competitiveness and the aggressive object relation, which then gets extended to all fields of life. Boys are conditioned through various channels of socialization to incorporate the manhood agenda, which consists of the myth of independence (as opposed to the interdependence of giving and receiving), competition (as opposed to cooperation), domination (as opposed to communication at the same level), stoicism (as opposed to emotion). This male-specific rather than universal masculated agenda affects all areas of life and deeply influences the way both men and women end up constructing reality (Vaughan 2002, 3). My addition to Vaughan's analysis is to stress that the encouragement boys receive to occupy the prototype position of the "human" also legitimates the culture of "honour" and "shame", i.e, the male "contract" where women and goods are circulated and horded, instead of all material and immaterial gifts of nature and society being passed on to third parties and future generations. "Honour" and "shame" have different contextual meanings in different cultures, but are not limited to the Islamic cultures where "honour murders" earn them the most criticism from the so-called more "civilized" nations.

To ensure lasting peace and prosperity, even the future of the planet, we have no choice but to transform the way boys in particular are socialized away from needs satisfaction and "true honour" based on equality, ethics of care, ecological responsibility. This is a taboo that male peace activists would also do well to face, for it is undeniably men as a group if not as individuals that are the world's war enthusiasts even if many men have escaped the most extreme forms of male conditioning and values. Honour and shame are not only psycho-social dimensions of the class and gender "contracts" that need to be rethought; "honour"-based killings and wars are as much economic as they are "(im)moral" and geared to the maintenance of the status quo of dominant groups. They have nothing honourable in and of themselves but conceal mere power relations under the mask of "family (male) honour."

Not until recently have honour and shame been acknowledged as important explanatory concepts in human behaviour. As for research on gendered violence, the recognition of the relationship of shame to domestic violence has occurred only in the last few years. The United Nations estimates that as many as 5000 women and girls worldwide were killed in 1999 by family members. Echoing my own findings and theories, Baker (1999) suggests that the killing of women by close family members throughout the world can partly be explained with reference to underlying honour/shame systems as a subcategory of patriarchal ideology. She shows that a similar perspective can be applied to many such killings in English-speaking countries such as the United States. Baker (1999) uses this traditional theoretical concept of male behavioural control as the first of three comparative areas that help demonstrate why honour should be part of any conceptualisation of patriarchy. After focusing on the control of female behaviour, she extends the conceptualisation to include an understanding of male feelings of shame when that control is lost. She concludes her comparison with a focus on the level of participation by the larger community in enhancing and controlling this shame (Baker l999, 2). Baker further argues that in the English-speaking West, including the United States, the locus of honour has shifted from the traditional extended family (the case in the Middle East) to the individual man. The first two dimensions of traditional family honour/control of female behaviour and attendant shame when that control is lost--operate with many men relative to their female intimates in Western nations. However, in the transition, the third dimension of community involvement has been substantially decreased if not lost, which in the context of new individual honour systems paradoxically may make the home an even more dangerous setting for women (Baker l999, 2). Baker makes a significant point for it is widely recognized in studies on gendered violence that the home is the most dangerous place for women around the world. However, I would challenge her as to the lost role of the surrounding community. It is well recognised, after all, that even societies ranked as highly progressive and equal, eg. the Nordic countries have high tolerance for violence against women both on the institutional level and in terms of the attitudes of neighbours, relatives, even friends. The criminalization of rape inside marriage is fairly recent, and it is only today that the Finnish government has begun to punish violence against women when the woman has not herself filed a complaint. What does distinguish the "traditional" honour killings and Nordic sexual violence, however, is the role of the family as primary executioner. Instead of the fathers, brothers or uncles murdering the family's disobedient women, their partners, husbands and boyfriends kill the majority of them. Shame for men is defined either as a signal of danger to one's sense of self or as emotional anguish from the exposure of one's failings. For Baker, it is an integral part of Western society but it is less familiar because it has become hidden in the smaller family or individual units of society (l999, 8). The operationalization of traditional honour and shame has thus been changed in many ways in Western societies. I have also found in my research into honour notions in the Nordic countries that the patriarchal cultures of both mainstream and immigrant men form a continuum with more affinities than we tend to recognize (although differences do exist). The murder of Fatima Sahindal, a young Kurdish woman trying to liberate herself from her culture's patriarchal mores is a case in point. This "shameful femicide" led to a public outrage. It provoked debates across Nordic countries as to the acceptability of gendered violence under the pretext of "cultural tradition" and timeworn customs. As the attention was focussed on gendered violence within immigrant communities, the honour-related male violence of Nordic men received little press. Yet, according to a Harvard study (2000), Finland for example ranks second after the US in terms of violence vs. women and is the most violent country in the European Union. It is worth considering the statistics about the number of femicides in Jordan, one of the alleged hotbeds of "honour murders" and Finland, where the male-specific dimension of "family violence" is covered over with gender-neutral language, as if gender did not matter. Many violent men, also in Finland, prefer to murder their entire families and to destroy their properties such as land areas claimed for collective purposes. The common element is a kind of "burnt land strategy": the man would rather kill and destroy than leave his "property" for others to enjoy. In many cultures, male heroism and pride consists precisely in avenging anything and anyone threatening the male monopolies. "Honour" is a poor term to describe the self-interest that masks under such cultural models of "heroism".

Intercultural peace education cannot close its eyes from the radical asymmetries based on gender segregation and the abuse of women's human rights. Male honour, ego, a sense of entitlement to one's "belongings" and economic motives are more important than has been recognized in the research on violence against women, nature and nations targeted for aggression. It is urgent for peace activists to take a stand regarding boys' education, for dysfunctional, harmful and self-interested notions of manhood are the deep bedrock of wars and violence. As I have sought to demonstrate, the distinctions within the worldwide wedge are not reducible to simplistic dualisms of the civilized, progressive West, and the barbaric, "traditionalist" others. We must also not fall for the fallacy of contrasting cultures as genderless entities, as if gender did not matter. Kauhanen (2002) explains the tragedy of Fatima Sahindal's femicide as the clash of two cultures-the individual rights-based Western and the more collective Eastern cultures. Such a view is reductive and misleading, for in both East and West, men have more individual and collective rights than women whatever the overall social contract. There will be no eco-social sustainable future and integrity until we deal with the shame brought on humankind by men whose self-interest, sexual and economic rights take precedence over the global ethics and human rights. There cannot even be "economic growth" or shareholder bliss where the women of a community are abused and ill, unable to look after their families. Economic disparities create the conditions for violence and social unrest, but women and children are their primary victims. There will be no peace and sustainable ways of living until boys too are taught to adopt the "softer" feminine values of recognizing their interdependency, human vulnerability and responsibility towards all forms of life. The male creators of the Hiroshima bomb also called it their "baby." As Miedzian writes:

Men who are guided by the values of the masculine mystique find it difficult to develop deep emotional bonds not only with their wives and children, but also with other men. The hollow quality of their lives is then alleviated by the excitement and camaraderie of war. Men who are deeply emotionally connected to their children-as well as their wives and friends-will be more reluctant to send their sons and their friends' sons off to war, or to go to war themselves. Experiencing the power to give life may well come to replace the need to experience the power of taking life…. (Miedzian l991, 97.)


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