The overwhelming maleness of murder
Her killer was Matthew Williams, who is now being dubbed the ‘Welsh cannibal killer’ by many media outlets.
On 10 November, Williams’ family spoke out about the killing, stating that the attack could have prevented if Williams had been receiving adequate mental health medication and care.
However, what connects Williams with the majority of other murderers is not his apparent mental health problems, but the fact that he is a white male.
As soon as I started reading about the Yemm case, I started to draw up uneasy comparisons with the Isla Vista murders in the USA, committed by Elliot Rodger.
Rodger went on a killing spree in May of this year, leaving behind a vast array of videos and a manifesto describing his perceived constant rejection by women and how it was therefore his purpose to “punish them all”.
The responses to Rodger’s manifesto and subsequent spree killing, in which six people died, varied.
Many people focused on the mental health aspect of the case – Rodger’s was obviously mentally ill, they argued, and the blame should lay with the lack of adequate mental health care in the USA, especially in regards to men.
Society was also to blame, for causing Rodger’s to feel as though his life was worthless because he was sexually inexperienced and did not have a girlfriend.
Rodgers may well have been mentally ill. Society may also have been somewhat culpable, given the emphasis it places on masculinity.
However, another theory regarding the killings soon began to present itself in media outlets and on the internet.
Rodger’s spree was not a result of mental illness, or the pressure to be masculine placed on him by society – instead, it was the result of the culture of male privilege that exists in society, a culture that made Rodgers feel as though he was entitled to a woman’s attention and love. When he did not receive this attention, or felt as though others were undeservedly receiving it, he acted with violence and anger.
As a white-passing, middle-class male, he was used to getting what he wanted – and when he didn’t get something he believed he deserved, simply for being a man, the results were catastrophic.
Although Cerys Marie Yemm’s murder happened in another country and under different circumstances to Rodger’s spree, it is difficult to not connect the two, in the same way that it is difficult to not connect all murder cases that involve a white male killing a woman.
It has even been shown that the vast majority of homicides are committed by men – mainly white, middle-class men.
Some of these men have diagnosed mental illnesses, but many do not.
In fact, the major common thread between these murderers, aside from their gender, is the fact that all seem to have perceptions of being treated unfairly, of being rejected, of not getting what they deserve.
In comparison, female murderers and spree killers are extremely rare. Most homicides committed by women are reactions to violence from men, or ‘crimes of passion’.
When the vast difference between male and female killers is mentioned, it is highly likely that the names of notorious female killers will be reeled off, in an attempt to ‘prove’ that women kill.
However, there is one issue that is being ignored – the reason that these women’s names are so easy to recall is because the existence of a female who kills for pleasure or of her own free will is so rare that they can recalled and named, one by one.
Men, on the other hand, are so regularly the perpetrators of violence that we hardly ever remember each individual’s name.
And intead of discussing the obvious gender disparity that exists in regards to spree killings and murder, society would rather slap a label of ‘mentally ill’ on those who commit such acts.
In a way, it is easy to understand why this is so.
If society reduces all homicides committed by white men to being a result of mental illness, then it is simultaneously absolving itself of any responsibility.
To say that someone committed a crime because of a mental illness is to suggest that nothing could be done to stop it, that no outside factors could possibly have influenced the outcome.
When viewing the culture of male privilege as a potential explanation for the majority of murders committed by men, one can see why defaulting to mental illness would be easier, and less troubling.
There is an obvious cure to the solution, which lies in better access to mental health care and the reduction of the taboo around discussing mental health issues.
However, to reduce the crimes of individuals such as Rodger and Williams’ as simply being a result of mental illness is not only insulting to those who live with mental illnesses, but also to the victims of these men.
Mental illness very likely did play a part in Williams’ murder of Yemm. However, more so did the culture of male privilege that he was raised in.
Many people with mental illnesses are not violent and do not commit violent crimes such as murder.
It is hard to say whether or not Williams’ would have committed the crime if he was not mentally ill. To say whether or not he would have committed it if he was not male seems to be somewhat simpler.
From childhood, society teaches men that if you are are male, then you are automatically deserving of certain rights that others are not.
To be born into a culture of male privilege as a man is to be told that everything is yours for the taking – including and especially women.
To be born into a culture of male privilege as a woman is to be constantly and terrifyingly aware of the target that your gender has painted on your back.