Femicide as a fairy tale

Poor things. How feminicide is not talked about
Forfatter: Carlotta Vagnoli
Forlag: Giulio Einaudi editore, (Italia)
VIOLENCE / If 'feminicide' has not yet established itself as a term in Norway, it is on its way into our language. It simply means femicide, but is often linked to the spouse, partner or a family member. Last year, 90 women were victims of femminicide in Italy, which places the country in third place in Europe.


Carlotta Vagnoli writes novels and non-fiction about how women and men talk together. In TED Talks and on social media, she addresses gender stereotypes in language and culture, as well as questions about the body and sexuality. Born in the eighties as she is, she describes herself as an activist, and not as an influencer, and in the last few years she is one of many who tackles the phenomenon that is disappearing in Italy femicide (femicide).

A recent victim in Italy of femicide is Giulia Cecchettin (22), who was killed by her boyfriend. It has given the attention all around femicide another twist, with statements from celebrities and feminists in the Italian media – where her family has also spoken out. In La Repubblica 22.11, Vagnoli says that although Cecchettin growing up in a home where violence against women was discussed did not prevent her from becoming a victim of it. In the same week, her fellow students gathered in Padua – about a minute's commotion in memory of her.

Misogynistic culture

It has been two years since Vagnoli's book Poverine ('Poor women') came out, but the phenomenon must be said to have exploded in the media. This type of murder of one's wife, girlfriend or ex is so often on the front pages of the Italian media that Vagnoli therefore not only addresses the misogynistic culture that legitimizes violence against women – committed by men who are close to them – but also the way we talk about it. Or more precisely, the way the media angle the cases by mentioning the perpetrator.

When Vagnoli unleashes the misogyny embedded in the culture, we encounter a macho culture that we north of the Alps like to think is distant from our own, more egalitarian culture. I wonder if it is, with young people becoming increasingly blue politically and wanting role models who show boys how they must play out more aggressively masculine sides in order not to lose themselves in a society that is alleged to be increasingly feminized. In this picture, the murderer is therefore often included as someone who lost his mind and was seized by temporary madness or jealousy. Yes, not infrequently the murder appears as one passion of crime and then suggests a wild and romantic relationship that 'flipped', a passion the man could not control. But just as often he is portrayed as bestial, as a predator, a gorilla, a wolf or a monster, and then we are inside the fairy-tale structure the author wants to bring to life. A structure that also stands out on social media.


The media often portrays the violence as inverted fairy tale: One presents the characters, depicts the initial happiness and the subsequent complications, which tragically end in the murder of the party who is physically inferior to the man. First, social media (SoMe) is vacuumed for pictures showing the couple as happy on holiday with an Aperol spritz in hand, then they are supplied with captions to give the impression of the mystery: What happened? Vagnoli has informed her circle of friends: Should someone decide to kill her, then delete everything about her on SoMe!

The man is often portrayed as bestial, as a predator, a gorilla, a wolf or a monster.

Translated, the book is called 'The poor women. How not to tell about femicide. Vagnoli is therefore concerned with how these murders are reproduced. As in Norway, they are described in Italy as accidental murders, often committed by a responsible partner or husband who, as suddenly as inexplicably, becomes the murderer. He is described as a hard-working man who earns money for the family's nest, without mentioning that this nest with shared children is now destroyed forever. In short, the media portrays femicide as if it were a natural disaster, and not the result of a deadly culture. Neighbors and friends of the perpetrator are interviewed, all of whom are equally astonished, and often also his mother, who can tell about high morals and a sense of responsibility. In other words, there must be something underneath, something to do with the victim.

"Every time a woman is killed, the unison reaction is that the victim was reserved, low-key, shy, poor (poor).” When we read the news about a woman murder, we are actually reading an old story, Vagnoli writes: about who committed the act. We almost never read about her who fell victim to it. The victim is not at the center of the event, not even as dead does she attract attention. This social pornographic narrative model exonerates the executioner, it justifies the violence by choosing certain words and avoiding others.

The social pornographic narrative model exonerates the executioner, it justifies the violence by choosing certain words and avoiding others.

Vagnoli's thesis that there is a pattern behind it, which the media is not interested in finding out, means that the 'family tragedies' are allowed to continue, also if the woman has broken off the relationship and reports the man because she fears for her own life. But the newspaper sells so much better if everything comes as a shock and is not the result of a culture where men expect a certain behavior from women. One of the examples Vagnoli mentions is about the father in a family of four, who one day comes home and kills his wife because she was "on the phone so much". While he toiled all day. The macho culture portrays him as the agent and is almost a case of a man who goes from being innocent to becoming a killer overnight. The interviews with the neighbours, friends, parents, which confirm the impression, make him the protagonist in this drama there noe must have driven him to monstrosity.

The matrix of violence

In the fairy-tale model that Vagnoli elaborates in the first part of the book, she also mentions the performance Skjønnheten og udyret. Because one wonders: Why do women stay in a violent relationship? By the way, is your partner violent before the murder? The answer is that the woman often feels threatened. The day I started this review, I could read on the front page of La Repubblica: "Throw lighter fluid on wife and set fire to it, woman seriously injured." So why hasn't she left him long ago?

Vagnoli calls it the 'matrix of violence'. Because if murder is punished according to the country's laws, her thesis is that they will therefore happen again and again, and to an increasing degree, if we do not do something about the way we refer to them. It is also the message of the activists in the feminist group Non Una di Meno ('not one less'), who protest against society's refusal to recognize this ongoing violence and murder of women. The matter has become politically inflamed, as the far right denies that there is a culture behind it femicide – if it then recognizes it as a concept.

Vagnoli's book is instructive and committed and should have been part of the syllabus for journalism education.

Subscription NOK 195 quarter