Adam Jones, a well known Genocide scholar has a strong interest within his field in the subject of “gendercide”.  In 2000, Jones published the article “Gendercide and Genocide” within the Journal of Genocide Research.  Because I had previously read Jones, his article interested me, and it is what I will use as a stem for this posting, along with the informative website which is a project of the Gender Issues Education Foundation (GIEF).

The term “gendercide” was coined by Mary Anne Warren, author of the book Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection.  It has come to mean the killing of a large group of people in a way discriminately based on gender.  Though gendercide is a term that can be applied to both men and women, throughout this entry I would like to examine are how mass killings/terror have specifically affected the female gender through a couple different periods in history, the witch hunts in medieval Europe and modern day Chinese infantcide and the affects of the One-Child Policy.  These  can both be referred to as incidents of gynocide, a term mentioned by the GIEF. Topics and questions I will focus on relating to this subject include:

How are women targeted as victims and is this done arbitrarily or is there a systematic, methodological procedure in doing so?

How much does culture and society affect how women are treated compared to men during a genocidal event?

How do images and interpretations of these events relate to the above questions?

Witch Hunts

Witch hunts is one obvious example of targeting a group of people for mass execution based on or at least relating to their gender.  When people from the United States think about witch hunts, the Salem witch hunts, along with their portrayal in the play The Crucible and the whole analogy to McCarthyism is what first comes to their mind. However, the Salem witch hunts however were a very small example of this concept, with under 30 people being executed for being witches.  However in medieval Europe, the number of people killed was far greater, in the tens of thousands.

According to the section about the European Witch Hunts on,  that during the time periods of the witch hunts, 99% of women were not affected. This percentage should shows that women were not specifically targeted because they were in fact women, but delving deeper into the historical contexts of the time as well as the attitudes of the masses during that time can tell us about why women were in fact targeted.  The gendercide website points out a reference from The Holocaust in Historical Context, explaining that women during those times were seen in much the same way Jews were seen during that time and continued to be seen well into the 20th century:

The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. In both cases, a perennial attribution of secret, bountiful, malicious “power,” is made. Women areanathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society. Whatever the social and psychological determinants operative in this abiding obsession, there can be no denying the consequential reality of such anxiety in medieval Christendom. Linked to theological traditions of Eve and Lilith, women are perceived as embodiments of inexhaustible negativity. Though not quite quasi-literal incarnations of the Devil as were Jews, women are, rather, their ontological “first cousins” who, like the Jews, emerge from the “left” or sinister side of being. (Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. I, p. 435.)

Examining this passage, it is obvious to see that religion should be viewed as an impetus to the gynocide in medieval Europe.  Just as people use religion in desperate times to turn to for hope, people also used it toexplain wrongdoings as well as to exploit others. Because faith is faith, what to believe in is inherently personal and those who are completely socialized in this way can sometimes be credulous. Carlo Ginzburg explains this from a different angle in his book Ecstasies.  He says that like Jews and Lepers, those who were considered “witches” and presumed to be involved in actual witchcraft, were outliers in society.  Much of the major problems of the 14th century (the time when witches being stigmatized began) that people had to deal with, such as the plague and famines were associated with those who lived on the margins of society.  When popular opinion became that Jews, lepers, and other groups like this may not have caused the problems as it was affecting them as well, blame had to be thrust upon a more mystical outlier, one that could not be directly seen or attributed as a solid group.  Witches were that.  One could say that Christianity looks like it was the cause of the gynocide and killing of witches. This isnt entirely true. Beguines, religious communities of female christians at one point were the focus of blame, this therefore can refute christianity as the catalyst of the witch hunts. It wasn’t necessarily Christianity starting the scapegoatism for the problems of the time, but more of an avenue to base accusations on. The devil, the evil figure in Christianity became the enemy and those who seemed strange and malevolent were seen to act on his behalf. Women fit into this category more than the less marginalized male gender. People relied on religion in those times of panic more than empirical science.  Using religion to explain natural phenomenon leads to groupthink, allowing the idea of witches to become something conventional to society as a whole. That is why the idea and stigma attached to witches lasted for centuries as witches were killed long after the time of the plague.

One interesting aspect about the witch hunts was that many accusations of witchcraft stemmed from conflicts between women.  Only until later in the process were men brought in to explain the reasons why things happened.  This kind of paranoia could have influenced women to turn in their neighbor so they weren’t themselves accused as a witch. According to the website on gendercide, Alan Mcfarlane, a famous historian and anthropologist studied 291 witch cases in Essex, England and found that about 55 percent of people who thought they were bewitched were of the female gender. The website goes on to say “The number of witchcraft quarrels that began between women may actually have been higher; in some cases, it appears that the husband as ‘head of household’ came forward to make statements on behalf of his wife, although the central quarrel had taken place between her and another woman”. In the end, I believe the cause for women to be targeted was a result of the strong presence of Christianity at the time and the stigma associated with being a woman at that time.  The way I see it, when women had conflicts with each other, they knew they could justify certain actions as well as get their way by using cultural biases against their fellow woman. Exploiting others for personal benefit was an affective way to solve a dispute, even a large one such as war. One such example of this was that of Joan of Arc.  She was a highly remembered and important figure in the Hundred Years War and a French hero and now saint.  After being captured by England, France’s enemy, the way the English took her out of the picture was by declaring her a heretic and witch.  During her trial they went as far as to question her in regards to the language she thought angels and archangels spoke. She was seen as being a witch because in her testimony she felt that God and the Saints were on the side of the French and in the opinion of the English, she was prophesying in god’s name without his authority.  However it seemed they tried her, they knew sentencing her to death for heresy would be in the best interest of their side, thus naming her a witch would justify this to the public. Image The painting of Joan’s execution by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu that is now inside the Pantheon in Paris shows sympathy to Joan based on the imagery included.  Present in the painting is many symbols of Christianity including the long crucifix staff carried by a clergyman above her forehead.  The cross-bearing tunic of the solider stocking the execution site with wood for burning seems to exemplify the idea of using religion in justification of killing for one’s own gain.  Joan has symbols of innocence associated with her.  First she wears an all-white gown.  She displays a look of devoutness as she stares at the cross before her eminent death.  The very manner of her death is very similar to that of Jesus on the crucifix.  Because she is martyred the imagery is very idealistic and reminiscent of renaissance art dedicated to that of a saint, but the reality of her execution was probably much more imperfect as well as more horrific.  Also worth noticing is the most active onlookers are male as in most situations where male authority is used to carry out the demise of a witch.  Because Joan of Arc was such a powerful influence in such a male-dominated sector of society (that of war) she could havebeen seen as a threat more novel, as well as more dangerous, due to the stigma about women and their “sinister side of being”.  The question I would like to end this section on is: If Joan had been a male war leader, would the trial and execution be one of a witch?

Modern Chinese Infanticide

In the case of China nowadays, there is a strong clash between that of Modernity and long-standing traditional Chinese culture.  The One-Child Policy, instituted in 1980 stated that under most conditions, a couple are only allowed to bear one child. If you comply with the government as a Chinese family, you will receive healthcare and other benefits from the government. In traditional Chinese culture, a male child is seen as much more valuable than a female child, not only to carry on the family name, but as a person in general.  In many cases in Chinese tradition, a person of the female sex is only “temporary property” that of which will eventually be married off and become property of bride’s new family.  Because of this engrained mentality about a gender it becomes obvious what happens next when modernization and population control come into institution by an overbearing government that allows you to only have a girl or a boy, not both.  Not only do abortions take place, but girls go “missing”.  How do we know they are missing? Because there are millions more Chinese boys accounted for than girls.  It may seem like the policy causes these abortions, murders and disappearances indirectly, but there are accounts of the government being directly involved with population control, including forced abortions.

ImageThis image of a dead baby floating in water apparently had been circulating around on, a Chinese social networking website.  According to Epoch Times and The Christian Post, the outcome shown in this picture was a result of a forced abortion by the Birth Control Office staff which kidnapped her and aborted her baby when she was nine months pregnant because it was her second child.  Apparently the baby would have been healthy if it was allowed to be born naturally.  Because Chinese mothers can only have one child, it seems the government would view killing a second-born child in order to enforce their policy not unfavorably, not necessarily promoting, but accepting the “disappearance” of baby girls if that meant their population’s downward trend would stay downward. It is interesting to think that a old fashioned value of gender that has existed for ages is being shown to be just as present now, not needed to be described in actual accounts but convincingly shown by pure numbers: according to the Boston Globe, 30-40 Million more males in the age group affected by the year 2020.

Recently forced abortions and sterilization have stole the news spotlight in China.  This is because Chen Guancheng, an important activist against forced abortions has escaped from captivity.  CNN reports that since the 1990s he has advocated against forced abortion, something that China denies it does.  Other activists such as Hu Jia point out that it is not just the baby that subject to harm, the women who are forced to have these abortions must deal with the traumatizing event.  Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers calls it “official government rape”.  U.S. Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey was also quoted on this issue:

“Today in China, rather than being given maternal care, pregnant women without birth-allowed permits are hunted down and forcibly aborted. … For over three decades, brothers and sisters have been illegal; a mother has absolutely no right to protect her unborn baby from state-sponsored violence.”

It seems to be commonly known that this kind of thing goes on in China based on the numbers and the amount of people who seem to be against it. In 2007, NPR claimed they had proof of several forced abortions (some even into 9 months of pregnancy) happening by family planning officials in China.  They claim that these abortions are caused by forced injections into the abdomen of pregnant women, causing babies to be stillborn.

As I have explained, there are many people who advocate against what is happening in China. My question regarding this whole situation is how long is the international community going to ignore what is going on? It has been clearly documented in history the atrocities that the Chinese government committed against it’s people during the time of Mao and the Cultural Revolution as well as the Great Leap Forward.  Regardless of how modern and capitalistic China’s infrastructure and economy have become that doesn’t change the fact that China still has a tight grip on it’s citizens. This grip has allowed things like this to happen whether it is directly or indirectly caused by the actual Chinese government. The fact is, children in their population (mostly girls) are disappearing. Whether it is by the people themselves (who are killing because of gender) or the government agents who want to enforce the One Child Policy, it should be acknowledged by agencies and organizations that try to stop atrocities and genocides. I feel like because it is happening in a time of social stability and within the confines of a country that is a world power (unlike recognized modern genocides like that of Darfur) it is hard to present it as a genocide, but it is easy to see that things are happening in China, especially to those of the female gender that the international community shouldn’t be oblivious to.

Works Cited

Fei, Xue. “Forced Birth Control Kills Mother and Child.” The Epoch Times. Web. <>.

Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004. Print.

Hayes, Ashley. “Activists Allege Forced Abortions, Sterilizations in China.” CNN. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Internet History Sourcebooks.” FORDHAM.EDU. Fordham University. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <>.

Jacoby, Jeff. “100 Million ‘missing’ Girls.” Boston Globe. Web. <>.

Lim, Louisa. “Cases of Forced Abortions Surface in China.” NPR. NPR, 23 Apr. 2007. Web. 30 Apr. 2012. <>.

Maid of Heaven. RLK Press. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Photo of Aborted Full-Term Fetus Exposes ‘Infanticide’ in China, Critics Say.” CP Mobile Christian News, International Christian Post. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Versailles and More.” Joan of Arc at the Panthéon. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

Weibo. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <>.