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Woman in life and death:
From Frederick West to Anthony Kennedy

A horrific incident stunned Britain in early March [1994]. In the humble, historic city of Gloucester, famed for its cosy cafes and 11th century cathedral, a house was discovered that had been a tomb for the bodies of the victims of mysterious murders that took place in the past 25 years. By mid March, nine bodies had been recovered from beneath the floor of the cellar, in the back garden and underneath the bathroom floor of the house at 25 Cromwell Street, which has now been dubbed the 'House of Horrors'. The police estimates that, based on such indices as the numbers of those missing in the region in recent years, this figure could go up to 30.

With each body that is dug up, whoever has had someone missing over these years holds their breath. With each grisly discovery, the throng of reporters, tourists and the curious people camped outside, with their cameras and picnic gear, grows thicker. The neighbours rent out 'views' from their windows. Everybody - according to their profession and specialism - says something: the Mayor of Gloucester grieves the 'death of a city'. A 'science' reporter is fascinated by the radar technology in the army's mine-detectors from the Falklands War, now being used by the police as their main tool in their excavations. While police forensic experts try to identify the victims from DNA tests and facial reconstructions, psychologists struggle to comprehend the mind and imagination of the murderer. What creature, what sick and twisted individual could commit such crimes? That the perpetrator must have been "sick", is almost a common assumption. Since, as the forensic pathologist in the trial of a similar case in the USA puts it, how can the perpetrator of such "abnormal murders" be a normal person?

Frederick West, the 52-year-old owner and resident of the house, has been arrested and charged with these murders. Many psychoanalysts will no doubt delve into the recesses of his mind and draft books based on their assumptions. But a point, which comes and goes as a simple sentence in the police and journalists' reports, points to truths beyond the murderer and his private world: all the victims of this crime were women.

Which brings us to Anthony Kennedy…

On page 4 of the Times of 9th March, and, incidentally, right at the back of the report on the scars left on the lovable face of Gloucester by the Cromwell Street affair, there is a report on the recent major developments in the Church of England and an example of its inner conflicts. The hero of the story is Rev Anthony Kennedy, the vicar of Lutton and Gedney. The Church of England (which split from Rome some 500 years ago) finally on 12 March, two decades after the decision of its General Synod to admit women priests, duly ordained 32 women to priesthood at Bristol Cathedral. In the public opinion, and above all for the ordained women themselves, this represents a huge step forward for women's equality. One of them says, enthusiastically, "Only when we are equal before the Church can we claim to be equal before God".

What we know for sure, however, is that within the next few months we will also have around 1200 women priests in Britain to peddle from the pulpits, alongside their male peers, the church's age-old, male-chauvinist teachings about woman and her special place before the Almighty - i.e. the divine translation of her special place under the boots of the male-chauvinist society.

For all its relevance to our discussion here, we have to put this subject aside, as the aim is to introduce Mr Kennedy.

Like many other male priests in the Church of England, some of whom in disgust returned to the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, Kennedy is outraged by this development:

"Priestesses should be burnt at the stake because they are assuming powers they have no right to. In the medieval world, that was called sorcery. The way of dealing with sorcerers was to burn them at the stake…

The Bible is quite clear about this. Men and women are biologically different. We can never be the same. I cannot imagine how a woman can be the image of Christ. Surgery won't do".

Frederick West, the murderer, is hellish. He will be put away by the police. For years, his name and deeds will send shivers down the spines. Anthony Kennedy, however, is heavenly. He can represent Christ without any modifications. Our children at the nursery will smile at him and greet him on the street. Nobody will be looking for a corpse in his house or a frightful secret in his mind. But he is the same person. And this is the same incident.

Kennedy's rage and curse is the key to solving the riddle of the Gloucester murders. Both cases should be understood as crimes of violence against women; as advocating and condoning violence against women. This violence is not rooted in West's deranged mind and Kennedy's flawed religion. They both had enough brains to pick their victims from among the most rightless sections of society. The source of this violence is a world which, through a myriad of gross and subtle laws, traditions and customs, has defined woman as oppressable and of having less worth. A world which deliberately and consciously, and often by the most violent means, blocks the way to woman's freedom and to putting an end to her oppressed status.

This is not the Middle Ages. This is the age of capitalism. Whatever is at odds with market and profitability is sooner or later swept aside. Many of the most die-hard ancient ideas, prejudices and customs have vanished in the face of the trivial day to day needs of trade and production. So if violence, misogyny and discrimination against women are still a fact of life for the people of this day and age; if despite powerful social movements for women's liberation, sexual oppression prevails around the world, the rationale for this is to be found right here, in this day and age, in the interests of this system.

There may always be crimes out of "insanity". But the kind of insanity whose victims, on the streets, at home and at the workplaces, are mostly women, is no longer insanity, but the insane reflection of the ruling wisdom in society.

Mansoor Hekmat

First published (in Farsi) in April 1994, in issue 13 of International, paper of the Worker-communist Party of Iran.

Translator: Bahram Soroush #0710en