Instances of violence against women continue to gain the public eye. In the U.S. in 2018 alone, 1,946 females were “murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents” reported to the FBI.
On January 4, 2023, three instances of femicide were reported nationally. Between 2014 and 2020, incidents of femicide in the U.S. “increased by twenty-four percent.” During the COVID-19 lockdown, “intimate partner violence rose an estimated 8%” and continues at the same increased rates. The U.S. accounts for “seventy percent of incidents of femicide” among all global northern countries, and “ranks thirty-fourth among all countries” in instances of femicide.
Although the term “femicide” was not coined until 1976, the global killing of women for their gender has occurred for centuries. Diane Russell and Jill Radford first printed Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing, in which the term was defined as “the misogynist killing of women by men.” Femicide was defined by Russell and Dr. Jane Caputi as “the murder of women performed by men motivated by hate, contempt, pleasure or a sense of ownership of women.”
Femicide in its very idea and definition are those killing of women in order to control them, to ensure they stay within the confines of patriarchally determined roles. A woman who dares to exist in- and outside of her pre-set roles puts her life into the hands of men around her.
Generally, it is unwise to take modern terms or ideas and apply them to a time when our vocabulary would not describe such an instance.
And yet, one of the best ways to learn about the present is to learn about the past. Scholars of all kinds have made a point to analyze case examples, to learn about the events of the past. For this reason, Shakespeare’s phrase “What’s Past is Prologue” from The Tempest is outside the National Archives in Washington, D.C. To know our future, we must understand the value of our past; to change our future is an entirely unique gift.
Genocide is studied in a uniquely interdisciplinary and intersectional manner. Genocides are examined to understand how politics, race, identity, and cultures interact with one another, always with a devastating result.
History can often reveal the truths of things, and when knowledge is not shared, we can have a distorted understanding of the past. Concealing the knowledge of history and the events which unfolded, can prove the devastation in itself. Starving the truth of history and refusing to analyze it from an intersectional, multidimensional lens to remember injustices inhibits healing.
Only by knowing, and truly understanding the events of the past can we know how to reconcile, grieve, and forgive. History as documented through the experiences of women’s lives are equally important to understand. Understanding women’s deaths reveals just as much about a society.
The life and death of Fritzie Mann reveal an amazing story about a woman who was many things: Jewish, an immigrant, a true flapper, and practiced “roles that promised liberation from the control of men”, as stated by Dr. Amy Absher in her book “Fritzie: The Invented Life and Violent Murder of a Flapper”. According to Absher, Mann lived many lives as a locally famous dancer at the time of her death.
Mann’s family was from Galicia, a historic province once between Poland and Ukraine. The province was destroyed by pogroms and eventually lost following both World Wars. Mann’s family settled in San Diego after a time in Colorado, following Mann’s father’s death and her sisters deteriorating health due to tuberculosis.
Mann was a flapper during the Jazz Age, a time important to the contribution of “American national memory”. Absher warns against remembering the Jazz Age as an unconscious time or “an accident or frivolous escape….and were also about more than corporate growth, the automobile, and sexual liberation. By remembering the age as an afterthought, we preserve the illusion that as a nation we were once innocent.”
The Jazz Age refers to a distinct time of cultural, corporate, and American expansion. It was coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose most famous book The Great Gatsby’s climax surrounds the killing of a woman and the violence (and dismissal of her death) which ensues.
The 1920s were a time of violence and hostility towards minorities. As Absher states, “The Jazz Age story of Fritzie Mann and San Diego illustrates what it was like to exist on both sides of the identity border — between classes as well as between native born and immigrant — without belonging to either.”
Mann’s story can reveal to us more about how to engage and learn from the past to inform present day division, discrimination, and denial of violence in our modern age. Women’s stories and experiences in opposing patriarchal control and societal expectations cannot be buried.
Absher’s work, among others, unearths women’s lives and invites the reader to compare those times which are not so distant from our own — for the positives and the negatives.
Although the global killing of women continues, in order to combat modern institutional and interpersonal violence, we must learn from the past. What could have been done to protect Mann? What has changed — and more importantly, what has not?