Recently in France, a woman named Catherine Sauvage died at the age of 72. Why did I feel it necessary to write about her death? Because her death carries the sad hallmarks of violence and abuse, too often being called “marital abuse,” making the damage a non-issue.
As for Catherine Sauvage, she was considered the murderer after she killed her husband in 2012. She had had enough after years of being subjected to his violence and rape. Because she had been assaulted for 47 years, she shot him in the back. Her son, also a victim of his father’s violence, committed suicide the same day. Her three daughters had also been sexually abused. A torturer wielded his authority in the home, and yet the public sphere took no heed of the situation.
Despite the circumstances that spurred this killing being revealed, the court sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Her two women lawyers pleaded that she was acting in self-defense, her daughters described the ordeal her family went through to the court and the jury, and still, it was not enough to shield Catherine from more suffering. The sentence triggered a wave of protests by feminist organizations. After listening to her daughters’ plea, Francois Hollande, the president of France at the time, fully pardoned her; she was immediately released.
This quick summary of her ordeal cannot transmit the effect of this complete Injustice on her mind and body. Her premature death is no surprise; she didn’t get a medal for killing a torturer as a soldier would have. She was stuck in the private sphere, where women work for free, are abused, and have to be kept meek and submissive. There are various ways of torturing women, physically or mentally. Due to the utter disregard for their lives both in the private and public spheres, women are led to commit suicide. The behavior of their partner dehumanizes them, makes them feel ignored or neglected, and reduces them to be silenced or remain submissive. In any of these cases, women are locked in the private sphere where they are muted. While many women live in a constant sentiment of fear and injustice, for Catherine Sauvage, it was aggravated by remorse, the remorse of having lost her son, which took its toll on her mental and physical health.
Nonetheless, some voices, including women’s voices in the leftist newspaper Liberation, condemned Francois Hollande for intervening in the affair of justice and changing a sentence confirmed by the court of appeal. Similarly, Emmanuel Macron, the current president, is also accused of interfering with the justice system for acknowledging Catherine Sauvage as a symbol for battered women. The claim is that the independence of the judicial system is at stake. On the other hand, dehumanizing more vulnerable women who cannot even count on the law and order system to seek protection while being privately tortured doesn’t count. This is the ultimate irony. What is surprising is that women on the left who stand for justice for all would have such little compassion for a woman soldiering on despite the battering and ultimately defending herself and her children.
In contrast, when New York congressmember Alexia Ocasio Cortes responded to the obscene language of Florida congressmember Ted Yoho, her cutting challenge to pervasively abusive patriarchy appealed to many women. She used her voice and the language that gave women a sense of dignity and the courage not to remain silent. We cannot accept abusive men; this is never healthy, and silence, as she said, is a form of acceptance.
Catherine Sauvage died because our society has remained silent, not her; she was just walled up in the invisibility of the private sphere that offers more violence and dehumanization to the world. The disgraceful society of lies and innuendoes has killed yet one more woman!
Photo credit : Kat Jayne