This pandemic hasn’t just been harder on women — it’s been deadlier for women. In February, a woman and her mother were reportedly shot and killed by the woman's boyfriend in Dallas; he then broadcast his apology live on Instagram before dying by suicide. In March, a nurse was killed by her ex-boyfriend in Minnesota, and in April dispatchers received a chilling 911 call from a 9-year-old girl in Brooklyn after her father killed her mom and her two sisters in the middle of her birthday party. In the United States, preliminary data suggests that the number of men accused of killing their wives or girlfriends has doubled in some counties, while calls to domestic violence hotlines and to the police for domestic abuse soared, according to a 2020 analysis.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Men on a global scale are increasingly killing the women they purport to love.
And it’s not just in America. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Men on a global scale are increasingly killing the women they purport to love. According to a March report by the World Health Organization, the most widespread form of violence experienced by women around the world is preventable. It’s not coming from the proverbial boogeyman in the alley — it’s coming from men they know and perhaps share their bed with, otherwise (and rather euphemistically) known as intimate-partner violence.
As lockdowns were announced, femicides increased globally from Mexico, to South Africa and the U.K. Domestic violence soared by 300 percent in China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the pandemic, according to local police reports.
In Quebec, a surge in femicides over the last month prompted Premier François Legault to address men directly. “There is nothing manly about being violent with a woman,” he said at a news conference. “It doesn’t make sense that in 2021 we live like barbarians.” Yet after that impassioned speech, Legault blocked efforts to increase funding for women’s shelters. The vote came just a few days after International Women’s Day.
Google searches that appear to be from women like “He will kill me” or “He beats me up all the time” garner millions of search results, but none of the aforementioned searches appear to return any domestic violence resources or hotlines.
Women are crying for help. Google may be listening, but is it helping?
If suicide search terms assiduously connect an internet user with links to dissuade them from harming themselves, why isn’t Google doing the same for domestic abuse, especially if millions of survivors are explicitly turning to Google for help?
Meanwhile, when I typed “how to control your woman” from Venice, California, the search engine suggested a litany of articles instructing a male reader on how to psychologically abuse his intimate partner. One of the first links Google proposed was a blog post offering step-by-step guidance for men on how to restrict what a female partner wears, where she travels, what she eats and even what she spends her money on. These are all signature features of “coercive control,” recently recognized as a criminal form of domestic abuse in Hawaii — similar laws are in the works in New York and Connecticut.
When I typed “how to control your woman” from Venice, California, the search engine suggested a litany of articles instructing a male reader on how to psychologically abuse his intimate partner.
Instead of being deterred from harming women, male internet users are persuaded to view themselves as the victim instead. “I’ll be blunt here,” one of the top suggested articles starts with. “You’re reading this because you’re getting pussywhipped by your girlfriend.”
Google also prompted me to go further down the misogynistic rabbit hole as it impelled me to click on more suggested search terms like “how to control a woman emotionally” and “how to manipulate your girlfriend.” Even the YouTube videos that it proposed were disturbing. The first suggested video, “How to Control Your Girlfriend,” shows a misogynistic dystopian male revenge fantasy of a protagonist commanding his girlfriend’s actions and behaviors with a remote control.
“When someone searches for a term that shows an intention to physically harm a woman, we need an immediate disruption,” Ted Bunch, co-founder of the advocacy organization A Call to Men, told The New York Times. His organization, which he co-founded with Tony Porter, educates men and boys all over the world on healthy masculinity to try to prevent all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination and to promote equity and inclusion. His group recently partnered with the North Carolina Department of Public Health to craft a digital campaign designed to interrupt men searching to purchase sex online.
Bunch believes that pointed interventions for online searches that prompt men toward education rather than radicalization can create lasting behavioral change that ultimately makes women safer. “It takes visionary funders and leaders of industry who are willing to look at innovative prevention methods to create these types of disruptions.”
It’s not just tech companies that need to stop incentivizing men to abuse women. Google et al. are simply following the lead of public officials, talking heads and others who continue to paint male violence against women as a women’s issue.
President Joe Biden co-wrote the Violence Against Women Act and championed the sexual assault prevention campaign “It’s On Us.” So why has he been silent about the femicide crisis in the U.S.? While his Covid-19 relief bill will certainly help some survivors flee violence, with provisions like child care tax credits and housing vouchers, men’s violence against women cannot be solved by targeting women alone. We urgently need a national task force on men and boys, and a genuine commitment from this administration to promoting and legislating positive masculinity.
“It's important for all men — male elected officials, CEOs, coaches, fathers, religious and community leaders — to identify where they have influence and how they can use their platform to promote healthy manhood,” Bunch said. “While the majority of men are not violent, too many men are silent when confronted with domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, controlling behavior or a sexually objectifying joke. That silence is as much of a problem as the violence and abuse are.”
The anti-feminist hashtag #NotAllMen trended once again after the killing of Sarah Everard last month in the U.K. But if men are sick of being told they’re the problem, perhaps it’s time they make themselves part of the solution. The men inside Google and the White House would be a great start.
CORRECTION (April 27, 2021, 4:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article included the results of a study in the The Journal of General Psychology about the number of times men sought information on how to assault women. After the MSNBC article was published, the researcher who conducted the study said she had discovered flaws in her own methodology, and the results of the study have been removed from the article.