Why do men want to hurt women?

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The Independent Online

During the trial of Graham Coutts for the murder of Jane Longhurst, members of the jury were shown print-outs of pictures from the internet of women being tortured and strangled. Coutts, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at Lewes Crown Court last week, had downloaded them mainly from American websites and claimed that they fed his "addiction" to pornography. The jury was visibly shocked by the experience, and Ms Longhurst's family called, at the end of the 13-day trial, for such "vile and monstrous" sites to be banned.

Their reaction is completely understandable. Ms Longhurst was lured to the flat Coutts shared with her best friend, Lisa Stephens, where he strangled the 31-year-old teacher with a pair of tights. He then concealed her body for 11 days before transporting it to a lock-up in Hove, keeping it as a trophy and visiting it about 10 times before finally setting fire to it in woodland. "When she disappeared, I didn't think it was anyone she knew," said Malcolm Sentance, Ms Longhurst's partner. "I thought it was some nutter coming out of the shadows."

Coutts was a cold, calculating killer who showed no remorse and made the family's ordeal even worse with a claim familiar from too many rape trials: that Ms Longhurst had agreed to have sex with him, and died accidentally during a consensual sex game. In other words, it was not enough for him to kill Ms Longhurst and subject her body to "unbelievable degradation", as the judge described it; he also launched a pitiless attack on her reputation, telling grotesque lies about her in front of her mother, sister and boyfriend.

It is this feature - Coutt's unrelenting misogyny, which precluded any expression of pity for his victim - that strikes me most forcibly about this ghastly case. Thirty-four years ago, in The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer made the shocking observation that "women have very little idea of how much men hate them". She was not the first to suggest such a thing, for the Freudian psychoanalyst Karen Horney wondered as long ago as 1932 why "so little recognition and attention are paid to the fact of men's secret dread of women". I am not making a point here about the awfulness of men - I am not a misandrist, and it has always seemed to me that Horney is closer to the mark than Greer - but the existence of a pervasive misogyny seems to me undeniable.

I also think that violent pornography, which has proliferated in recent years, thanks to the internet, is a symptom rather than a cause, even if its content is pretty horrifying; the word used to mean depictions of sex but it has gradually become synonymous with portrayals of graphic sexual violence towards women. These were the images that Coutts, who was obsessed with torture and asphyxiation, downloaded on to his computer, catering to impulses that had existed long before he discovered the internet at the age of 28. Internet sites fed his appetites and gave him a defence at his murder trial, even though the concept of an addiction to porn strikes me as pretty dubious.

What the internet may do, and I have made the same observation in the past about violent movies such as Dressed to Kill, is lend a spurious legitimacy to the fears that some insecure, troubled men harbour towards women. The fact that this material is available in vast quantities, including the "snuff" videos Coutts apparently downloaded from websites, sends a powerful message that thousands of other men with such tastes exist. (The same argument applies to paedophiles and even would-be cannibals, as we have discovered from a notorious trial in Germany.)

In that sense, the internet does not so much give violent men ideas as encourage fantasies they already have. It offers the opportunity to indulge them secretly, in their homes and without getting into trouble, instead of risking the rejection and disgust they would encounter from real partners. The behaviour of Graham Coutts is almost too sickening to think about, but the question that really troubles me, as it did when I published my book Misogynies 15 years ago, is why so many apparently normal men want to hurt, dominate and degrade women.