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The Sydney killer’s misogyny is being overlooked

Now that the Islamist angle has been dismissed, don't expect this tragedy to be treated with as much urgency. Credit: Getty

April 16, 2024 - 7:00am

When is a terrorist not a terrorist? The answer, it seems, is when he targets women.

On Saturday, a 40-year-old attacker walked into a suburban shopping centre in Sydney carrying a 30-centimetre blade. He stabbed five women and one man to death and injured 12 others, including a baby. The barbaric acts took only minutes, yet the survivors and onlookers will bear the psychological scars for years to come.

However distasteful public speculation about his crimes might seem, it is of course a natural human reaction to ask what could drive someone to such depths. Some assumed, perhaps not unreasonably, that the knifeman was an Islamist terrorist; this was quickly shared and spread online before the truth had got its trainers on. In fact, the killer was later identified as a man named Joel Cauchi. Any political or ideological motivation was discarded as senior police officers said they were investigating the possibility the attacker had focused on women.

“It’s obvious to me; it’s obvious to detectives that seems to be an area of interest that the offender had focused on women and avoided the men,” New South Wales state Police Commissioner Karen Webb told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The videos speak for themselves, don’t they?” she added.

There was one man killed by Cauchi, a 30-year-old Pakistani refugee named Faraz Tahir who bravely stepped in to intervene. But watching the footage it is hard to disagree with the inspector: Cauchi’s targets were clearly women.

Now that the Islamist angle has been dismissed, don’t expect this tragedy to be treated with as much urgency. Cauchi wasn’t a terrorist, he had acted alone, and he was just a run-of-the-mill misogynist. Those who had assumed he was an Islamist were accused of racism. It instead turned out he was just a woman-hating maniac.

As his understandably distraught father told journalists outside his house, his son “wanted a girlfriend, he had no social skills, and he was frustrated out of his brain”.

At this juncture, it seems fair to ask why hatred of women isn’t considered political. And why is misogyny not recognised as an ideological threat to females? Had Cauchi been a white supremacist and his victims black, the crimes would be instantly recognised as racist. Similarly, had he chanted “Allahu Akbar” before the stabbings, his actions would be recognised as terrorist. But because his murderous frustration was aimed at women, it is “poor mental health” that has been blamed.

The definition of terrorism in Australian law is “an act or threat intended to […] advance a political, ideological or religious cause” by violent means. Yet across the world, terrorist attacks are rare, whereas men’s violence against women is so common as to be regarded as sad but inevitable.

Misogyny, it seems, is deemed an internal state rather than a political one. As such, it is neatly bracketed as an individualised problem for psychologists rather than police or policymakers. It’s darkly telling that the murders of women don’t provoke panicked government meetings, nor do they appear to warrant investigation by the intelligence services.

Uneasy though it might be to acknowledge, men’s abuse of women is systemic. And to downplay the violent actions of men like Cauchi is to normalise the unconscionable.


Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.

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Simon James
Simon James
1 month ago

Isn’t it fair to say that the heroism of the many men who tried to stop him is also being overlooked? And the men who held and helped to save the life of an injured baby? ‘Gamma bias’ and all that. If you want to interpret this incident through the lens of sex/gender that would be the more important narrative, no?

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon James

The author of this piece views everything through the lens of misogyny.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago



.or ! He could just have targeted people he thought were easier to overpower or less likely to fight back and stop him.
This article is really no better informed, or less agenda driven, than anyone who immediately, without specific evidence, suggested it was ‘Islamic’ terrorism.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

I’m curious about the downvotes (currently 6) what is it that you dislike, or disagree with ?
Surely the article is simply ‘confirmation bias’, man attacks women, ergo man hates women. I am quite happy to be corrected, if others are aware of the attackers history and a, non-deranged, public, expressed hatred of women. Otherwise, dismissing several other possibilities, such as ; women might be easier to catch, less likely to put up a fight and resist, more of them shopping etc etc, is also an irrational bias. I’m sure the attacker deliberately targeted women, in much the same way as terrorists are happy to attack pop concerts or other ‘soft’ targets ( I don’t think that there was any suggestion that the Manchester Arena bomber had a maniacal hatred of Ariana Grande concert goers, although it was Ariana Grande concert goers who died). It was quite simply a hell of a lot easier than attacking an Army barracks, full of armed soldiers. When your life is on the line, very few people are happy to enter a fight on equal terms.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

The problem of the article is how much it hinges on speculation regarding the killer. In choosing this particular incident as a case study, when details are fairly sparse and no formal investigation has been completed, it indeed looks like confirmation bias.
And although the author may have at least some points with regards to men attacking women, this is not exactly that common, let alone systemic, and is seriously undermined if this comes down to an individual with a serious mental health issue*.
It comes across as the kind of article that caused me to stop reading the Guardian: propose narrative, write articles containing case studies that establish narrative, refer back to articles later to reaffirm narrative.
*If this is the case, the real story is how health authorities failed, if at all.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

Unless he has left some social media trail that points in a certain direction, we may never know his motivations.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 month ago

Another grifter trying to paint her agenda onto a tragedy.

He had life long, severe, mental health issues. Could you not leave it at that? Did you have pay for your avocado this week by this sick twisting?

Ryan Scarrow
Ryan Scarrow
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

What is wrong with pointing to a pervasive thread that sees women targeted from the Montreal massacre of 1989 to Isla Vista, California in 2014 to this attack over the weekend? Two women are murdered every week in the UK, a trend that has gone for years, with the vast vast majority of murders committed by men. Do you think it’s simply ‘mental health’ that explains it, or could it possibly be something more insidious?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  Ryan Scarrow

You underplay the number of women murdered every week but neglect to add that usually at least twice as many men are murdered so it is not particularly women that are targeted by murderous men. To achieve sex equality murderers would have to target at least double the number of women that are killed at present. Not the sort of equality that feminists would welcome I think. Nor the rest of us.

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago
Reply to  Ryan Scarrow

In proportion to the population, the number of women (and men) murdered in the U.K. is vanishingly small.

Janet G
Janet G
1 month ago
Reply to  Ryan Scarrow

There has been a lot of evidence collected about the way young men in Australia behave towards young women, beginning in the school years. Disdain for girls and women is widespread. Domestic violence is widespread. And misogyny is widespread. For example, Chanel Contos who had attended a Sydney private school collected thousands of testimonies from young women who had been sexually assaulted by male peers.She wrote a book ‘Consent Laid Bare’. This past week there has been a news story about girls at a Melbourne school being insulted and put down by boys and male teachers. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-16/teenage-girls-create-misogyny-artwork-in-hosier-lane-melbourne/103698962

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
25 days ago
Reply to  Janet G

The article talks about something which happened in Australia and it accepts the generalised media assumption that the UK is almost indistinguishable culturally from Australia (or the US). Something I would contest.

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Bang on. And amusing to boot.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 month ago

If he had shouted “Allahu Akbar” before the stabbings, his actions definitely would not be recognised as a terrorist. Of the last 13 violent offences in the UK brought to court where those words were mentioned, only one has been recorded as terrorism (and is an ongoing case). The other perpetrators all had mental health issues. A rather unfortunate error in the article and one that completely undermines the point being made. Like mental ill health, misogyny isn’t a political ideal, it isn’t a belief. It is a behaviour.

Naturally, together with the academic blather there’s a straw man in the article too. “And to downplay the violent actions of men like Cauchi is to normalise the unconscionable”. Who is downplaying this? A large majority of the public would happily see men like him hang. Only the moral guardians like Bartosch won’t let us do that.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Is Bartosch on record as opposing the death penalty? She probably does, but although this article is not well considered, and I have criticised it below, she does have a record of being sound on trans issues and takes a sensible approach to Islamaphobia by opposing the Labour party definition and supporting Kemi Badenoch’s view as to what Islamaphobia is, so she may not stick to the mainstream leftist view of the death penalty.

As a small woman (under 5’) she has a not entirely unmerited worry about being physically attacked by physically imposing men which tends to weigh on her otherwise often perfectly sensible views

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

“The definition of terrorism in Australian law is “an act or threat intended to [
] advance a political, ideological or religious cause” by violent means.”

Rather pointless article. Had the man shouted “Death to women” or “Men must rule women” there would be some evidence that he was advancing an ideological cause and fell within the definition of “terrorist”. So the author’s complaint falls flat. As it was he was just a frustrated lunatic who took his lunacy out on women or men who got in his way.

Personally I depreciate the classification of crimes by the alleged motives of the killers. If I am killed it is a matter of indifference as whether the motive was “terrorism” or “hate against some particular group of which I happen to belong” or any other reason. Crimes of violence should attract the same opprobrium and sentence whatever the alleged motives. Murder is made neither better nor worse by the supposed motive.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

I’m not sure if you’re Australian or not, but you seem unaware of what’s happening with this case. The man has a severe psychotic illness, and had recently come off medication. His father said he had an obsession with knives. This is not some minor mental health complaint. I know most people with psychosis are not violent, but a subset are, especially when not being adequately treated. What is more, the fact that the police mentioned that his targeting of women is being looked into, which you mention in the article, makes it obvious that this is not being ignored. This article is a bit baffling.

Thomas Donald
Thomas Donald
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Thank you. And the Australian media HAS pointed out his focus on women. This is another bit of Unherd clickbait. For every decent article on this place you need to endure nonsense about Sydney Sweeny’s boobs, Beyonce ruining Jolene, and other such rubbish.

RM Parker
RM Parker
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes, I read that the attacker had paranoid schizophrenia and had relinquished his antipsychotic medication. It’s absolutely true that almost all of his victims were female but that doesn’t readily extrapolate to evidence of societal misogyny.
That’s not to deny that misogyny exists, it’s just pointing out that this awful happening doesn’t provide evidence of anything but the likely outcome of an horrific psychosis.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

This author clearly has an agenda. What if someone with an anti-refugee agenda looked at the same set of facts? After all, this man came to Australia as a refugee, a guest.
Had Australia not admitted him into their territory, those women and that baby would not have been stabbed.
I’m not saying that is the right lens to put on, but simply that you can write up this kind of article to support whatever your biases happen to be.

Danny D
Danny D
1 month ago

I do agree that this angle needs to be talked about. The incel community is dangerous, as the cases of Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian have shown. Watch Rodger’s delusional ramblings or Minassian’s interrogation tapes on Youtube to catch a glimpse into the twisted minds of these people. At the same time, there are just as many feminists with insanely misandrist views, which are seen as completely acceptable by many in politics and the media, and definitely help drive marginalised men towards incel ideology. What is there to do? I already hear the usual suspects calling for useless government programs to “raise awareness” or try to reeducate those who are too far gone into hateful ideologies. That won’t change anything. Also, the usual drivel with terms like “normalisation” or “systemic violence” like in this article is certainly not helpful.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
1 month ago
Reply to  Danny D

This. And if violence against women truly was “normalized” or “systemic,” why would male bystanders intervene? Why would policemen arrest him, and male prison guards keep him locked up?
Western societies punish men who harm women. They don’t endorse or excuse them.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  Danny D

To refer to “systemic violence” only makes sense if there is some system for supporting violence by men. But there is not. Violence by men is normally punished and condemned by the Criminal Justice system. Indeed violent women tend to get an less harsh punishment rather than men getting more lenient sentences for similar levels of violence.

The phrase rose to prominence with reference to “systemic racism” where there the criminal justice system and other civil systems did indeed operate systemically to disadvantage blacks in the US during slavery and the Jim Crow era.

But male violence has never received systemic support. That is not to say all male or indeed female violent behaviour has been suppressed but that is not because of any systemic support for male violence. The fact that men might not always be found guilty of violence is the result of there not always being sufficient evidence to convict. It has nothing to do with any institutional or systemic support for violence by men. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
1 month ago

hatred of women hasnt been ‘normalised’ in society, hatred of men has. The Pakistani guy who lost his life trying to protect women is completely forgotten here. the author should be ashamed of herself. sounds like its really ‘all about her’.

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

Uneasy though it might be to acknowledge, men’s abuse of women is systemic.
.
This is the first and only idea that comes to the minds of very stupid women.
.
nor do they appear to warrant investigation by the intelligence services.
.
No comments

Cheryl Hercus
Cheryl Hercus
1 month ago

He was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 17. Clearly mentally ill unless you don’t believe mental illness exists.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
1 month ago

These crimes were clearly misogynistic and very wicked but surely, they were part of a political campaign. I don’t think this man was in some sort of terrorist cell egging him on.
I suppose his hatred could have been stirred by some Internet misogyny but, awful as these people are, I’d be surprised were they calling for women to be murdered.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago

Frankly, whenever I see/hear the words “misogyny “, “patriarchy” or “toxic masculinity “ , it’s painfully clear for me what will follow. And, as a woman, I start feeling third-party embarrassment, because I know for sure is what kind of thinking is embraced by women wielding all these nebulous concepts.

This article is yet another example of this kind of thinking.

The worst about it is that the author exploits a genuine tragedy to push her false narrative. How undignified


Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

Thank you. As a man I’m tired of made of being made to feel responsible for serial killers, rapists, and terrorists, especially living under a regime that does all it can to disenfranchise men.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Oh yes, indeed. It’s part of this worrying trend to demonise whole groups, negating the very existence of personal responsibility and dehumanising everyone who just happens to belong to the “wrong” subset of humankind.
There’s also certain morbid, narcisstic dynamics in this attitude: portraying ‘the others’ as evil, i.e. morally inferior, to elevate one’s status through that artificial opposition.
And playing a victim just elevates the desired high status even more, doesn’t it?
Sad… And worrying…

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago

If anything is being “normalized” in my opinion it’s the equation of mentally ill with “dangerous murderer”. It’s almost as if the legacy media is putting in place a trope,a narrative. It’s an old,an ancient narrative,then from circa the 1970s up till circa year 2001 (9/11),a lot of campaigners did a very good job of disassociating in the public mind,mental illness with being an inherently bad and dangerous person.
Most people (who are essentially fair minded) were willing to accept that having mental health issues did not make the sufferer a villain. Who in the educated and advanced 20th century would entertain such a medieval notion.
And most people had someone in their family or.friend circle like it,who they loved and knew wasnt inherently bad
From circa year 2000 those attackers who cry out those two words,none of them were Muslim (according to BBC),they were mentally ill. The shooters in USA school horrors are “mentally ill”,shopping mall stabbers are mentally ill. I suspect that we are seeing a trope (is that the right word) put in place. Because it’s useful. It’s an OLD idea. It’s an Oldie but a Goodie!

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Oh yes, I agree with you.
I, too, am fed up with explaining away some obviously religiously-motivated attacks by mental illness and presenting the attackers as innocent, suffering victims.
I didn’t think about the aspect that you discuss, but you are quite right: this “justification” of murderous fanatics’ killing sprees is an attempt to put them in the same group as people with real mental health problems – people who are not, in the vast majority of cases, to blame for their predicament and who do not automatically represent a threat to society just because they suffer from a certain medical condition.
Btw, have you read today the BBC’s commentary on the attack against the Orthodox priest in Sydney? If you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend it, as it is (predictably) disgusting, but is very close to what you describe. And engages in a lot of victim-blaming, apart from all other things.
Apparently, according to the BBC at al., victim-blaming is bad only when it’s about women who are automatically and always (yesss!) victims of “misogyny”, but it’s quite OK when it’s about a Christian priest, especially if he (oh horror!) was against the vaccine mandates…
Thank you for your reply, really, and for providing your point of view which was tryly eye-opening and made me think more about the topic!

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
1 month ago

I’m sympathetic to the general thrust of the author’s argument, insofar as I agree that male violence against women is endemic in many societies. But I feel like she’s chosen the wrong target on this occasion.
As I understand it, Cauchi’s history of mental illness was diagnosed from his teenage years and he spent much of his adult life itinerant or homeless. Its 20/20 vision now of course, but clearly he was someone who should have been much more closely monitored.
I’d be very happy to bet a large sum that he had encountered and been influenced by some of the more misogynistic corners of the internet. But “terrorism” suggests the presence of a more-or-less defined political goal. Maybe something like that will emerge over the coming weeks, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Happy to stand corrected as events unfold – and it in no way diminishes the horror of these murders – but this seems more like the terrible rage of a mentally ill man who could no longer cope acting out his perceived grievance against women than it does terrorism.
I know semantics aren’t as important as lives, but there is also a point here about definitions. If we start defining everything bad done by someone who thinks bad things as terrorism, then the danger is that the term becomes so broad it loses its useful meaning. (The way “fascist” is now basically useless as a term because it now just means “somebody whose opinions I don’t like”.)

David Morley
David Morley
1 month ago

At this juncture, it seems fair to ask why hatred of women isn’t considered political.

I seem to be receiving Unherd articles from some sort of parallel universe. Is anybody else encountering the same technical glitch?

Nell L
Nell L
1 month ago

According to his own father, the killer was a schizophrenic obsessed with knives and frustrated by his failure to get a girlfriend. Is it just a coincidence that he appears to have targeted women at a place where there are generally a lot of them, a shopping mall? Like other commentators I’m not sure this article proves its claim that this attack is a result of “systemic misogyny” or shows indifference by the legal system to assaults on women. But this attack makes women shudder because it is the biggest fear we have as we move through the world: some kind of violent attack against us can come at any moment, no matter how many laws there are against rape or assault, and we will have to rely not on our own strength but on the strength and courage of men to protect us, like the security guard who was killed trying to stop the attacker and the Frenchman who confronted him at risk of his own life. Is it a problem of misogyny? Is it a problem of untreated mental illness? Is it just something regrettable that women have to deal with and after all is rather rare? Does the sex of the attacker and his victims not really matter? Here in the US the media is full of videos of women who are reporting being randomly punched on the streets of New York. When they first started to appear the New York Times treated them as a TikTok phenomena like any other, say, videos on the latest diet trend or nail art, and hinted that since all of the women were young and white, that might mean something else too, in other words these were just outraged “Karens”. The Times promptly and rightly got raked over the coals by women and media commentators who pointed out that what was being recorded in these videos was CRIME. So yes, the mentally deranged shopping mall killer was motivated by anger against women and we can’t just ignore that!

Rupert Steel
Rupert Steel
1 month ago
Reply to  Nell L

Certainly the killer’s father is in no doubt that his son had a problem with women. ‘Frustated because he couldn’t get a girl friend’.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

“poor mental health” seems like a deliberate understatement.
He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Lack of adequate medication and health care are surely important factors. His father’s rather flippant statement about him being “out of his brain because he had no social skills” indicates the lack of care he experienced.

Janet G
Janet G
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

According to his father’s account his parents offered care and support. He was under psychiatric care and prescribed medication, which he stopped taking. A former girlfriend has also emerged describing him in positive terms. The stories go on and on and we, the members of the public, can only guess.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago

I’ve read through all the comments and I broadly agree with a lot of the points made,including opposing views. How can I agree that there is some “misogyny” about but that the women most NOT LIKELY to encounter it are the ones shouting loudest. Maybe they are championing the silent victims,they all deserve a Blood Orange for Xmas I’m sure. This man wanted to have a girlfriend but couldn’t get one. As his actions prove him Mr Charm (NOT) it’s easy to see why all/any female persons of his acquaintance would have passed on that. The unspoken sub text of course is that the only and prime reason for “having a girlfriend” was so he could get lots of therapeutic sex,that Sexual Healing that Marvin advocated. If he could only have got his end away hed have been chilled and calm. Maybe I’m saying the unsayable but sex is in the subtext of all the misogyny complaints too. I get dissed by men say the females because I’m SO attractive they only see me as a luscious sexual object.
The very odd sounding father says his son had no social skills. So that is HIS FAULT. Even if his son had mental illness he could still have been taught a general way to behave in company of other people. I’m guessing this is a family that did not belong to a faith community as whatever the rights or wrongs of religion,a faith community usually provides a safe and warm space for people who “dont belong” to belong..And why was his treatment stopped. I get a lot of hostile and sometimes open aggression. I have all my life. But I get it from other women and some men. It’s not misogyny,it’s a normal reaction to that God decided I should look weird. It’s not easy to live with. But it doesn’t stop me being active and getting in peoples faces.

P Carson
P Carson
1 month ago

In Canada we have the opposite. A mass killing of mostly female engineering students at Ecole Polytechnic more than two decades ago is remembered every December with vigils focused on misogyny. Often overlooked is that the killer was raised in a strict Muslim household (he later changed his name to a French name). Was the religion of peace the origin of this abomination?

P Carson
P Carson
1 month ago

I don’t know any more than anyone else whether this attack was triggered by misogyny or not. However, it should be noted that during the daytime most shopping centre visitors are female so the outcome might simply be a result of demographics.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
1 month ago

Women are offered infantilising “counselling”, sedation, even institutionalisation of the victim in Australia by untrained charity volunteers in lieu of justice. Routinely.
Violence against women, devastating coercive control of women, who never chose to have anything to do with the men committing the violence/control is accepted like weather phenomena in Australia, even in inner-Melbourne.
I never even dated the stalker ex-coworker freely committing crimes against me 2009-current. Last biker visit to my home < 24 hours ago.
The only authority to even recognise acts as crimes is police without duty of care/accountability, with a vested interest in keeping crime stats low. Victoria Police openly participate in the stalker’s crimes.
I had to give up trying to earn a salary in 2017 due to the severity of ongoing crimes against me – in Clare O’Neil’s electorate.
I stopped trying to report any crime in 2018, when the stalker’s crimes escalated into physical violence, Victoria Police refused medical evidence substantiating my injuries & let the biker (unknown to me at the time) walk free without a worry in the world after he volunteered to Victoria Police an obviously false statement. He allegedly claimed that I assaulted him by repeatedly jumping up and smashing my bare face into his helmet. Victoria Police forced me to fight at court in 2019-2020 as an accused criminal in an admitted silencing attempt, tried to entrap me twice. I won anyway. Prosecutors bluff.
Look up my name.

Lynn Paul
Lynn Paul
1 month ago

Women killers are said to have a mental illness. It’s called ‘misogyny’.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Yeah, right. 70% of murder victims in Australia are men which is actually below average for the West. So, murder is evidence of misogyny? Guess the fact that 90% of job fatalities are men must prove the presence of misogyny in employment. Articles such as this serve more to encourage misogyny than to prove its existence.