Ac­tivist, scholar stud­ied vi­o­lence against women

San Francisco Chronicle - - OBITUARIES - By Katharine Q. Seelye Katharine Q. Seelye is a New York Times writer.

Diana E.H. Rus­sell, a fem­i­nist ac­tivist and scholar who pop­u­lar­ized the term “femi­cide” to re­fer to the misog­y­nist killing of women, and to dis­tin­guish these killings from other forms of homi­cide, died July 28 at a med­i­cal fa­cil­ity in Oak­land. She was 81.

The cause was res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure, said Es­ther D. Roth­blum, a long­time friend and fem­i­nist scholar.

Rus­sell stud­ied and ex­plored all man­ner of vi­o­lence against women, in­clud­ing rape, in­cest, child abuse, bat­ter­ing, pornog­ra­phy and sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and she was among the first to il­lu­mi­nate the con­nec­tions be­tween and among these acts.

As a daugh­ter of white priv­i­lege grow­ing up in South Africa, her re­bel­lious in­stincts found an out­let in the an­ti­a­partheid move­ment. Later, as a grad­u­ate stu­dent in the United States in the 1960s, she grav­i­tated to the fem­i­nist move­ment and was one of the ear­li­est re­searchers to fo­cus on sex­ual vi­o­lence against women.

Glo­ria Steinem said in an email that Rus­sell had “a gi­ant in­flu­ence” on the women’s move­ment world­wide and that her writ­ings had par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance now, “when we see the in­ter­twin­ing of racism and sex­ism that she wrote about so well and or­ga­nized against.”

In 1977, Rus­sell sur­veyed 930 women in depth in San Fran­cisco and found that more than 40% had been the vic­tims of rape or in­cest — a much higher rate than other stud­ies sug­gested. Those in­ter­views led to a se­ries of books: “Rape in Mar­riage” (1982); “Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion: Rape, Child Sex­ual Abuse and Work­place Ha­rass­ment” (1984), and “The Se­cret Trauma: In­cest in the Lives of Girls and Women” (1986).

Rus­sell first heard the word “femi­cide” in 1974, when a friend told her that some­one was writ­ing a book with that ti­tle.

“I im­me­di­ately be­came very ex­cited by this new word, see­ing it as a sub­sti­tute for the gen­der­neu­tral word ‘homi­cide,’ ” she said in a 2011 speech.

She later found out that Carol Or­lock was the au­thor who had in­tended to write the “Femi­cide” book but had not done so. Rus­sell said that Or­lock was later de­lighted to hear that Rus­sell was pop­u­lar­iz­ing the term.

Rus­sell changed her def­i­ni­tion of “femi­cide” over the years, but in the end she de­scribed it as “the killing of fe­males by males be­cause they are fe­male.” This cov­ered a range of acts, in­clud­ing killing a wife or girl­friend for hav­ing an af­fair or be­ing re­bel­lious, set­ting a wife on fire for hav­ing too small a dowry, death as a re­sult of gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and the mur­der of sex slaves and pros­ti­tutes.

Diana El­iz­a­beth Hamil­ton Rus­sell was born Nov. 6, 1938, in Cape Town, South Africa. Her fa­ther, James Hamil­ton Rus­sell, was a mem­ber of the South African Par­lia­ment. Her mother, Kath­leen Mary (Gib­son) Rus­sell, was Bri­tish.

“I was raised to be a use­less ap­pendage to some rich white man and to carry on the ex­ploitive tra­di­tion of my fam­ily,” she wrote in a 1995 es­say.

But she earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in 1967 and a doc­tor­ate in 1970 at Har­vard.

She mar­ried Paul Ek­man, an Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist known for his work on fa­cial ex­pres­sions, in 1968. He was teach­ing in San Fran­cisco, and she took a teach­ing po­si­tion at Mills Col­lege in Oak­land to be near him. They di­vorced af­ter three years.

Jerry Telfer / The Chron­i­cle 2003

Diana Rus­sell (left), Carol Dewitt and other women picket out­side The Chron­i­cle against Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s ad­mit­ted “mis­be­hav­ior” to­ward women in 2003.

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