Peter Sutcliffe was always different, but not by a wide margin: the world is full of men who beat their wives, destroy their self-respect, treat them like dirt. They do it because they hate and despise women, because they are disgusted by them, because they need to prove to themselves and to their friends that they are real men. Occasionally, for one in a million, it isn’t enough. Peter Sutcliffe was one of those. But when the trees are so dense, who can with certainty pick out the really rotten timber?This is from the concluding paragraph of the chapter of Joan Smith’s 1989 Misogynies*
titled “There’s Only One Yorkshire Ripper.” In it, she analyzes, in the context of societal misogyny, the police investigation into the string of murders and attempted murders of women carried out by Peter Sutcliffe in northern England in the late 1970s. In the preface to the 2013 edition, Smith describes how these events originally provided the impetus for the book:
The murders seemed to me a pure manifestation of misogyny, the consequence in one disturbed individual of the suspicion and dislike for women which I saw all around me. Peter Sutcliffe’s hatred of women was extreme but it wasn’t unique, which was one of the reasons why the police had such trouble catching him. They thought he would stand out and I thought exactly the opposite: that he could hide quite easily in a culture which often displayed casual contempt for women. It later emerged that Sutcliffe had been interviewed ten times without ever becoming a serious suspect.It seems relevant in light of the recent killings in Santa Barbara.
* I don’t endorse every argument in this book, but I do recommend it.