Monday, October 16, 2006

Of course I have to start with the Amish girls. The horror continues to resonate, as in today's piece by New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert. His question is "Why Aren't We Shocked?" Actually I think we are. But here's part of what he says:

"Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

"In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

"There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

"None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected."

The first time I read this the last sentence seemed wrong, but reading it again I think he's right. We may not LIKE violence against women. But we DO expect it. It's easy to find one reason why: it's so common. We may not like it but we're not surprised.

Or do we - that is, men - actually LIKE it? Herbert goes on to say that images of violence or domination of women help to sell stuff and thu must be popular.

"An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, 'When was the last time you got screwed?'

"An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video."

" . . . A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men."

Herbert concludes by saying, "You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa."

I've cut some of his piece, but the flow is pretty much like this, reading backwards:

Mass murder of Amish girls (while Amish boys are spared)
men hating women (boys hating girls)
echoes of degrading sex in commercials
degrading sex in porn
society tolerating men's dehumanization of women?
men's dehumanization of women

But there are problems with this analysis:
Problem: murdering schoolgirls is in parallel with porn-like sex
Problem2: killing is similar to kidding (the ads)
Problem3: the degadation of women is so pervasive that it's hard to see what would stop it.

Still, Herbert is right about the different outrage around racial hate crimes. When James Byrd Jr. was lynched by being dragged behind a truck in Jasper, Texas on June 7, 1998, there was not only an outcry but the further resolve, "Never again." Do we think that lynching African-Americans is optional - not an intrinsic white need - and so can be stopped, but male violence against women is innate and can only be slowed down?

What do you think of all this?

Which reminds me that one friend of mine said, "you can think about the Amish girls but you won't learn anything. It's a MYSTERY, meaning that there's no explaining it."


linztastic said...

I had to leave a short comment because my gut reaction is a sick knot in my stomach.

Women are brutalized. Brutalized. I had a series of conversations with my housemates about the recent killings and how scary it would be to be singled out as a blonde or a girl to be sexually assaulted/slaughtered. I don't understand. It doesn't make sense to me that I can walk down DP on a saturday night in the light of streetlights with quite a few people chillin' and even cops patroling the streets, wearing full-coverage clothing and a scarf, accompanied by a friend in similar clothing, also with a scarf, intimidatingly sober, and be cornered, verbally harrassed and even inappropriately touched by a series of groups of guys. What on earth makes it okay for guys to behave the way they do? Is it true that this kind of treatment of women is inate and only able to be slightly slowed down? Can we believe that? Girls are indoctrinated into this crazy world of double standards and ridculous treatment, and it makes me sick. It makes me sick because I feel powerless to stop it, globally, locally, or individually.

The scarf means you aren't getting any.

It's a disgusting mystery.

esbar said...

I believe this crime to be a hate crime against women as Bob Herbert termed it in his article. I do feel that there is a pervasive atmosphere of sexism throughout the United States. It is a mystery to me that people were not shocked by the "hate crime" aspect of this murder as they would be if there were race or religious themes involved. I think the fact that it happened in an Amish village, a sort of liminal zone that people know about but live unaware of, caught the bulk of society's attention rather than the fact that it was females who were targeted. While I do feel that women are viewed as sexual vessels in commercials, porn and so forth, and that this attitude sometimes leads to inappropriate comments being made to females in places like the streets of Ilsa Vista, I also feel that this sexism which is allowed to quietly continue in our so-called progressive society is accompanied by racism and religious prejudices which quietly continue as well. The media may be shocked by a lynching or graffitti on a religious site, but I generally encounter similar shock when wives are murdered or beaten and women are raped.

MarissaSangalang said...

While it is disheartening to realize that this crime is being recognized to a lesser degree for the hate crime that it is rather than where it took place, it is not all that surprising. Women have historically come last, despite the fact that they are the largest group “targeted” in comparison to specific religions and minorities. America was founded on the notion of religious freedom and the abolitionist movement took place in the mid-1800s. The women’s movement did not even begin until the late 1800s into the early 20th century. In the history of our country, the last people to be recognized as equals were women. Even today women are still struggling for equal treatment in sports, work, and their own homes. As a society, we expect women to be targeted. Fathers arm their daughters with pepper spray and rape whistles, but not their sons. Perhaps it is this expectation that prevents our society from being shocked about the female selection in this killing. Perhaps it is our own doing through produced advertisements, pornographic videos, or our overexposure to violence against women in television shows such as Law and Order. Whatever the reason, society’s reaction, or lack of reaction, to the Amish girls killing exposes a big problem.

MarissaSangalang said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sleeping Cheetah said...

The Amish girls crime was headline news because it involved a large degree of exoticism, i.e. the Amish. It's true that it was a crime against women, but this fact was not as sensational as the fact that these were Amish people. Women are mistreated, yeah, we get that. Even if a large part of it is subconscious and caught in the groundwater of American society, artesian wells are not rare--sex crimes are not generally ignored. Race and religious crimes, I think, are given no more attention than sex crimes: in any case of prejudice, the big offences are exposed and the everyday ones are swept under the rug. Misogyny is no exception. Sexism is a sad and unfair prejudice, but it does not take precedence over any sort of prejudice as one of which we need to become more aware.

Maggie said...

I want to talk a little about the question "Why aren't we shocked?". Of course we're shocked, but from the sound of the rest of Herbert's article that's not really the question he's asking. He really wants to know why we're not outraged. Outraged at the culprit, outraged at the circumstances, outraged at the society that allows violence against women to be seen as an inevitability. I know that when I started to read the articles I was pretty livid, at first at Charles Carl Roberts but then I started getting mad at the Amish for not stooping to my level and getting angry too. Which is perhaps one of the reasons why this particular crime is different. We have nowhere to place our rage. The killer is dead and is beyond the public eye, and the families prayed for him before their own daughters because they felt that he was more in need of their forgiveness. Beyond being angry at misogynism in society, all there is left is shock and sadness. So yes, we are shocked because there aren't many other options.

Breanne said...

This might be slightly off topic, but...

I had an interesting conversation with my brother over the summer in which he insisted that men and women are not (and never will be) equal, simply because of our physical makeup. He argued that men possess - and excuse the blatant stereotype - a more heightened physical prowess than women, because they are bigger and stronger than the average female. I immediately opened my mouth to protest, because after all I am a woman and an ardent proponent of my own equality, but when it comes down to it you're more likely to see a man pumping iron and drinking a protein shake than you would a woman. Why? Males clearly have more testosterone than females, thus the muscles mass, height, and weight differences. So just for the sake of the stereotype (and my brother's argument), let's just say that men are "stronger" than women. Okay, fine. So what. Well, to adhere to another steretype, women are inherently smarter than men. I have little scientific proof of this, only my personal interactions with certain members of the opposite sex, and the proven statistics that women (at least at UCSB) maintain a higher average GPA than men. You'd think that if women are the more intelligent of the sexes, then there would be no question of equality, let alone a question of which gender is more "dominant", right?

Unfortunately, our society is quite physical. As much as we'd like to think that we're more intellectually elevated than the cave men, we really aren't. We fight wars to gain dominance over other countries. We have men (and women too) who devote their lives to physcial fighting in order to protect our nations. The winner is always the last man standing, it's "survival of the fittest," and even though intellect plays a factor, it's the warrior who wins in the end.

Unfortunately, sadly, depressingly, and tragically, women have to carry things like pepper spray and pocket knives in order to protect themselves from this so-called male prowess and he-man mentality. And what happens when the females are too young, or too innocent, to suspect such evil in the world? We get horrific tragedies like the Amish killings.

I don't know where to stop it, or how to fix it, other than to talk about it and recognize the atrocities - and be shocked and enraged when such atrocities occur.

Megan Skorupa said...

Tuesday in class we were talking about how elements of noir paint a true aspect of society: that to a certain extent, yes, we are surrounded by corruption and we are not in control of it. This became abundantly clear to me when I went to the fox news crime center ( There is just incident after incident of depravity and destruction: a serial rapist posing as a police officer on an Apache Reservation in Arizona, man bludgeoning to death two parents and their teenager in their home to kidnap the 7 year old son ad 9 year old daughter for sex, a drug addict in Iowa killing his parents and three sisters…it is just so disheartening. Is this really humanity at its core? Psychologically it is just so interesting because there is the constant question of, are these behaviors learned or inherent? Is society to blame for all this? It’s happening everywhere in the US, so it crosses class, culture, and region. Is violence inherent, and is America’s brand of violence worse than all the others? What is certainly worse is not only is this taking place in cities, suburbia and rural areas too, but it is even occurring amongst our elected officials in government who are supposed to be upholding ideals! Sen. Foley’s sex scandal is rocking Washington DC right now-and rightly so, it is disgusting for a grown man to proposition a 14 year old, and over the internet! Perhaps all this extremity of violence and corruption will wake everyone up to the landslide that is our culture and galvanize us to try and change our course…then again as noir tells us, that could be a hopelessly na├»ve notion leading only to further disappointment.

Eric86 said...

As a society we indulge in the sick and twisted nature of people. The media is undoubtedly the overwhelming facilitator of this obsession, unless of course you are unfortunate enough to experience an egregious crime first-hand, in which case you will indirectly be the facilitator for the rest of us. We see these atrocities being committed and we are inevitably drawn into them for the very reason they are horrendous. There is nothing exciting about a one-room Amish schoolhouse, and I mean nothing. Is this why we were so intrigued when we discovered this room had been filled with dead girls? Maybe. There are so many ways to view this crime, most of which are plausible. Was it the innocence of the girls, or the meticulously selective culprit, or his occupation as a modern day milkman that captivated us? Or all of the above? Who knows exactly. In that sense I agree that it may remain a mystery. But isn’t that why we are so interested in it? Just browsing through some headlines on I came across countless articles highlighting the dark side of human nature. Ironically the only place I could escape the haunting headlines was under the category “travel” in which case I was able to read about the delightful prospect of LA’s Griffith Observatory reopening. We don’t want to read about everyday people doing everyday things. The headline, “Four U.S. soldiers charged with rape and murder” is much more appealing than reading about how those same soldiers completed their mission and returned home, just as the headline “Feds play down NFL dirty bomb threat” is more exciting than hearing the Feds talk about the success of our national security plan. It just gives us something to think about and talk about and type about. At the end of the day these types of events will still unfold and they will still fascinate me.

mira said...

I do agree that this crime was a "hate crime" against women. But could this have been overlooked for other reasons than misogyny? Perhaps gender is just too broad of a category to be noticed behind the anomaly of the Amish setting. Would we still be outraged if it had been the boys that were singled out? Would we think it a "hate crime" against men or simply a terrible and twisted tragedy?
I also agree that the gender roles are not equal, but I think we are forgetting the amazing strides we've made in just the past 50 years. Progress is not always fast, but it's moving forward. I grew up with a mother who broke through the religious “stained-glass ceiling” to preach to me about the importance of being a "strong woman” and to her congregation about gender equality. Strong women don't complain about our situation, we get the higher gpa's, go to grad school, law school, and medical school. We fight for equal pay and we get it! Women are powerful, but we forget it amongst this jabber about sexism. Will we ever erase the line between men and women? Probably not. Will I live to see our country vote in a women president? Hopefully! I like to have an optimistic view on our current situation and future…

ess1015 said...

I don't want to be redundant, so I'll make this short and sweet. I completely agree that women get the short end of the stick, and it's basically getting continuously worse. A perfect current example is Prop 85, which requires minors to get consent from their legal guardians in order to get an abortion. Though this may sound like an okay proposition, many girls come from abusive households, and may not feel comfortable telling her parents she's pregnant. This means she would very likely have to resort to a questionble abortion in Mexico, or an attempt to use a coat hanger. These are terrible options! So this November, remember to vote NO on 85! Protect Choice.

Sarah D said...

It's interesting to me that this line of comments has become about women--not surprising, given that the article in question is about women, but interesting.

Aren't we forgetting that this specific crime didn't involve any adult women, only female children? That before settling in for the event, Charles Roberts kicked out several adult or teenage women, including women with infants, along with the boys?

I'm not disputing the validity of the above comments. Crimes against women are pervasive, repulsive, and happen every day. But did anyone else read the headlines and articles the day the shooting happened and think 'Oh, those poor children. Their poor families'? I have to admit, before reading the article above, I didn't think of this event in terms of gender politics. I was thinking about Charles Roberts, and what had happened in his life to lead him to that schoolhouse. Had he been abused as a child? Did he have a particular prejudice against the Amish? Was he more motivated by the idea of female victims, or of young ones?

I don't have any answers for what went on in his mind. Maybe he WAS thinking about women and social structure and gender roles and relations. All I know is, when news of what had happened started coming out, I didn't. Maybe it's because I've never been the victim of extreme sexual harrassment or any kind of gender violence. I have the luxury of taking information clinically, instead of personally.

Don't get me wrong--I don't discount the very real threat to women and the social structure that makes that threat, if not encouraged, 'okay' somehow. Like all of us, I have the friend who was date-raped, the suitemate who was mugged at gunpoint. I know crime against women is real, and under-reported, and under-respected (even by other women; like all of us, I probably use the word 'bitch' too often). But I admit that there are experiences I won't understand until I go through them myself, and hope no one takes offense at the opinion of an admittedly ignorant reader.

Bottom line is, we can talk about gender roles and women in society, and often get really intelligent, productive statements out of the conversation. But shouldn't we be concentrating on Charles Roberts as well? Yes, his actions were a symptom of what has become a sadly normal disease. Yes, the voice speaking for abused women is softer than those speaking for racial rights, religious rights, etc. I definitely don't think the continuing issue of female equality should be ignored in favor of amateur crime theory and psychoanalysis of the actions of a man whose character is beyond our understanding. I just believe that treating the symptoms is a part of treating the disease. And, just like the disease, we need to understand the symptom in order to treat it.

Bryn said...

i heard from a little bird called the newspaper that a kiddie porn ring was recently busted. we have all been aware of (and continually disgusted by) the presence of kiddie porn for some time now, but the last posting on this blog by sarah d led me to reconsider the absolute sickness that must pervade the men (and some women, so i'm not being too incredibly sexist) who are capable of committing such atrocities. the aforementioned kiddie porn ring was caught red-handed shooting and displaying not kiddie porn-no that would be all too cliche-but INFANT porn. infant defines the very small minority of children who are under two, who cannot even WALK yet. i mean really, who looks at a prepubescent girl or boy, let alone one who doesn't even know that genitals exist yet, and finds that arousing. . . ? i have to agree with sarah, and try to put the emphasis back on the cause, on the horrific backgrounds that must be the precursors to these espisodes of a blatant disrespect for human dignity. why do these things happen? when will we be able to stop exploiting and pillaging and degrading. . . . the list can never be exhaustive. the questions we must ask ourselves should consider the source, not the result. the man who killed the amish girl-children obviously snapped-but not for obvious reasons. although i cannot offer a solution to the problem, i do see it as pertinent to think about the causes, that we might start working toward a preventative solution. this crime log and the section itself are both elpful tools-the discussion we had the other day was incredibly provacative and necessary to get us all thinking about what the problem is, where it comes from, and what we can actually DO about it. we don't want to be a holden here-all talk and no action-for nobody likes a complainer without a way to fix that which she complains about. but this is a legitimate square one.

Eric86 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.