Christian's Chronicles

July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.

Cultural sexism?

Yes, let’s explore the topic. In a recent article by Barbara J. King, we can all delve inside the various indicators of “sexism run rampant” in our “rape culture,” and whatnot. Ms. King speculates that had Amanda Knox been Andrew Knox, the media would have treated the case quite differently, with no undue focus on Mr. Knox’s sexual escapades.

Perhaps.

But of course, Ms. King also admits that she has “no idea whether the prosecutor’s argument against Knox, including the charge that the murder resulted from sex games gone awry, has a shred of truth to it.” True or not, Ms. King insists that the lesson to be learned here is that women continue to be subjected to various stereotypes, based on which they are held to different standards than their male counterparts. Ms. King is here to disabuse us of our male gender biases and to affirm that women are not the “passive, stay-at-home types” we all have come to imagine them to be via the false images of gender roles entrenched even in academia.

Ms. King’s invitation of gender reversal could not be timelier.

On a different network, we were all subjected to one of the most highly publicized trials in history. Even now, after the jury has rendered its verdict convicting Jodi Arias of first degree murder, TV executives are probably eagerly awaiting the post-conviction legal wrangling and appeals that are sure to make for exciting television, though perhaps not quite at the level of frenzy reached by the drama of live testimony during trial.

Perhaps we may also ask what if Jodi Arias had been Joe Arias?

To flesh out this scenario, let’s consider the details. However, instead of using the victim’s real name, let’s change Travis Alexander to Tricia Alexander. Our victim in this case, Tricia Alexander, is found dead in her own apartment, with multiple stab wounds, her throat slit from ear to ear, and with a gunshot wound to the head. Moreover, evidence of all this is found on a camera, which the perpetrator tried to wipe away by putting it into a washing machine. We have evidence of sexual contact with the perpetrator, Joe Arias, within a short time of the killing. The victim (Tricia) is a former lover of the perpetrator (Joe). After telling Joe repeatedly that she no longer wanted to see him, Joe nonetheless refuses to stay out of Tricia’s life, eventually deciding to drive a long distance to see him (buying cans of gasoline on the way, presumably to leave no trace of his gas purchases along the road, and carrying a gun along with him).

Would there even be a trial in this scenario?

Would the defense argue “self defense” despite having evidence of digital photographs captured in the shower moments before the killing, followed by digital photos on the same camera shortly thereafter showing the deceased? Would the victim be characterized by the defense as a sexual deviant and an abuser, as they did with the actual victim, Travis Alexander? Would there be any possibility of even trying to sell this kind of a story on a jury if the gender roles had been reversed?

I think the answer is an obvious no.

Much the way Ms. King feels no need to take into consideration the truth value of the prosecution’s arguments, I feel no obligation to argue that my hypothetical in any way undermines Ms. King’s observations of gender bias and norms of sexual behavior deemed acceptable in a given culture. Indeed, perhaps in the case of Jodi Arias it was the defense seeking to exploit such stereotypes by casting the perpetrator (the real one, Jodi) in the role of a “passive” victim who snapped, and ultimately killed in self defense. I leave it to the reader to ponder whether there is any point to my attempt to switch the roles of Jodi Arias with my imaginary Joe Arias; or whether it is any more or any less relevant to discussions of cultural norms than Ms. King’s hypothetical “Andrew” Knox scenario.

But perhaps we should explore gender and the criminal justice system a bit further. Anyone who followed the Arias trial probably knows that there are 125 inmates on death row in Arizona, of which only 3 are women.

Talk about gender inequity!

Could this be possible anywhere else except in our justice system? If not, then why are we willing to tolerate it there? What are we to make of this figure? Is this the result of some innate propensity for aggression that makes men act differently from women? Or is it the result of the same biases Ms. King complains about, which represent women as passive, and men as the aggressors, resulting in the overwhelming majority of inmates in general, and death row inmates in particular being male?

If this inequitable result is not caused by any physical difference between men and women, then it is the result of bias and it is manifestly unjust, requiring immediate retroactive measures. However, if this huge discrepancy is due to some biological cause (say, testosterone levels), is it fair to punish men for this? After all, if violent behavior is an inborn trait of males beyond their control, how can it be fair to punish them for it? Furthermore, if there is indeed a biological difference between the sexes, which we are not only willing to acknowledge as legitimate, but we are additionally willing to hold men accountable for violating standards of behavior that are evidently far more difficult for them to abide by due to their very nature as men, what are the implications of such a stance? Might we also find other biological differences that result in other behavioral differences? Can we, indeed should we, hold men and women to the same standards in all arenas if there are such legitimate differences rooted in biology?

Lest we forget (as I am sure Ms. King knows, being a biological anthropologist) that humanity evolved without the benefits of modern conveniences such as feminine hygiene, birth control, or antibiotics, with maternal death rates much higher before the advent of modern medicine, and under the constant threat of warfare, famine, and various other agents of death, it is easy to allow our illusions of equality to get the better of our judgments about history. I grant Ms. King her argument that our notions of “passive women homemakers” and “active male hunter/warriors” are probably too simplistic and not entirely reflective of the truth. However, in times past when the forces of necessity had little tolerance for abstract luxuries, men and women may well have often been forced into roles dictated by their sex.

Far be it from me to lecture Ms. King on subjects that are her field of expertise, rather than mine. But it seems to me that too often the rest of us forget our essential nature as animals, governed by instincts and urges masked by an intellect that more often than not acts as post-hoc rationalization of our impulses, rather than the rational impetus for action we take it to be. Too often, we ignore that morality, as all our behavior being the social animals that we are, also evolved from the same primordial ooze, driven by forces of natural selection and individual – as well as group – survival. Yet in our haste to justify philosophical positions of equality, in some cases we willingly accept the vestiges of evolution as justifiable, while in others we cry out with various “isms” in (self-)righteous indignation. Where we draw the line is often a matter of mere political preference. Perhaps those who would tear down the various structures of power and prejudice ought to look behind the façade to see whether the foundation of these, too, is just another form of bondage. Or, perhaps we ought to curb our propensity for interpreting any and all events as displaying evidence of our dearly espoused theories, regardless of their lack of falsifiability.

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This entry was posted on May 11, 2013 by in 3 - Your opinion, 4 - Philosophy and tagged , , , , .