Monday, July 21, 2014

Mean girls. Part 1a (further meditations on the 'gas ceiling').

This is not intended as a full-fledged post in the series. I know I've been remisssome of you have even been kind enough to prod me, expressing eagerness for "round two"but as the old line goes, life got in the way. What follows is relevant to the discussion in its broadest sense, however, so I thought I'd post it as a "filler" of sorts. 

I am struck this morning by the juxtaposition of two crime stories in my local paper. In the first story we have a woman who plunged a knife deep into her boyfriend's chest, clearly intending to kill him, and almost succeeding. She received, in effect, no punishment: "time served" after spending a couple months in jail. In the second story we have a man who was repeatedly/serially abused as a childas one example, when he was 6, his mother set him on fire because he was hungry and complained about the stale sandwich she gave himand he gets up to 44 months for having sex with an underage girl. I am not condoning sexual activity with 14-year-olds. Nor am I even contending that the kind of abuse this man suffered as a child plausibly explains why he now seeks sex with 14-year-olds.

I am simply asking who committed the worse crime, and who received the more severe punishment.

In some cases, it seems, we are willing to consider all manner of periphera, context and mitigating circumstances. In other cases, not so much. Why is Ms. Concepcion's post-partum depression more of a factor in her crime than the almost incomprehensible abuse that Vincent Ritchie apparently suffered as a boy?

Some among you might say, "Come on, Steve, those are two entirely different situations. You can't compare them." Maybe you're right. Thing is, the dichotomy extends well beyond these stories from my morning paper. I have noticed that many of the cases where we're doing all the mitigating involve women. If you think I'm filtering all this through my own male biases, consider the stats on female executions, which I believe bear me out. Regular readers know I'm not a fan of capital punishment, but if we're going to have a death penalty, it should be administered/applied fairly. Though I have jokingly referred to a "gas ceiling"* in past references to women and capital crimes, it exists, and it's no laughing matter. The above-linked site shows that while women are arrested in connection with one about out of every 10 murders, they receive just one in 50 death sentences, and constitute just one in 100 of the convicts presently on Death Row.

Maybe this is just another (albeit ironic) form of paternalism/chivalrywe're condescending to "the weaker sex" even when they murderor maybe it's the "we just can't kill our mothers" ethic. Regardless, in American society we do  not, and will not, punish women as harshly as we punish men. We strain to find excuses to not punish them at all. This currency is aided and abetted by the Women's Movement, which is forever creating new defenses to crimes (especially anti-male crimes) that would never be taken seriously if a man were the perp. Women have post-partum depression, as in the Concepcion case, as well as premenstrual syndrome, battered-wife syndrome, and so forth. Obviously, the excuses that are are rooted in basic biology or biochemistry don't even apply in the case of men. But you know, if we're going to talk about being driven to hurt or kill people by irresistible forces from within, how 'bout the fact that men are walking testosterone factories? This is all the more true of the young men who commit the bulk of the violent crimes. Should there be a blanket "I'm a man, I'm awash in testosterone, therefore what can you expect from me?" defense for violent crime?

Women talk a lot about equal opportunity and equal protection under the law, but a bit more equal culpability under the law would be nice, too.
* Readers under age 30: Once upon a time we used to execute people with cyanide gas; this was the so-called "gas chamber." Lovely way to die.


Anonymous said...

I don't see how you compare post-partum with the anger issues or whatever problems cause a man to rape a teenager. Post-partum is a diagnosed medical condition, you are not responsible for your behavior which can be totally out of character with who you normally are. A woman like the woman in this story might never be a threat to anyone again, unlike the man who had sex with the 14 year old which let me remind you again is rape under our legal system.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, Steve! Tell it like it is, brother!

whistle said...

Anon @ 5:44 - Are you serious? Someone with post-partum depression is not responsible for their actions? At all?

Do you really think that the man, Ritchie, does NOT have a "diagnosed medical condition"? Oh, and did you notice that Ritchie is 20! A 20 year old having consensual sex with a 14 year old IS rape, but it's hardly the worst thing a person can do.

I am just astounded that you can have mountains of compassion for the woman and none for the man. What kind of mental gymnastics are you performing?

Steve, I do agree with your bottom line. And I'll add: I noticed that Roxanne is being sent to all kinds of therapy (good), but no mention of Ritchie going to therapy. Nope, he's just going to jail to suffer more trauma and learn how to be an even worse human being. Then he'll get out to be on the sex offender list forever, so that he's unemployable, un-rent-to-able, and all around unable to ever improve himself. Yay, justice!

Steve Salerno said...

Whistle, you would not be very popular in certain circles. Thanks for weighing in. Mental gymnastics may be the most prevalent kind of exercise today.

whistle said...

"you would not be very popular in certain circles" lol. story of my life.

Thankfully I've found plenty of hexagons and dodecahedrons that'll have me.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, Whistle, we'll certainly have you here on the blog, for what (little) it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Whistle, this is the first Anonymous, stop talking about all the trauma the rapist is going to face in prison, you're making me cry. I hope he gets raped so he knows what it's like. These men need to learn self-control and if that learning has to take place in prison, tough. It's nowhere near the same as what some women go through after childbirth where you're not yourself and literally out of your mind for awhile.

Anonymous said...

I also think it's pretty significant that Steve who says he's not a fan of capital punishment still wants more women put to death. What's that about?! I'd call it showing your true colors!

Steve Salerno said...

Is there any way that I can implement a filter on Blogger so that I receive comments only from people who are able to analyze and process multidimensional nuanced arguments? Or who at least have some level of interest in analyzing/processing those arguments?

Seriously, Anon, would you stop bloviating and pointing fingers long enough to ensure that you read the words I actually wrote and thus are prepared to respond to what I actually said? Is that too much to ask?

RevRon's Rants said...

I was raised primarily by a strong Southern woman, who did her best to protect me from an abusive father. One result of that was that I developed a propensity for siding with and protecting a woman in any given situation, while assuming that the man was the villain. It wasn't until I had hurt several people that I learned to look past my own programming to see the facts in individual cases before acting.

That said, I still acknowledge that males as a gender are for the most part genetically endowed with greater physical strength than women, and all things being equal, represent a greater threat than women do. If I am in a position to diffuse a confrontation, I still find myself assuming a more defensive posture with the man than with the woman, which I acknowledge could well be a serious mistake. But at least I am conscious of the potential for error.

I agree that there is a chasm of inequity in the passing of death sentences, but my preference would be to achieve equity by eliminating state-sanctioned murder altogether. I might even go a step further, and to recommend that any defendant who is convicted of commuting a crime as the result of a mental disorder be institutionalized for a significant period of time, not in a prison, but in a secure psychiatric facility. I suspect that the prospect of being so incarcerated would prove to be a significant deterrent to those who vent their rage with the hope of escaping punishment by appealing to a jury's compassion. And for those who were genuinely unable to differentiate between right and wrong, there would be at least the potential for treatment, rather than being subjected to an in-house training course on antisocial behavior. And it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference what gender they were.

Of course, such a plan would require the rebuilding of the mental healthcare system that Reagan effectively deconstructed, but that takes us into the realm of politics, and it's just too easy to derail any discussion once politics comes into play.