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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Where do the women go?

Gabby Petito, a vulnerable woman in distress.
The coverage of the death of Gabby Petito has been remarkable for the information left out.  The report was that her remains were found at a campground in the Grand Teton National Park. There were no details about who found her or under what circumstances or how she was murdered. (It was finally reported that she'd been strangled.)  She had been reported as a missing person for weeks before her body was found, and her case became the subject for the social media and the news media.  Stories lamented the fact that the case seemed to be another "missing white woman" case, while the cases of missing women of color do not get the kind of attention that Gabby Petito did.  The coverage reflects a nation dominated by the petty and the peevish, unable to competently address the actual issues that arise.   The issue in this case is that Gabby was in a state of threat by her boyfriend and, although authorities were involved over time, no one seemed to know what to do about it.  Except to quibble about whose demise gets the most attention.

In the local community of Aberdeen, a billboard offers a reward of $10,000 for information concerning a Native American woman, Monica Wickre.  Known as Mona, she was last seen April 7, 1993.  Her family filed a missing person report on April 26.  Her body was found floating in the James River by canoeists on June  16.  While the sheriff's department says it has people of interest in the matter, it hasn't progressed on  the case in 18 years.  The family has put up the  reward to elicit information about what happened to Ms. Wickre.

From the standpoint of journalism, the pictures of Gabby Petito are what attracted so much attention to her story.  She was a pretty white woman, but the forlorn misery she projected in the pictures and videos of her are what motivated so many people to find out her story.  Her expressions made an appeal to those who are disturbed by seeing a living being in distress.  Social service organizations understand that appeal with their fundraising.  Anti-cruelty organizations show pictures of dogs chained outside in freezing weather, and social service organizations show young teenagers bedding down on the streets with tattered blankets.  The videos of Gabby projected that same vulnerability and anguish that elicits sympathy and a desire to do something to relieve the misery.

That white women get more attention when missing than women of color and different cultures is a well-established fact, and it is a symptom of the racism that pulses through our culture.   However, that problem is being met with the formation of movements such as #MMIW,  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.  The movements call attention to the subjection of minority women to menace and abuse, and some take measures to try to stop it.  

The abuse of women and children generally involves motives of bullying and sexual predation.  To bully is to seek to harmintimidateor coerce someone perceived as vulnerable, according to dictionary definitions. In the military, we used the synonymous term "fuck over."   There is a malevolent motive behind bullying that must be acknowledged, and it is a motive that is a cancer to democracy.  Some people have a compulsion to assert dominance over other people.  They measure their success and importance in life by how many people they can bully.  Or fuck over.  Such people reject the concept of equality except for themselves.  They rank people according to wealth and power, always placing themselves at the top of the order.  Of course, they have traditionally ranked women in the lower orders.  However, there is a ranking on the basis of perceived class and power that overrides gender distinctions.  The important point is to understand that bullying proceeds from that rejection of equality as basic to human rights. 

The urge to dominate is a primitive one. It is the urge that operates in dog packs and chicken flocks.  When human society descends to a striving for dominance,  it means people behaving with a lack of intelligence.   Still, much of human society operates as a competition for dominance.  When dominance is an objective, it creates an underclass upon which to inflict its discriminations and its violence.  Women are traditionally assigned to that underclass.  But gender is just one pretext for designating membership in an underclass which can be abused.  Those who strive for superior status are mentally incapable of understanding the concept of equality.  And practiced equality is essential to liberty and justice for all.

When we get news of the death of Gabby Petito or Monica Wicker, we long for justice in their names.  In our righteous  indignation over their loss, we do not confront the failures of those institutions which are the guardians and enactors of our democracy and rules of decency.

A former priest I know has compiled a list of the Christian precepts of equality which he says the church fails constantly. Some of them, as expressed  in the Bible, are:

  • A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. Proverbs 29:7

  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12

  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

  • Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. …Galatians 6:1-18

  • Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  .Philippians 2:3

On the governmental front, there is a movement to banish Thomas Jefferson from the iconography of our democracy because he was a slave owner and he lived his life in ways that seem to contradict the words he wrote in our nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

If we banish Jefferson, how should we regard our  founding document composed of his words?   He was a complicated man.  He saw the evil in slavery, but thought the slaves, who had been deprived of the educational and social means to live as free people,  needed to be prepared for such freedom.  To banish Jefferson is to evade some harsh facts about our democracy and the struggle to achieve it.  And to deny the facts in our founding is to give into the malice that Lincoln warned us about.

The anger that drives the denunciation of Jefferson is  the same anger that kills women in our society.  It is the anger of those who do not understand the premise of equality and the respectful treatment of others it demands.  If we are to protect women and other vulnerable people from malicious violence, we have to understand the perpetrators as failures of our culture.  

As an old professor, I can say that such general understanding is possible.  But given the current state of our politics and the people who create it, such understanding is not likely.

The belligerence that is a cancer
There is a strain of people who see recommendations and warnings as violations of their personal freedom and their personal choices.  They react with anger at vaccination mandates to protect public health.  They seem to see the admonition not to strangle women with the same belligerence.

Equality is regarding the lives of others as equally important as our own.  Making personal preference more important than the well being of others is a denial of equality.  Women like Gabby and Monica are sacrificed to the angry gods of self-adoration.  Democracy can be ruled by the ignorant, the angry, and the mentally deficient.  It has failed us all when equal treatment failed Gabby and Monica.

Our democracy has been bullied to death, but it cannot rest in peace.



bearcreekbat said...

David, you probably have already read this book, but if not I think you will find it fully supports several of your points in your excellent thoughtful piece about missing women. The book is "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents," by Isabel Wilkerson.

Eve Fisher said...

Any supremacy movement - no matter what - is based on an utter rejection of equality. They're all zero-sum game players. And soon they demand the right to commit atrocities to others, with zero consequences for themselves, because they're the only ones with rights. And these days, the supremacy movements are deeply entwined in government and law enforcement, i.e., the people with power and guns.

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