It’s good that a jury saw through Jodi Arias

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

I was glad to see an Arizona jury convict Jodi Arias on May 8 for first-degree murder of her boyfriend, but not for the reasons you might think.

Have you ever heard of cafeteria Catholics? The term describes many American Catholics who follow primarily the tenets of the denomination that suit them.

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Well, there are cafeteria feminists, too. They demand equal rights for women, but they often overlook the aspects of public society that favor women over men. The most notable one is the courts.

I sound like a male chauvinist, huh? But you don’t need to take my word for it.

Author Patricia Pearson argues in her 1998 book “When She Was Bad: How and Why Women Get Away With Murder” that judges, juries, prosecutors and news media regularly perceive men who have committed murder as monsters while perceiving women who kill as suffering from one form of a syndrome or another.

She says there exists a double standard in the American court system where women are not sentenced as harshly as men are for the same deadly crimes. Moreover, because women are seen as having been driven to crime by syndromes, this results in a societal view that women cannot be responsible for their own actions, Pearson writes. If feminism is to be true to its cause of equality, she says, then it must push for the courts to convict and sentence women to the same degree as men for similar crimes.

In the book description on the cover, it says this: “While national crime rates have recently fallen, crimes committed by women have risen 200 percent, yet we continue to transform female violence into victimhood by citing PMS, battered wife syndrome and postpartum depression as sources of women’s actions.”

Women are just as capable of heinous actions as men. But the justice system can be tilted against men, mainly because they are portrayed as monsters.

There was a recent example. A lawyer for Ariel Castro, the suspect in the long-term rape and kidnapping case in Cleveland, earlier this month declared: “The initial portrayal of him is one of a monster and that is not the impression I got.” These lawyers know they need to combat that image.

Meanwhile, it is not hard to find stories where the news media call him the “Cleveland monster,” as though it is his formal title.

And the lawyers for Jodi Arias argued she suffered from battered woman syndrome, though no evidence existed. These lawyers know the argument sometimes sticks.

What Castro is accused of and what Arias is convicted of are no doubt sorrowful, horrible and despicable actions, to be sure.

Yet for the sake of equality before the courts and women’s rights everywhere, I was glad the jury saw through the syndrome smokescreen and convicted her of first-degree murder, rather than lessening her charge, and they rightly made her eligible for the death penalty, just as they likely would have had a man shot a woman in the head and stabbed her several times. The court is in session today to decide whether she should get the death penalty.

Now, I don’t really favor capital punishment for anyone. That’s another issue. But I do favor equal rights. Pearson explains it eloquently: “Clearly it’s high time we provided shade and nuance to the picture. Not only because it makes no sense to talk of all these women as innocent or to pretend that family violence is not, somehow, the responsibility of fully half of its perpetrators. But because if we concede that women are ambitious, like men, and possess a will to power as men do, then we need to concede that women, like men, are capable of injuring others who thwart them. We cannot insist on the strength and competence of women in all the traditional masculine arenas yet continue to exonerate ourselves from the consequences of power by arguing that, where the course of it runs more darkly, we are actually powerless. This has become an awkward paradox in feminist argument.”


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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