‘Evil’ women

2013-11-24 14:00

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Righteous anger is one thing, but when the vitriol centres on gender, society’s ingrained misogyny becomes apparent.

The uproar over Melissa Bachman, the lion killer, highlights society’s difficult relationship with “troublesome” women.

When women are “bad”, we have to face our prejudices head-on.

In case you have been on a media diet for the past week, a quick recap.

Bachman, an American TV presenter, flew to South Africa to shoot a magnificent lion – a symbol, one could argue, of masculinity.

A Facebook photograph of her grinning over its carcass went viral and people went nuts.

Hunting is an emotional issue.

The whole idea of shooting animals oneself – as opposed to buying them prekilled and skinned, and cut up and wrapped in plastic by the good folks at Woolies – is abhorrent to many. It certainly is to me.

But the level of vitriol and vicious abuse aimed at Bachman is unprecedented.

A significant number of people wished her a horrible, painful death.

As has already been remarked upon by other commentators, there was a strongly misogynistic undercurrent to the public outcry.

For a start, there was much reference to her genitals.

Comedian Ricky Gervais shared Bachman’s “what a hunt!” comment on Twitter, adding: “Spot the typo.”

In just one of hundreds of examples of Facebook viciousness, someone with a poor grasp of female anatomy and a whole lot of anger posted: “Hate her. May her c**t fall out and get eaten by a bear.”

Bachman was referred to repeatedly on social media as a “whore” and a “bitch”. My personal favourite Facebook comment is: “Shocking that a hot chick would do this.”

You can bet “ugly chicks” are out there slaughtering beautiful wild animals day and night, but who’d have thought it of a reasonably attractive one?

By all accounts, she came here legally, with the required permits, and – we must presume – dropped a big chunk of change for the “privilege”. As do many, many male hunters.

Yet we don’t see this level of outrage directed at them. And certainly not in comparable sexual language.

When women behave in ways that offend, society struggles to know how to deal with them.

When reasonably young, attractive women offend in more traditionally “masculine” ways, we are in particularly hazardous territory.

Take Samantha Lewthwaite, a.k.a. the White Widow, who is wanted in connection with the Westgate bombing.

The Mirror recently ran an article on her “warped double life”.

Their gripe with her seems to be not just that she is (allegedly) a ruthless international terrorist, but that she’s “a doting mother” and (allegedly) a ruthless international terrorist.

She’s not even an appropriately humble womanly terrorist – she is also described as having an “insatiable” thirst for power and influence.

The subtext is clear: violent crimes – particularly violent crimes with a religious motivation – are in the male domain.

How could a woman – a mother of four, no less – do such a terrible thing? And she’s white, too, nogal!

If “White Widow” is a problematically racist and sexist term, equally troubling, but for different reasons, is the moniker “Advocate Barbie” for convicted child molester Cezanne Visser.

Under ordinary circumstances, the term would simply be sexist – add blonde hair and large breast implants to a highly trained legal professional and you get Barbie?...?right?

Under the extraordinary circumstances that apply here, it has the effect of trivialising her crimes, which were, in case we’ve forgotten, sex crimes against women and girls as young as 11 years old.

Visser was found guilty on 11 charges ranging from indecent assault to manufacturing child pornography.

The term ‘Advocate Barbie’, which admittedly predates her conviction, creates the impression that she is some sort of rather innocuous and faintly amusing, busty blonde.

I’m sure the victims and their families – including the bereaved family of one victim who later committed suicide – would disagree with this portrayal.

These women may (or may not) have done some terrible things.

But to turn on them with misogynistic vitriol, to define them by their looks or race, to treat them either more or less harshly than their male equivalents, is to fail to consider them and their actions honestly and with a clear eye.

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