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Somebody Else's What?

“The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain.”

― Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything

In the process of gender issues debate, we're regularly presented with examples of female hypoagency, but this is mind boggling. It's one thing to treat inconvenient conditions as prohibitive, and choices made based on them as forced, using exaggeration for the sake of excuse. It's another to simply ignore a woman's agency without even attributing behavior to another cause, as the jurors in the Jodi Arias sentencing trial have done.

 Jury foreman says life or death decision unfair

"You heard (prosecutor Juan) Martinez say she was only 27. ... She's old enough that she should have known better," Zervakos said. "I didn't look at it that way. I'm looking at 27 years of an absolutely normal everyday young woman that was living a life that was perfectly normal. Then something changed the trajectory of her life after meeting Travis Alexander, and it spiraled downhill from there."             
So there's this mysterious, invisible outside force that changed the trajectory of her life. Doesn't that just totally make it sound like she was careening along, not due to any control on her part, and out of nowhere, through no fault or intent of her own, BAM! There she was, heading off to find a knife and a gun! And the jury can't make up its mind, because either way, this poor, innocent murderer's life will be ruined by their decision. 

It wasn't just that they were unwilling to impose the death penalty, as would likely happen were they hearing the case of Joe Arias, 27 year old man who murdered his wife. It was that they couldn't even settle on the lesser penalty of life in prison.
Zervakos described a deliberations room full of tears and spinning moral compasses as each juror struggled to come to grips with their own beliefs about what factors — including Arias' young age at the time of the killing and her lack of criminal history — should cause them to show mercy and spare her life.
Age and history notwithstanding, if Jodie were a Joe instead, given otherwise identical circumstances, and an otherwise identical defense, he'd be sitting on death row praying his appeals would stave off his execution for a few more years. While I'm against the death penalty (not just for this case because of her age, her lack of criminal history, or her gender, but overall, because I oppose affording that power to a system which wrongfully convicts as easily and often as the U.S. court system does) I have no problem acknowledging that stark disparity in societal response.

I'd ask, why is that? Why is it that society can respond to male criminal acts by holding the perpetrator accountable for his actions, but treats female criminal behavior as if it has been inflicted on the perpetrator instead of the victim? But it's not like those questions haven't already been answered. Society excuses female crime by attributing a lack of agency, blaming history, environment, relationships, illness, duress... anything but the criminal herself. It's as if hypoagency runs on the same mechanism that drives Douglas Adams's Somebody Else's Problem field, only when employed for the protection of women, it makes everything appear to be Somebody Else's Fault. That seems to be the main force that kept this jury from even being able to decide to sentence the perpetrator of a violent and brutal murder to life in prison for the commission of that crime.  
Zervakos declined to discuss his thoughts or those of other jurors on whether Arias should have been sentenced to death or life. But he said he was torn between her two personas: a killer and an average young woman struggling through life.
Arias - an average young killer, struggling through life. What a hard situation to face. Does that make Travis Alexander a lucky man, because his struggles are over, or can we admit that the alleged suffering of Jodie Arias is disproportionately minor in comparison to that which she inflicted on her victim?

Female hypoagency is contagious. Rather than deal with the fact that Arias slit her victim's throat from ear to ear, stabbed him 27 times in the neck and back, and shot him, the jury has focused on the fact that she is young. Rather than deal with how her manipulation of evidence and her getaway plan indicate premeditation, the jury focused on her appearance of normalcy. Rather than determine a penalty for the brutal murderer of a young man, whose life was not just ruined by her actions, but violently and painfully taken from him, the jury has decided they just couldn't face deciding the fate of this woman. Their aversion to facing that which they did not want to see, weren't expecting, and couldn't explain - the brutality of a young, "normal" looking woman against a strong, capable man, led them to place judge Sherry Stephens in the position of having to declare a mistrial. This raises the possibility that the penalty phase of the trial may have to be repeated, putting the victim's family through the pain of once again reliving their grief.

Jodie Arias was convicted of a heinous crime, the shockingly violent murder of Travis Alexander. The same jury who determined that she deliberately committed that murder has now decided that holding her accountable for her actions is just too hard. They cannot imagine that such a seemingly normal young woman could do such a savage thing on her own. How could these individuals, who were so convinced by the evidence in this case that they were able to hand down a guilty verdict be so unwilling to look at that same evidence as the determining factors in their decision in the penalty phase of her trial? In their concern over the future of Jodie Arias, did they forget about their responsibility to Travis Alexander... or did they simply decide that, since the actions of Jodie Arias were not her fault, the right of Travis Alexander to a just outcome could be considered somebody else's problem?

1 comment:

Poester99 said...

I would gladly call Zervakos an idiot to his face, and anyone else in that Jury, this is getting me so steamed.

You are right to maintain your anonymity now. We will have stalinist purges and concentration camps at some point in the future. Feminists are quite bold in coming out about wanting that sort of life and death control over people.

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