Do Women Have a Right to Defend Themselves?

There was a very powerful letter to the editor in the Nov. 23 NY Times, bringing a feminist analysis to the mainstream “legal analysis” of the verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The jury in Kenosha found him not guilty of murdering two people and injuring a third because he was “afraid.” I quote Valerie M. Field’s letter in full:

In “Self-Defense is Difficult to Disprove, Experts say,” she writes “The acquittal points to the wide berth the legal system gives to defendants who say they acted out of fear.”

Wow. Yet another punch in the face to the thousands of women abuse survivors incarcerated for acts of self-defense. This verdict had nothing to do with justice. This verdict was a clear message about power and control, and exactly who in American society is permitted to hold it.

So. When white men feel fear, they’re entitled to kill who they fear — which is quite easily accomplished with an assault rifle. When WOMEN fear, they’re supposed to flee.

When women are on trial for killing their abusers, they’d better have a really good answer to questions like…

  • “Why didn’t you just leave?”
  • “Why did you stay if you were so afraid of him?”

… or they’ll end up in prison. Even if they had good answers as in, “He told he me he would come after me and kill me if I left him,” they can still get sentenced to prison for life.

Kyle Rittenhouse could have simply run away. Run run run, Kyle, as fast as you can, away from the crazy man with the skateboard! But that’s not manly, is it?”

AND, from the DomesticShelters.org website:

  • According to statistics compiled by the ACLU, women who kill their partners will spend an average of 15 years behind bars, while men who kill their female partners serve much shorter sentences, on average between 2 to 6 years…..Why are women being punished so much more harshly, especially when you consider this statistic: At least 90 percent of women in prison for killing men report having been abused by those men?

In this patriarchy, somehow it’s more normal for men to kill. You almost expect men to kill. You know that old saying: “Boys will be boys.” So even when they are convicted of murder, they get a slap on the wrist compared to what women get. After all, there is no equivalent old saying, “Girls will be girls.”

And what about lesbians? It turns out we have even less right to defend ourselves against male violence than straight women. In 1968, I was in one of the early consciousness-raising groups in New York City. Diane was the only lesbian in the group. She stopped coming to the weekly meetings, and we assumed she had dropped out. After being gone for two months, Diane re-appeared. It turned out she had been in jail.

She told us that one of her neighbors sexually assaulted her in the hallway of her building. However, Diane had been studying self-defense for years, and she threw him down the stairs. He brought charges of assault against her. Diane testified in court to his assault which had provoked her assault. But his defense was that he could not possibly have sexually assaulted her because she was a lesbian and therefore too unattractive to inspire rape. That made perfect sense to the judge. And the reason she threw him down the stairs if she hadn’t been assaulted? Why, that was obvious: As a lesbian, Diane hated men and wanted to kill them all!

To the judge, it all fit together perfectly, and Diane spent two months in jail.

Is that verdict any more absurd than the Rittenhouse verdict? That a boy with an assault rifle has the right to kill anyone he says he’s afraid of? Both verdicts are motivated by the biases of the patriarchy.

Yes, boys are permitted to be boys, which sometimes means you take an assault rifle and drive to a violent demonstration and kill people. However, girls are never permitted to be violent, even when threatened with death by their abuser. And, if they do become violent, they will be severely punished for it.

Oh, and by the way, no man would ever rape a lesbian because they’re so physically repulsive. And if she kills a man, it’s because she wants to kill all men.

Patriarchy. Ain’t it great?

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