Les Miserables

Standard

‘These are very unusual offences,’ Lord Bannatyne said during sentencing. ‘The case is clearly an exceptional one.

Well, sort of… sexual assaults committed by females are much the exception than the rule. But Bannatyne‘s judgement had little to to with her sex, and everything to do with her gender: her apprehension and his perception thereof…

The admission of Gender Identity Disorder by Bannatyne as a mitigating factor raises a question: does he mean to imply that because Wilson believed herself to be male her actions were more acceptable, by dint of being stereotypically ‘male’ actions? He said of her disorder, ‘I accept that this leads you to genuinely feel you are male rather than female. This significantly lowers your culpability.’ In other words, males are not culpable – or significantly less so – for their violent actions, in this case sexual assault and fraud.

The implications of such judgements are worrying, as much for what they appear to say about the victims as the perpetrators: that men (including Trans*men) should expect to be excused from the consequences of their actions by dint of being (or believing themselves) male; that females should expect to be victimized and bear those consequences.
Males are more typically violent, but male and violent are not synonyms, any more than female and victim are. The condition of men under patriarchy simply affords them access to a wider choice of victims; and such conditions conspire to protect them from the consequences to themselves of their actions. The consequences for their victims are not held to be terribly significant, if at all, and both theirs and the perpetrators’ debasements are equally feted as natural and desirable. When females do engage in violent abuse – which of course they do, as these cases show – they invariably victimize women or girls less enfranchised than themselves, children; or themselves. But they’re punished twice – think Myra Hindley, Rose West – both for their violence and for being ‘aberrant’ females. As atypical as these cases are, it’s striking how the words and decisions of the presiding judges are seen to reinforce gendered codes of behaviour rather than treat the protagonists as individuals. Wilson was convicted as a female, but punished as a male: i.e. barely (though she’ll no doubt continue to suffer psychological issues, possibly pose a risk to other girls) whilst Adie has been left – all too typically – high and dry.
Surely what matters here is the HUMAN trauma inflicted upon one HUMAN by another HUMAN. Physical assault hurts. Deception hurts. Both physically and psychologically such trauma has been shown throughout history to have repercussions for years afterward. That these girls suffered sexual violence at the hands of other women does little to diminish those repercussions, excepting the risk of pregnancy that might arise in instances of male rape. Adie was nonetheless hurt. That is the point. And the law, in its capacity as gender policeman, has seen fit to hurt her again.
The mutability of male and female behaviours is a matter for debate; though in the light of opportunities created for women by the actions of suffragettes and others since, it’s notable that ambitious females haven’t been shy of stepping up to the plate in the business and political worlds, albeit by co-opting ‘masculine’ values to an extent, and in spite of often violent backlash and having to carry the ‘second shift’ in the home. In different ways, women’s successes and failures within an andro-centric (and hetero-normative) system teach us lessons about the false norms – of both sex and gender – on which that system is founded.  If women have shown themselves able to adapt to the – frankly, often unreasonable – demands of the masculine world and still thrive, or at least survive….
Perhaps the bigger lesson here is that, far from trotting out ‘male’ (masculine) as a handy ‘get out clause’ for female bad behaviour; we might hold up ‘female’ as a standard to aspire to for – rather more often – badly-behaved males.
Maybe we should look for the strength inherent in our sex, rather than play to the weakness enforced by gender.
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