Thursday, May 01, 2008

On Double Standards and Women Paying for Men's Actions

My sister's divorce was not a pleasant one.* Not that I think many of them are. But she expected hers to be a lot less acrimonious. They'd been living apart for some time--she'd lived with me in Texas for three years and he'd had a number of girlfriends, one of the reasons for their split. And yet, when she decided she wanted to be with someone else, all hell broke loose.

As an aside, here's another bit of the folk knowledge I spoke about a few days ago. Practically since I've been old enough to date, I've been told repeatedly that guys "can't take what they dish out." The meaning was based on the experiences of women who, after being repeatedly cheated on by men, decided to "step out," as my mom would say, and have an affair of their own or leave their relationships.

The reactions of their significant others were usually violent. The men's pride had been damaged and the women had challenged the double standard that excused men's cheating and excoriated women for their's. Thus, though people may have murmured at the violence, the larger noise was that, well, it was sort of understandable because she brought it on herself. I promise you that I am not exaggerating when I say that I can't count the number of times that I've heard, from other women, "Girl, she asked for that ass-whooping."

I learned pretty quickly that women's bodies around here were to be treated much like any other property: men "bought" them at the price of commitment, men had the right to do with that property pretty much anything they wanted, and if anyone else "trespassed" upon that property, he could be dealt with violently.

Still, I am horrified by this case that Marcella posted about:
Testimony starts today in the trial of an Arlington woman accused of causing the death of her lover at the hands of her husband by falsely claiming she was being raped.

In a case that has drawn national attention, Tracy Roberson, 37, is charged with involuntary manslaughter for her role in the 2006 shooting death of Devin LaSalle. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She is also eligible for probation.

Her husband, Darrell Roberson, fired the fatal shots but is not facing any charges after a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict him.

Tarrant County prosecutor Sean Colston said Mrs. Roberson's false rape claim led to Mr. Lasalle's death. "The actions of Tracy Roberson were absolutely reckless. Tracy Roberson got Devin LaSalle killed," he said Tuesday.

Defense attorney Jill Davis admitted her client was having an affair and yelled rape because she feared her husband would kill her too.

"He immediately jumps out of his SUV and starts firing. He's aiming to shoot anyone because he's angry and he's jealous," she said. "She could have been hit. Darrell didn't care who got hit."

For those who would argue that the husband was "protecting" his wife, remember that he'd pulled the gun before anyone told him anything. As Marcella said, "With a gun pointed at her, Mrs. Roberson made her statement under extreme duress and not in cold blood."

The defense attorney is right. He was angry and jealous. And the grand jury was willing to give him a pass because those feelings are understandable for a man when he feels his property has been violated.

But Mrs. Roberson has to pay. Because her actions were reckless. That action, according to the prosecutor and the grand jury, was the false rape claim.

The indictment claims she knew, or should have known, that her rape claim could have deadly consequences.
I don't buy that. This woman lied to protect her self from an angry, jealous man with a gun. We know what her real reckless action was, even if the indictment doesn't state it.

Having an affair. Letting someone else touch what her husband "owned."

In my sister's case, when we moved back to Louisiana, her divorce had been filed but was not final. And so, when she started dating someone else, her estranged husband reacted badly. Lots of threats. Some physical altercations. Lots of "my son better not be around him." It all culminated in November 2007, when my sister was sitting in her car at a local store. Her fiance was in the store getting her a pickle and when he came back to the car, her ex approached them and began trying to open the doors. He got my sister's open and hit her. And Sis, being sis, got out and knocked him in the head with her boot before her fiance made it around the car to her side to pull the ex off. The cops were across the street. In the end, they all received simple battery charges.

My sister is righteously angry for at least two reasons.

1) After a lifetime of never being in trouble, she caught a charge behind someone hitting her first.

2) Can you believe one of the stories circulating around town implied that my sister was wrong for having moved on with her life and having the nerve to "flaunt" her new relationship in the face of a man who had been a habitual cheater?

I can only talk about my small, rural community in North Louisiana--I do not mean to stereotype anyone else's, one reason that it's taking me forever to write this post. Here, men's cheating is excused as "normal," as something that "they all do," so that the offense becomes not that they do it but how they do it. There's a certain way to cheat that maintains the facade of public respect towards the wife/significant other. I can't help thinking of music that displays this mentality. Some of Jay-Z's lyrics in 03 Bonnie and Clyde **:
The problem is, you dudes treat the one that you lovin
with the same respect that you treat the one that you humpin
Now they 'bout nothin - if ever you mad about somethin
It won't be that; oh no it won't be that
I don't be at, places where we comfy at
With no be-atch; oh no you won't see that
So basically, men try not to be seen with "the one that they humpin" in public. In return, this "other woman" is supposed to know "her place." And the wife/significant other is supposed to take solace in that.

Today, I've been thinking that it is not only men's crimes of anger and jealousy for which women have to pay. I read on Shakesville that Deborah Jean Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam had committed suicide (both conveniently for her former clientele and suspiciously). One of the commenters posted this:
In June 2007, one of Palfrey's former escorts, University of Maryland professor Brandy Britton, committed suicide after being arrested. At the time, Palfrey said of Britton:

"This is a woman who was divorced, who was trying to raise two, ah, high-school children, college-age children," Palfrey said. "Great job title, the great position, all the respect in the world, but she wasn't making enough money. So she decided to do a little moonlighting."

Palfrey added, "And she was publicly outed, is a good way to put it, she was absolutely humiliated. Ah, she couldn't take the humiliation. Her whole life was destroyed. And she, she just, ah, ultimately committed suicide."
Why were her reputation and name not worth protecting as vigorously as so many little black books? Why was she "disgraced?" Hell, in Louisiana people rallied around David Vitter's hypocritical ass. They spoke of forgiveness and "private matters." Yet, Brandy Britton was outed very publicly, while so many men will walk away potentially, their secrets preserved at the cost of Britton's and Palfry's lives.
*My sister's story is shared with her permission.
**I think I'm going to start compiling a list of popular songs that explicitly support this sentiment.


Kimberly said...

Elle, I can't really articulate a comment...but you are in my head. The topic has been on my mind...

I don't get the concept of cheating and many men's justification of it. I feel for sis - no way she should be punished for defending herself. Women often are, aren't we?

Luv ya!

Giftie Etcetera said...

I see this all the time in my law practice. I work in a rural town, so I suspect that contributes to the problem.

I am so glad that my friends and family don't share these attitudes, too. I can't imagine the pain such expectations cause moms and children.

And good for your sister! Women who stand up for themselves, despite popular belief to the contrary, are LESS likely to be killed in a domestic violence situation. let her know there are people out there who respect and honor her decisions, even if the court failed to honor her doing the right thing.

daisy said...

No matter what people say, it's still pretty much a man's world, isn't it? It's not over yet, though, as long as there are women who are willing to challenge the status quo.

Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

It could have been any post on your site that I would be glad to see up top when I clicked over - I am passing along an E for Excellent award your way - but I am especially glad to see a post that contains all the reasons I love your blog. You articulate things so well that I feel also, and you care about... well, just the fact that you care, period. Thanks, Elle.

Lisa said...

Oh my gosh...this post was like a punch in my stomach.

You are in my thoughts, Elle.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm relatively new to blogland and glad to find your blog.

Yes, good for your sister for protecting herself. But how the HELL is it ok for a woman to be charged for protecting herself? I see this so often now. I think, in part, it's because it's defined as a "domestic dispute". Implicit in that is the notion that it's a fight between two equally guilty parties. If it was called "woman assault", maybe people who see it more clearly. Maybe.
Thanks and I'm happy to find your blog.

unbekannte said...

It is not surprising that adulterers are narcicisstic and sociopathic. What I find objectionable in this blog is the attitude that adulteresses are not. There is a feminist version of the adultery double standard which reads that an adulterer is a beast who must be severely punished but an adulteress must have been driven to do it by a mean and cruel husband. According to the feminists, no matter who cheats in a marriage, the husband is to blame.

My first marriage happened when I was an active duty army surgeon. My now ex wife got involved with her lover before she ever met me, she stayed involved with him after she and I got married, she was seeing him from day one of our marriage. We split because I was accepted into a fellowship which required we move 1000 miles away from her lover. She did not like it that she could no longer hop into her car, drive a couple hours and be with her lover whenever she felt the need for him.

When we split, she did not admit to having a lover, and she tried to keep that part of her life hidden from me. She tried to create a situation in which she would be living with her lover, and I would be left not only supporting her but also supporting her kid for her, her 18 year old son from her previous marriage. The spin she gave me to justify all this was, she did not love me, she had never loved me, she had never wanted to marry me, and had married me because I had I had coerced her into doing so. We had gotten together in the first place because she had come after me, I did not go after her. The year we were engaged, I had been stationed overseas, thousands of miles away from her - she could have easily broken the engagement had she wanted to. When I returned from overseas, I found she was involved in very extensive plans for an elaborate wedding and reception.

When it came down to divorce, she vehemently objected to it. By that time, we had been legally separated for over a year thanks to a Separation Agreement drawn up by her lawyer, an Agreement which she pressured me to sign, one provision of which was that each of us would treat the other as if we had never been married. I agreed to let her have all our jointly owned marital property save a few pieces I needed to keep my house liveable, and to pay off all our not inconsiderable outstanding joint debts. In return, I demanded she agree I would not have any more obligation to support her, not then, not ever. We did not marry until after I had completed all my education and Professtonal training, and had been married only a few years before she decided to leave me. She did not deserve a lifetime of support from me in return for that, considering she had supported herself and her kids without me before we married.

She argued that in spite of the agreement I was still her husband and had obligations to her. She denied her infidelity although a couple of her good friends had confirmed it to me. She claimed she had not deserted me but that I had driven her away. She had tried to fight the divorce because she wanted much more than what her separation agreement had already given her, mainly financial support. When it became obvious she would not get any financial support, she lost all interest in fighting the divorce.

Six months after the divorce was final, I had met and become quite serious about my present wife. My ex, via a convoluted set of circumstances, learned I was serious about another woman. She called me up, told me I should break up with this new woman in my life because she wanted to reconcile with me. She was living in the midwest at the time. I was stationed in Germany. She continued to deny her infidelity (However I caught her in a lie which confirmed it) and blamed me for our breakup. When I pointed out to her that she had carried out all the actions which had destroyed our relationship, her spin was, she had been depressed, deluded, and did not know what she was doing. I should have realized that and fought harder to keep our marriage viable.

With all due respect, not all wives are long suffering angels, not all husbands are abusive beasts. In the case of my ex wife, she did come out of our divorce worse off than I did. But her ill fortune was self inflicted and well deserved.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...