Monday, February 22, 2010

We have a long way to go: mainstream media coverage of Crystal Gail Mangum's arrest

If you want to know how far we have to go before false rape claims, and female-on-male crimes in general, are treated with the seriousness they deserve, just read the story that appeared in thefrisky.com about Crystal Gail Mangum, written by Ami Angelowicz. Read it here.

To her credit, Angelowicz isn't sympathetic to Mangum. Most of the mainstream media is avoiding any commentary on this story like the plague, and at least she is writing about it.

But Angelowicz certainly doesn't treat Mangum's malefactions with the seriousness they deserve, or would receive if the story were about a man's crimes against women. And that's flat-out wrong.

The problem is the tone of the piece more than anything else. First, the headline: "Guys: If You See This Girl, Run In The Opposite Direction." Nice, lighthearted title about a woman who, it appears, has now tried to destroy at least four adult male lives. It really conveys the gravity of the situation, don't you think? Then read the very first sentence: "Crystal Gail Mangum really knows how to stir up trouble. " And the end of the story: "All we can say is: Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Reverse the genders and pretend the story is about a man -- we'll call him "John Smith" -- who tried to murder his girlfriend and who previously raped three innocent women but got away with it because of some legal technicality. Now imagine this light-hearted headline: "Girls: If You See This Guy, Run In The Opposite Direction." And the first line: "John Smith really knows how to stir up trouble." And at the end the story, this admonition for female readers: "All we can say is: Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Get it? By any measure, the light-hearted treatment trivializes what my hypothetical male criminal did, and if somebody wrote such a story, women's groups would be justifiably outraged. What you'd see instead are outraged story after story after story about how our justice system fails women, and John Smith would be the poster boy for male oppression of females.

Angelowicz's piece trivializes what Mangum did, but hardly anybody notices because "it's just men." Look at the language Angelowicz uses: "stir up trouble" is what the office gossip does when she tattles on her colleague about leaving work early; it is in a different universe than the ruins Ms. Mangum made of several innocent male lives. And warning men to "be afraid. Be very afraid" is the kind of mocking admonition you'd give to a man whose mother-in-law is coming to visit. You'd never use this tone to women readers about my hypothetical rapist, John Smith. If the genders were reversed, you'd see a recognition of the injustice that John Smith is allowed to roam free to terrorize women without serving any time. The absence of any such recognition, the absence of any outrage whatsoever, might just be the biggest problem, the most glaring double standard, about Angelowicz's piece.

About Mangum's false rape claim, Angelowicz writes: ". . . rape is not really the kind of thing to lie about. " Nice understatement. Now reverse the genders: "Rape is not really the kind of thing to do." Now that's an appropriate level of outrage, don't you think?

And this: "Apparently Crystal didn’t learn her lesson . . . ." Well, I mean, how could she? She never served a second behind bars for it. She even published a book about her "ordeal," which some people treated seriously. I can't recall a single female commentator bemoaning the fact that Mangum did not serve any time behind bars, so I don't want to hear any of them wonder why Mangum didn't "learn her lesson."

You don't think it's fair to compare an actual rape with a measly false rape claim? Ask yourself, which harm is worse, the rape Mangum would have experienced if the Duke boys had done to her what she lied about, or the hell she put three innocent young men through for one full year, and beyond. If given the terrible choice between those two harms, I suspect most people would opt for the former. Yet the ordeal of those three innocent young men was given the light-hearted treatment by Angelowicz. But hey, it's just three "undeservedly privileged white boys."

If you think this post is an overreaction, you are not familiar with how false rape claims or female-on-male violence are treated in the mainstream media. They are trivialized in a multitude of ways. This is all the more glaring when contrasted with male-on-female violence, which too often is given the Chicken Little hysterical treatment and taken to absurd, almost surreal, extremes. Remember just a few weeks ago when the head of NOW claimed that the sweet Super Bowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mother was a "celebration of violence against women." What universe are we living in?

Mangum allegedly tried to kill one man and she did attempt to destroy the lives of three others. Angelowicz should have bemoaned the fact that Mangum was permitted to get away with her initial crime without spending one second behind bars, and that this time, law enforcement needs to do the right and lock her away for a long time if she's convicted. What we needed here was the kind of angry piece women writers write when the genders are reversed.

Last time I checked, men bleed, men cry, men feel pain, anxiety, and hurt just like women do. Yet the victimization of innocent men is trivialized in comparison to the victimization of women. This, you see, is a twisted sort of payback for perceived injustice against women committed by persons the innocent men at issue never even met.

As troubling as Angelowicz's take is, the most inane statement appears in a comment under the story by a HermannM. I reprint it without comment because its idiocy speaks for itself:

"Since when did the Frisky become an agent of FoxNews’ propaganda? It strikes me as alarming that a site that advocates for women’s issues would side with that media giant against a sex worker & possible object of domestic violence. Did she lie about the rape case? Yes. Is she confused? Probably. Has she made good choices in life? It’s debatable. Does she need help? Definitely. Should women (and men) turn their backs to her, at the prompting of FoxNews? I don’t think so. Do you?"

Sigh. How very far we still have to go.