Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lady Killers

In just about four hours, my great home state of Virginia will execute Teresa Lewis. She's my age, and a grandmother (yikes), and eight years ago, she conspired with her boyfriend and another man to murder her husband.  In the process of killing him, the two men also killed her stepson.  For that crime, she will be put to death by lethal injection at 9:00 PM tonight.

Many arguments have been made on the part of the defense about her mental capacity.  She's...well...not all that smart.  The defense has also pointed out that neither of her co-conspirators were sentenced to die, even though they were the ones who actually committed the killings.

And, you know, she's a girl, which is why this case has garnered more attention than say, if she'd just been one of those brownish men our society seems to have very little compunction killing.  Virginia hasn't killed a woman in 100 years.  In the US, we haven't executed a woman in five years. 

None of that mattered to Gov. O'Donnell, who showed the depth of Republican commitment to gender equality by indicating that he could see "no compelling reason" to commute her sentence to life imprisonment.  So she is, without question, going to die.

What I find interesting is the root of the "killing a woman" thing.  Though it's an antiquated and regressive thing to think, I suspect much of the distaste comes from the idea of causing harm to someone weaker than you.  Yeah, I know, women can be fierce and ferocious.  But among male human animals, there's a pretty basic assumption in the better natures of most cultures that to harm or abuse someone who is not in a position of power is fundamentally ignoble.  A truly strong man doesn't inflict harm on those who are less powerful.  That's the bailiwick of the world's bullies and sadists.

My grandfather, for instance, once told me that there is no lower form of man than one who would strike a woman.  Though he was a gentle man, he said it with a rare glint in his eye, a glint which told me few things made him angrier.  Yeah, that's a bit patriarchal, but in a beneficent way.  It recognizes that most men are physically stronger than most women.  To use that strength to oppress or hurt those physically weaker than you is a sign that you are socially weak and spiritually stunted.

That same ethic applies in war.  To kill a combatant is one thing.  It's the nature of war.  To kill a helpless enemy, one who is in your power and unable to defend themselves, that's another.  It's the difference between a noble warrior and a butcher.    Even if that person has recently been lobbing shells at your position, and even if they may have killed your comrades in arms in combat, it's still  fundamentally ignoble to slay someone who has been rendered powerless. 

Which, of course, is exactly what American society does every single time it executes a prisoner.   A pity we don't find nobility to be "a compelling reason."