By Patrick Murphy
Last week the Facebook status of a good socialist friend of mine bemoaned the lack of coverage of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and contrasted it to the copious reporting on Amanda Knox.
The basic point was fair. Yet again the press decided their readers would benefit more from titillation and prurience than from an example of mass popular resistance to untrammelled capitalism. Moreover the Amanda Knox story was bursting with evidence of the deepest and darkest prejudices lingering just below the surface of the British media.
Amanda Knox was found guilty and imprisoned in 2007 in Italy for her apparent part in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Knox has always insisted on her innocence. On 4 October she won her appeal against conviction and was freed.
Obviously, neither I nor any reader can know what happened to Meredith Kercher nor whether Amanda Knox had anything to do with it. She is now free because an Italian appeal jury believed that evidence to be flawed.
Most of the UK press, however, have decided that they have the right to make the ultimate decision on Knox’s guilt and that she remains guilty. No constraint such as considering the evidence has stood in the way of British journalism. The not guilty verdict was, in the corny words of a Daily Mirror headline on 7 October, “Ob-Knox-ious”.
The very fact that this story was repeatedly billed as “the Amanda Knox trial” is revealing enough. In fact Knox’s former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was also on trial. He gets a mention in some of the reporting but never up front and only where he sheds light on the alleged weirdness of Knox. It is unlikely that this lack of interest is because he is Italian rather than American. Nor can it be explained by him exemplifying chastity, non-participation in sex games, avoidance of drugs or all-round clean-cut image. On the contrary, what his girlfriend did he freely admits to having done with her.
Sollecito’s irrelevance to the story lies in something much more basic. He is a man. Knox is a woman.
In the innocent 1950s-land of the British tabloid press women either don’t do sex and drugs or, if they really must, they very definitely don’t talk about it. Amanda Knox was, unfortunately for her, a normal 20-something female student, sexually active and into the sort of drugs which, as UK government advisers get sacked for pointing out, are many times less harmful than alcohol.
Whatever state those drugs induced in her it cannot have been as illusory as her belief that a 21st-century woman could live this fairly mundane existence without being considered, in the tautological words of one of the prosecuting lawyers, “a demonic, satanic, diabolical she-devil”.
In the British tabloids Amanda Knox lost her first name altogether and becomes “Foxy Knoxy”.
The courtroom drama is trawled frantically for further evidence of her satanic nature. She smoked joints. She bought condoms! Hang on a minute, don’t they fit onto a penis? And don’t only men have such things? What’s a woman doing buying them? Is she (no, it can’t be true) expecting sex, even (perish the thought) looking forward to it?
To make matters worse she possessed a vibrator. Readers should be spared the details of how these bestial devices work but suffice to say her ownership of one suggests two further damning verdicts. First, she actually enjoyed sex and second, and worst of all, she found a way to pursue this interest without a man present. Sickeningly her particular model was named after one of the British public’s best-loved and cuddliest little animals, the rabbit.
Shortly after returning to the US she was reunited with a college “sweetheart”. The Daily Mail managed to obtain a picture of the ex-boyfriend and published it under the headline “does he remind you of anyone?” Sensitive to the poor thinking skills of their readers, alongside the photo is one of her Italian lover Sollecito. The Mail comments: “With the same pale skin, glasses and straight mousey hair, Amanda appears to favour the geeky look in her men”.
More weirdness then. Any normal British woman would only enjoy a pint with a square-jawed Adonis and just about tolerate missionary sex. Never prone to subtlety in its suggestiveness, the Mail takes this one ugly step further: “Maybe it’s the inspiration of Amanda’s pale-skinned, bespectacled father Curt”.
The most poisonous and misogynistic piece came from Mail columnist Amanda Platell, making another judgment on appearances. “There is something disquieting about Amanda Knox,” she says, “something that slightly chills the blood. Those piercing blue eyes have hardly flinched during her court appearances”. I think I know which Amanda chills my blood.
Guilty or otherwise, Knox stands in a very long and sadly unfinished list of women condemned by misogynist journalism, not for what they did but for what they were. Rebecca Leighton, the Stockport nurse, did not, it seems, kill her patients. The Australian woman Lindy Chamberlain really did have her child taken by a dingo. Joanne Lees did not kill her boyfriend in the Australian outback because she was having her affair; they were both the victims of a brutal attack...
Women who do not conform to conservative expectations of their “proper” behaviour in life or in court are repeatedly treated as abnormal, deviant and, worst of all, guilty. Is this as good as it gets? Let’s hope not.