Anger, fear, and violence

People made fun of President Carter when he spoke of a national malaise.  I’m not sure we were in one back then, but I’d say we are sure in one today.  Everyone seems tired.  The upcoming election is very important, but many can’t get up enough energy to decide to vote.  But added to the tiredness is anger.   You can see it in what is said about the President, in the disrespect shown him and the office.  You can see it in the fear about Ebola.  You can see it in the increased racial tension in Missouri and elsewhere.  You can see it the attempts to restrict voting.  I see the fear of “the other” manifesting as anger.  But you can also see it in the anger against women.

Jessica Valenti had a piece in the Guardian the other day, “Why are Men so Angry?”.  I’ve been thinking about it since I first came across it.  She begins

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.

But why are men so violently angry?

I believe that it is the same kind of fear that drives the fear of the racially other.  When it comes to women, it is fear of losing some perceived superiority.  Valenti puts it this way

Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she … well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.

But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.


I’m old enough to remember when no one talked about violence against women.  We were just beginning to recognize domestic violence and create shelters.  The concepts of sexual harassment and date rape were just being named.  Rape was beginning to be taken seriously.  Now we have special months, ribbons, and rape is generally depicted as a crime of violence.  So it makes me tired to think that after all these decades that we are still trying to figure out how to deal with male violence.  (And before someone complains that women can be violent also, yes they can be.  But the vast majority of violent incidents are perpetrated by men.)

Valenti concludes

If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together – not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.

I think she is right, but I worry that the conversation about male violence will be like the national dialog on race which everyone talks about but no one knows how to begin.  I’m not sure I know how to talk to the person who still believes that President Obama is really Kenyan, much less talk to someone to wants to commit violence against me to keep me in my place.




Blaming the victim – and the family

Last August in a Boston suburb, a man stabbed his girlfriend to death in front of their child and other witnesses.  This is an all too familiar occurrence all over the country, all over the world.  What made this especially big news in Boston was that the perpetrator is the son of a former Red Sox second baseman and long time television commentator, Jerry Remy.

Yesterday the son, Jared Remy, pled guilty to first degree murder.  According to the Boston Globe story reported by Eric Moskowitz

Remy’s admission means he will spend life in state prison without the possibility of parole. His plea, entered before Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman, spares friends and family of Martel and Remy the added anguish of a protracted trial and the airing of even more gruesome details. It also means Remy will forgo what the judge called his possible “partial defense” of anxiety, depression, and steroid and prescription drug use.

“I would like to say, ‘Blame me for this, not my family,’ ” said Remy, the 35-year-old son of Jerry Remy, the celebrated Red Sox infielder-turned-broadcaster.

Rising to speak in handcuffs, Jared Remy delivered in a gravelly voice a two-minute statement in which he called himself a “bad apple” and imagined Martel watching over their daughter from heaven while playing with the couple’s late chihuahua, Buddy.

Though he said he wanted to “take responsibility for what I have done,” he also put some blame on Martel and on his “love for drugs.”

In another part of the proceeding, Remy clearly blamed Jennifer Martel for her own death.

When the prosecutor finished, the judge asked Remy if he understood and admitted to all those facts. “Yes, I do,” he said, before protesting one point. “She had a knife in her hand, and she was threatening me about my daughter,” he said. Authorities have never indicated they had evidence suggesting Martel had a knife.

Yvonne Abraham wrote in her Boston Globe column today

What a bizarre mix of contrition and blame-shifting we saw in Middlesex Superior Court Tuesday. What a spectacle of the depths to which people can sink. What a vividly detailed map of the wasteland brutality leaves behind.

Standing in that low-ceilinged, fluorescent lit courtroom, Jared Remy called Jennifer Martel, the woman he murdered with gruesome force at least partly witnessed by their 4-year-old daughter, “an angel.”

He’s the one at fault for killing her, he said. No share of the blame should go to his parents, who his lawyer said had been unfairly maligned, held partly responsible by some for not doing more to rein in a violent son who had been spiralling blatantly out of control for years.

For a man surrendering to fate, he was maddeningly defiant. He said he murdered Martel after she picked up a knife and violated a clear rule he said he had set.

“I always told Jen she could leave,” he said. “But do not threaten me with my child. That night, Jen had a knife in her hand and threatened me with my daughter, so I killed her. I don’t think it’s right when women use their kids against their fathers.”

Abusers have rules.  We’ve heard about Jared Remy’s need to control Martel just as we’ve heard it countless times about other abusers.  It is one of the primary signs of abuse.  Unfortunately, many women just think it is a sign of “masterfulness” as if we were  living in a novel set Victorian England where women were still property.  Jennifer Martel broke one of Jared Remy’s rules so she had to die.

Jennifer Martel and Arianna Remy

Jennifer Martel and Arianna Remy


But there is also the question of the blame which some think rests on father, Jerry Remy’s, shoulders.  Margery Egan wrote this morning another in a series of columns she has written on the subject  in the Boston Herald.

Jared Remy has spared his daughter Arianna and Jennifer Martel’s family the anguish of a gruesome trial. He has also spared his father Jerry and helped him keep his job behind the NESN microphone broadcasting Red Sox games.

Sox fans are clearly divided over whether the sins of the son should be visited upon the father. But they might feel differently about Jerry Remy’s lighthearted banter if they heard Martel’s murder described in stomach-churning testimony by neighbor Kristina Flickinger Hill.

Hill watched Jennifer Martel crawl across her patio pleading for help. Hill paid for her funeral. And she repeatedly said Phoebe Remy texted Martel the day before the killing begging her not to pursue criminal charges against Jared.

I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that the Remys tried to help their son and to help the mother of their grandchild.  It is a matter of record that two of their other children have also had legal problems.  I have read that the Jerry Remy persona we see on TV is very much at odds with who he is in private.  From things said during broadcasts, I believe he is a loner who has suffered from depression as after his bout with lung cancer. He probably was not an easy parent.

According to Egan and at least one woman who called into the radio show Boston Public Radio yesterday, the Red Sox broadcasts are taking a hit because women in particular, don’t want to hear Jerry.  I personally think they are taking a hit because the Red Sox can’t seem to win and it is painful to watch, but I digress.

Egan continues

No one is blaming Jerry and Phoebe Remy for murder. What I’ve blamed them for is enabling their son to evade responsibility for brutalizing five girlfriends over 18 years. And when I’ve written that Jerry should quit his NESN job, it wasn’t about taking away his right to make a living. It was about facing the tragic reality that his jokes in the Red Sox broadcast booth just don’t work anymore.

Let’s be honest. The enduring loyalty to Jerry Remy in this town is about the double standard enjoyed by beloved sports figures and, to a lesser degree, by fathers.

Jerry’s defenders say he did all he could for his son. I don’t think many would say that if it were Phoebe Remy’s career on the line. If a mother spent thousands of days on the road while all three of her children were having run-ins with the law, they’d say she abandoned her children, cruelly and selfishly, when they needed her most. She’d also lose her job in a nanosecond.

There is a lot to think about here.  The image of an admitted killer still blaming his victim.  A famous father with a job that puts him in the public eye almost every night during the baseball season.  A broadcaster who has built his reputation not only on shrewd analysis but his ability to poke fun at himself, the team and his broadcast partner.  I don’t blame him for his son, and Margery may well be right about the sexism that allows him to keep his job, but for me it was just weird to hear him before Jared pled guilty and now that he has it will just be painful to hear Jerry.

Photograph from