SEVEN WOMEN WERE murdered in the Boston area between July and December 1972, and facts and speculation about their deaths have lent themselves to a type of journalism that is sensational and paternalistic.
One reason is that there really was no hard news to report on these women's deaths for a long time. There was no definite murder suspect, no real clues, not even a concrete notion of the women's intentions or actions that led up to the killings.
Nevertheless, there was no dearth of copy. Boston-area newspapers seized on the only common denominators in the crimes--that the victims were young, pretty and female--and proceeded to exploit it. The most recent study of the murders is a three-part psychological "analysis" that ran in The Boston Globe this week.
The point of these three articles was that the nature of the women, and of the "youth culture" to which they ostensibly belonged, was largely responsible for the murders. "...Women are traditionally vulnerable, and they are vulnerable because they are women," the article ran. "Information gathered about the seven murder victims...indicates that they were essentially unaggressive people, stereotypes of their gender."
The bulk of the series consists of portraits of the women, highlighting their young, female qualities of trust, shyness and naivete. These portraits are interspersed with quotations from local experts--psychologists, counselors, professors and college administrators--emphasizing the vulnerability of the youth culture in general and of women in particular.
Emphasis on the physical vulnerability of women in an abduction-murder situation is specious: against an attacker with a weapon even the strongest man would be equally defenseless. But to speculate as the Globe writer does, that the women were psychologically vulnerable, that their low selfimages and naive ideas of trust led them to victimize themselves, is more than specious; it is destructive. It is destructive because, although most of the time such analyses are presented as intelligent, informative discussions of women's problems, in reality they only serve to entrench the stereotypes they seek to illuminate.
TO SAY THAT because women are raped and murdered, there is something in their personalities or their values that has imperiled them is dubious. The problem seems more to be that of an atmosphere in which women are regarded as victims. And every time the stereotypic notion that women are victims is reiterated, this dangerous atmosphere is intensified.
It may be intensified in the minds of women that they are likely to be victimized. It may be intensified in the minds of killers that women are victims. Either way, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as much writing about women has been in the past.
We do not need these prophecies. If we are told that these are facts, and that if they add up to stereotypes, it is too bad, I think that we can only say that the stereotypes existed long before any facts, data or expert psychological testimony was ever accumulated. The terrifying thing is that stereotypes are believed and that they can be reinforced. There have been enough stereotypes of women so that one more--blaming us for crimes committed against us--can only victimize us further.