Life as an Extreme Sport

Vigilante Justice and Gender

This is via the LATimes:

Like a character from a graphic novel, he dresses in black, has unusually blond hair — and kills bus drivers who sexually assault women.

In a place like Ciudad Juarez, known for its years of brutal killings of women, the story has inexorable appeal. But how much of it is true?

Authorities are taking the reports seriously enough to investigate and have posted undercover cops on buses. Women’s advocates say they wouldn’t be surprised if someone finally had taken long-denied justice into his own hands.

Two bus drivers were slain in the last week, and over the weekend an electronic message claiming responsibility was sent to several news outlets.

“You think because they are women they are weak, and maybe they are,” the message says. “But only to a certain point…. We can no longer remain quiet over these acts that fill us with rage.

“And so, I am an instrument who will take vengeance.”

Signed: David, Hunter of Bus Drivers.

The message says women who work the night shifts in Juarez’s enormous maquiladora industry repeatedly fall prey to the bus drivers on whom they must rely to get home in the dark.

For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether David the Hunter really exists, or even whether he is a he.

Of course, that’s not the actual copy – I’ve gone through and changed gender names and pronouns, to make clear the point that Kate Clancy made to David Dobbs on Twitter:

I find it interesting they question the gender of the killer here. Were it a man, no question.

And she’s right. Take another look at the actual paragraph versus the paragraph I modified:

For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether Diana the Huntress really exists, or even whether she is a she.

vs.

For now, at least, there is no way to verify the veracity of the message, whether it was written by the actual killer or killers of the bus drivers, whether David the Hunter really exists, or even whether he is a he.

“Or even whether he is a he” sounds strange to our ears, because we default to a gendered notion of vigilante justice, one rooted in Batman and strong men taking action, rather than the idea of a woman being capable of the violence inherent within the action.

This is the kind of insidious sexism that creeps into even the most progressive or liberal of newsrooms, and is the sort of thing that should be highlighted and pointed out. Those responsible–in this case, Tracy Wilkinson, Cecilia Sanchez, and their editors–should be held accountable for their gendered bias and gendered reporting, in order to move towards the elimination of both.