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The scapegoating of Amanda Knox

Op-Ed

In person, in prison and in the media, the woman convicted by an Italian court of murder — and now exonerated — was subjected to all manner of outlandish, misogynistic behavior.

October 04, 2011|By Nina Burleigh

Knox was put through an extreme version of the test many young women face. She was endowed with compelling, mysterious powers. The focus on her sexuality suggests that civilization can easily tip backward to the primeval era when the feminine was classified, worshiped and feared in the form of powerful archetypes: Madonnas and Dianas, virgins and whores. Knox inadvertently fed these archetypes by the ways she behaved in public and advertised herself on the Web and, eventually, in her own compulsive writings.

In the end, however, it was precisely because she wasn't that monster, because she hadn't perfected that persona in the world, that she could do so little to defend herself. Knox had barely defined herself; she didn't possess the language or the maturity to match, let along overcome, the authority of other people's notions.

In Perugia's archaeology museum, there are hundreds of ancient Etruscan funerary urns. For some reason, perhaps having to do with women dying in childbirth, many of them feature a carved relief depicting the Iphigenia fable. Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, who agreed to sacrifice her so that his ships might sail to Troy. At the last moment, the goddess Diana replaced the girl with a deer. In prison, Knox's jail mates nicknamed her Bambi, apparently because of her passivity in the face of accusations.

The young woman who first went to jail at age 20 was a cipher onto whose photogenic, smiling face some Italians could see the archetypal Madonna-whore and, in whose pale eyes, others saw a psychopath. She was arrested at a time and in a place where young sexually active women are endowed in the minds of grown men, and maybe women too, with propensities for fantastic adult kink that few possess. The gaunt, tense woman defending herself on appeal bore barely any resemblance to the fresh, pretty girl photographed kissing her boyfriend outside the murder scene. Only now, having lost the power to bewitch and beguile, has she been revealed as human — and also, apparently, not guilty of murder.

Nina Burleigh's book on the Knox case, "The Fatal Gift of Beauty," was published in August.

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