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Newsweek Author Double-Dips in Singlism and Sexism June 10, 2011

Posted by Onely in As If!, Food for Thought.
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Check out this Newsweek article by Christopher Dickey and see if you can spot the problematic paragraph, then tell me what that paragraph’s content has to do with the theme of the piece. Really, I’m not being sarcastic–I want to know if I have some serious reading comp problems. I read the article twice, some sections several times.

Despite an apparent blunder into sexism and singlism (described below), the article tells an intriguing story, briefly profiling the NYPD’s ever-shrinking Special Victims Division and some of its officers. (The SVD does the important work of catching sickos who commit sex and hate crimes.)

Does an SVD investigator’s gender or marital status impact his or her ability to do this job or affect the way the officer approaches the job? Sure, possibly (though not necessarily). Dickey doesn’t overtly discuss this topic, but he does touch on the extent of female presence in the unit. And that’s fine. What made me uncomfortable was this:

‘Leave my perp alone,’ said Liz Gutierrez, the only woman detective left on the squad. Gutierrez keeps her tightly curled hair cropped close around her head, wears little makeup, and carries a gun, of course, under the jacket of her pantsuit. She’s single, she says, but doesn’t volunteer more.

But when Dickey describes the three other (male) members of the team, not once does he mention marital status, or haircuts, or even whether they carry a weapon “of course.”  Instead, they are described only by their titles, or in the case of lead detective Alan Sandomir, his college, military, and police experience.

The discrepancy is nothing new–writers and pundits all too often describe their female subjects by their appearance but don’t view their male subjects through the same filter. Dickey’s inclusion of Gutierrez’ marital status is also not a new phenomenon–see the famous Forbes “Most Powerful Women” article which listed the honorees’ marital statuses, criteria not included in Forbes’ “Most Powerful People” article.

What does make the article a little bit special is the double-dipping-twofer angle: sexism and singlism rolled up together in two tight sentences, a bit of an Ism Twinkie, if you will (or perhaps you won’t).

For our Copious Readers’ convenience, below I’ve pasted the relevant excerpts referring to the three male officers and Gutierrez.

–Christina

Excerpts:

Lt. Adam Lamboy, commander of the Manhattan Special Victims Squad, the unit handling the (alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Kahn) case.

***

54-year-old Alan Sandomir, one of the two lead detectives looking in to the maid’s allegations against Strauss-Kahn. Sandomir has been on the Special Victims squad for 16 years, and on the police force for 27. He could have retired seven years ago. He studied anthropology in college and then serived with U.S. Army intelligence spying inside East Germany in the early 1980s. raised in a Yiddish-speaking household, proud of his Jewishness, his Zionism, and his secularism, of his guns and his suspenders (to hold up his guns), not to mention his skill analyzing DNA evidence, Sandomir is one of those detectives who can’t get enough. “Doing this job is truly fighting the good fight,” he says. “If you want victims, witnesses, informants, blood, semen, saliva, video—if you want to be Dick Tracy, this is the squad to be in.”

***

The last thing any detective wants, says Lt. Robert Johnson of Brooklyn Special Victims, “is to paint someone with that rapist brush and find out they are not, because the paint never comes off.”

***

“When people come in to make allegations,” says Steven Lane, the other lead detective on the Strauss-Kahn case, “they don’t realize we are going to go frame by frame.”

***

One afternoon last week, a Mexican immigrant arrested for sexually molesting his 7-year-old stepdaughter sat in “the box,” as the detectives call their interview rooms. He was at the same round table with two mismatched office chairs where Strauss-Kahn spent his first night in custody, and one detective asked another if he should be moved to the holding cell on the other side of the office. “Leave my perp alone,” said Liz Gutierrez, the only woman detective left on the squad.

Gutierrez keeps her tightly curled hair cropped close around her head, wears little makeup, and carries a gun, of course, under the jacket of her pantsuit. She’s single, she says, but doesn’t volunteer more. She always wanted to be a detective in Special Victims because it was the place she thought she could do the most good, she says. But Gutierrez works to control her emotions, her guesses, her gut feeling on each case. “When you go in that box, you’ve got to have a clear head,” she says. “You have to keep an open mind.”

So now she wants to leave the Mexican man alone in the box, not the more sinister steel-barred cell. “He’s crying. He’s going to cry on video soon,” says Gutierrez. If she gets a confession, that’s the cleanest way to nail a case, and as a Brooklyn Special Victims detective told me, compassion gets better results from people who want to explain away—indeed, to expiate—their crimes. “I’ve seen people admit to the most heinous things,” says the detective, “and then just go to sleep.”

photo credit: Kuwait Ra’ed Qutena

Comments»

1. josie - June 11, 2011

Oh jeez, it’s so blatant! I really can’t believe they published that, the only important thing about the woman on the squad was that she was a woman and what she looked like.
Would it be wrong to put it down to Dickey just being a Dickey? Yeah, I’m laughing, but am I being sexist now?
Josie x

2. Rem Anon - June 11, 2011

Actually, I rather think the author is trying to imply that she’s a lesbian. Not that that’s really any better, since that’s not relevant either, but at least I don’t think it’s sexism, since I think if he thought one of the men were gay, he’d be doing some heavy implying there too.
I’m still not impressed with the mention at all either though.

Onely - June 11, 2011

Oo, interesting interpretation. Or perhaps he’s not so much trying to lesbianize her, but rather trying to masculinize her, because it would “make more sense” (to him) for a more masculine woman to work in such an environment?

Though I am always irritated when short hair is associated with masculinity. But I think that hetero men are “taught” to associate short hair with masculinity (and in my experience, hetero men who are unsure about their masculinity try to compensate by harping on how much more they prefer long hair on women to short hair).
CC

Alan - June 11, 2011

That was my impression too, with the emphasis on the short hair, lack of makeup, and single status. Lesbians are often stereotyped as being manly in appearance.

3. vashti760223 - July 14, 2011

It’s still sexism, since none of the men’s masculine (or lack thereof) attributes were ever noted.

Another thing that really irritated me was the fact that these people seemed to be more concerned about falsely painting someone with the rapist brush, rather than painting someone with a rape ‘accuser’ brush.

And, lastly, this also irritated me: How the author made it sound as if the only one who had to hold her emotions in, or could be compassionate, was the woman.


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