A Just World & Gwen Araujo’s Murder

This semester has been crazy busy. So busy that I have a whole slew of gobblity gook I can’t wait to blog about. Oooooh has it accumulated.

At long last, my Spring Break has begun. Am I off in a secluded cabin somewhere? Am I at a beach party trying to escape a prehistoric mutant piranha blood bath?! Well, close… but no cigar. I’m getting school stuff done.

Ugh. See, here’s the problem. My academically warped sense of reality compels me to see this “break” as an opportunity to get stuff done. For example, tomorrow I’ll be working on submitting my summer research idea for IRB approval - which is a board that exists to make sure research involving human participants is ethical or not. What fun.

My riveting research topic, by the way, involves anti-transgender prejudice and victim blaming. A little while back I came across something called the “just-world hypothesis”, which was developed by a feller named Lerner back in the 1960’s. A bit after Milgram had dabbled in his studies on human obedience to authority figures, Lerner wondered about what other factors contribute to people supporting cruel regimes or social norms that cause suffering. He noticed a tendency for observers to blame victims for their own suffering - like how his students would consistently blame the poor for their own plight, instead of structural factors that contribute to poverty. So, he conducted a series of experiments that replicated this - the more innocent the victim, the more they would be derogated and blamed for their own suffering. This has since been demonstrated time and time again. Weird shit.

To explain these findings, he developed this just-world hypothesis. It basically theorizes that, in order to preserve our own well-being, we have an innate drive to see the world in a controlled way. In this case, our actions have predictable, fair consequences. It makes it seem as though we can impact the world in a predictable way. And also…
people are confronted daily with evidence that the world is not just: people suffer without apparent cause. Lerner explained that people use strategies to eliminate threats to their belief in a just world. These strategies can be rational or irrational. Rational strategies include accepting the reality of injustice, trying to prevent injustice or provide restitution, and accepting one’s own limitations. Non-rational strategies include denial or withdrawal, and reinterpretation of the event.
After stumbling across this, I’ve noticed this phenomenon playing out all over the place. Up, down, and all around. Just last week I watched a forensics program regarding the murder of a 17-year-old girl named Gwen Araujo in 2002. Upon discovering she was a transsexual woman at a party, four men brutally beat her and then dragged her to a garage while she was semi-conscious and strangled her with rope until she died. The men then tied her wrists and ankles, wrapped her in a bed sheet, and drove her body to Silver Fork Campground - just 30 miles from San Francisco.

Throughout the trial, not only was she blamed repeatedly by various individuals, but the defense even went to the extent of using a trans panic defense - an extension of the gay panic defense.

For example, the attorney who represented the prosecution, Chris Lamiero, commented:
Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. She’s who she was. (and then blaming the victim kicks in) However, I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in her relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.
I couldn’t help but wonder how much harsher the convictions would have been if the entire case wasn’t awash in cissexism (the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals) and, very plausibly, this just-world situation.

I epic fail at not blogging about school, but it has to leak out some times. Just a little bit - especially since it permeates about 98% of my reality right now. I’ll try to balance it out a bit.

On an aside, last week the most embarrassing thing happened during class. A fellow student sitting next to me spontaneously leaned down to rifle through her backpack. But, to do so, her head was practically in my lap - on my arm. While she was down there rummaging I jokingly thought, want me to move my arm so you can take a nap in my lap?, which came out of my mouth as, “Need me to move my arm? My lap’s right here.”

Awkward moment.

And then it clicked. That statement just went through a gender binary filter. I felt myself turning red, instantly.

… ,”er, wait. No. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, you know, to nap. In my lap. It’s not at all what it sounded like.”

She laughed and replied with some comforting statement about how yes, it did sound bad, but, funny ha blah blah.

Ugh. Apparently I need to think before I speak. Probably before I write, too.


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