Saturday, September 09, 2006

Jury Duty

A few days ago I was chosen to serve on a jury. As annoying as it was and as much as it threatened to ruin some delicately planned machinations at work, I was a little excited to try something new, something I'd only ever seen on TV. However, it was far from a Veronica Marsian romp of cleverness and intrigue. (Although, I was chosen to be foreperson because of my adorable youthfulness.) It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I was forced to confront the fact that I live in a pleasant little bubble compared to most women. I work in an office full of progressive women; my husband seems to have effortlessly opted out of the patriarchy; and my friends are well-educated, thoughtful people. However, in the regular world, there's a nasty streak of contempt and disrespect for women very close to the surface. I believed I was keenly aware of this, but I rarely encounter the reality face-to-face, and it felt like a punch in the stomach.

Before the trial even began, and we were just in the process of jury selection, the judge was giving us instructions and trying to break the ice. Unfortunately, all his attempts at humor involved wives as difficult harpies and how his daughters are greedy and willful. Yeah, that's hilarious, you chauvinist jerk-wad.

The case we were going to be hearing involved an accusation of domestic violence. The attorneys asked potential jurors questions trying to determine how they might respond to such a case. One woman actually said that she didn't know if it was right to charge men in this sort of case because women tend to bring it on themselves. I was under the mistaken impression that even if some people privately believe that sort of crap, everyone understands that it is inappropriate to publicly say so. Even if she was just trying to sound crazy enough to get out of jury duty, couldn't she have come up with something less vile?

After we heard the case and were deliberating, a major point of contention was the credibility of each person involved since there was almost no physical evidence to indicate what actually happened. The phrases " know how women are," and " know how women get," were bandied about with alarming frequency. At one point I started yelling about "how men get," which involved popping little ladies in the eye when they have the nerve to object to men having affairs or when they neglect to cook dinner. Not that I believe men as a whole tend to get violent any more than I believe women as a whole tend to get hysterical, but the fact that most of the other jurors seemed to find her less credible just because she was a women made me feel a little violent and hysterical.

In the end I had to admit that there was enough reasonable doubt about what happened that night that it would be wrong to convict. However, I've been struggling about whether or not I made the right decision. Personally, I'm pretty sure that he did hit her on purpose and out of anger, not self-defense. But, how sure is sure enough to convict someone who is entitled to a presumption of innocence? How much doubt is reasonable?

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