Jewish World Review July 20, 2001 /29 Tamuz, 5761

Stanley Crouch

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When murder is justified -- IF it is true that Rep. Gary Condit's crew is working to destroy the reputation of Chandra Levy by claiming she had many sex partners, we find our heads shoved into another vat of insignificant slime.

The tactic is supposed to imply that others should be sought by the police and the pressure taken off Condit. But there is always the possibility of another effect as well, which is a reduction of public sympathy for Levy based on the assertion that she may have dared to ignore moral standards.

Yet Levy's private life is not an issue. After all, exactly what kinds of supposed character flaws make terrible mistreatment of women less than something we should take seriously?

For discussion's sake, let's say that Levy had slept around, that hers had been one of two heads on more than a few pillows, that she was what used to be called a wild thing. To further the discussion, let's assume that Levy was on the receiving end of foul play.

Here, then, is the question. How promiscuously does a woman have to live her sex life before we can shrug off her being raped, her being beaten, her being kidnapped, her being murdered?

I want the numbers. Shouldn't we all have some agreed upon numbers? Sure we should. So let's look at some.

If a woman is sleeping with two guys at the same time, is it all right if she is raped? If with three guys, is it acceptable for the woman to experience a beating that leaves her senseless? If four guys are in her erotic rotation, can she be kidnapped? If five have boudoir permission, can she be murdered?

I don't think so. That is not what our laws are about, either. Our system is intent on judgment above personality. Even when we find the private behavior of someone offensive, that person is supposed to be protected under the law as long as he or she doesn't do anything illegal.

But to certain kinds of people, we always seem like such suckers that we have these irrelevant accusations or rumors thrown at us. Our puritanical heritage is always supposed to kick in when purportedly dubious sexual activities are intruded into the story.

Yet the facts are that behavior is still seen as one thing from men and another from women. A so-called womanizer is usually respected by men for the gift of gab or the charisma that makes many women available to him. He's a lover man, right? But a woman who lives that way is thought of, as the gangster rappers say, a "'ho."

This same stuff was kicked around during the rape scandal several years ago that sent Mike Tyson back behind bars. In that case, the smear in the street was that it was 3 in the morning when the boxer was accused of raping the young woman. My question then and now is, "So?"

At the time of the Tyson controversy, I said to other guys that I had a daughter in her late teens. I would not have been very happy if she was raped by some guy who shrugged it off by telling me how late it was when he did it.

I asked other men if they felt that there was a cutoff point at which it would be acceptable for their daughters or sisters to be raped. The tone of the conversation always got different then, because those guys had never thought about it. They had never considered that line in the blues song that goes, "What would you do if your trouble was the same as mine?"

Such people should not be too willing to take the scarlet letter off of Condit for his sexual adventures and scornfully put it on Levy. I say that because it doesn't matter what we find out about Chandra Levy's private life. What matters is justice, which is supposed to apply to all of us.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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