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COMMENTARY

"The myth of the gentler sex"

NATIONAL POST - By George Jonas, Monday, December 20, 2004

Police have arrested a suspect in the bizarre murder of a Missouri woman last week. Lisa Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., has reportedly admitted strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, of SkidRead More ..Mo., before removing a near-term baby from the victim's womb and presenting the abducted infant to her husband, Kevin, as her own. The baby girl survived the ordeal. News reports have her "thriving" in a Kansas hospital.

The authorities declined to speculate on a motive for the crime. U.S. Attorney Todd Graves is quoted saying that last Thursday, after killing Ms. Stinnett and cutting the baby out of her womb, Ms. Montgomery phoned her husband at work to tell him she had gone into labour and given birth. She requested Kevin to pick up her and her "newborn" from a restaurant parking lot in nearby Topeka, which her well-trained husband proceeded to do.

Odd as the tragic story is, it isn't unique. A year ago, an Oklahoma woman named Effie Goodson, 37, convinced her husband that she was expecting. She had friends throw a baby shower for her, then shot and killed an acquaintance who was six months pregnant, and cut the baby from her womb. The next day Carolyn Simpson, 21, was found in a field with a bullet in her head, while Ms. Goodson arrived in a Holdenville, Okla., hospital with a dead fetus, claiming to be its mother. The state was seeking the death penalty against her, but last month she was found incompetent to stand trial.

The belief that women are by nature kinder and gentler than men is deeply rooted. Even feminists subscribe to it most of the time (except when it comes to women in the military and such). This myth helps explain why female violence is always news, in a man-bites-dog sort of way.

Needless to say, most members of either sex refrain from murder. The few who don't are distinguished by their morals rather than their hormones. Estrogen can be a killer chemical as much as testosterone when coupled with greed, evil or insanity.

Voices in the press have blamed -- or, oddly, given credit to -- feminism for awakening violence in women. "These days," wrote Liz Gill in the London Times in 1987, "the finger that pulls the trigger or sets the detonator is almost as likely to be female as male." More recently, writing in the Washington Post, Libby Copeland described Wafa Idriss, a 28-year-old Palestinian paramedic who blew herself up along with an 81-year-old Israeli man in Jerusalem in 2002, as a "role model" for some.

For a Palestinian culture grown malignant, Idriss may well be a role model. But a perverse pride in contemporary female terrorists isn't only a moral error: It's a historical one. You haven't come a long way, baby. Whether or not women are new to male virtues, they've always had male vices. The finger that pulled the trigger or set the detonator was frequently female ever since the invention of gunpowder.

The 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II was organized by a woman named Sofia Perovskaya. The leading ladies of 19th century terror included such Russian "role models" as the legendary Vera Figner. Figner's group called itself "The People's Will." Its members specialized in regicide by explosives. The list of the country's terrorist groupies included such females as Sofia Liubatovich, Sofia Ivanova, Tatiana Lebedeva, Anna Sergeeva and Anna Iakimova.

Women, like men, participated in politics long before they had the vote. In 1793, Charlotte Corday stabbed the French revolutionary leader Jean Paul Marat to death in his bathtub. It wasn't a lovers' quarrel but political murder. So was Dora "Fanya" Kaplan's shooting of V. I. Lenin in 1918 (though Lenin lingered for a couple of years, to the dismay of his impatient disciple and eventual successor, J. V. Stalin.)

The modern heroines of mayhem had predecessors: They didn't just spring from the forehead of modern feminist matriarchs in full armour, as the Greek goddess Pallas Athena did from her father Zeus. The notorious Leila Khaled (who hijacked a jetliner for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1969) and the obscure Kim Hyon Hui (who blew up Korean Air Flight 858 killing 115 in 1987) had antecedents going back all the way to Ildiko the Hunness, whose 453 A.D. murder of Attila the Hun may have been an early example of what some now call battered wife syndrome.

One final note. My wife asked if I thought women strangling expectant mothers in womb robberies was appropriate for a Christmas week column. A good point, but I did go over last week's news stories carefully before settling on a subject. Originally, I planned to comment on Prime Minister Paul Martin paying his respects to Libya's dictator, the mass murderer Muammar Gaddafi. But then I remembered the holiday season, and decided to choose a less depressing topic.

National Post 2004