I’ll Show You Scorn | Vol. 5 / No. 13.1

Larry Nassar is going to jail for a long, long time: 40-175 years to be exact. Which, if he were to miraculously stay alive long enough to fulfill his own sentence, would be roughly one year for every woman and girl he sexually abused. Somehow, that doesn’t seem long enough.

Some people, when faced with the overwhelming evidence that they are despicable human beings, either are, or act, contrite. At sentencing, they take responsibility for their actions. They give impassioned apologies. They beg for forgiveness. They promise to do what they can to make amends.

Larry Nassar tried to go that route, and his targets were not having it. According to the New York Times, 

Given an opportunity to address the court before sentencing, Dr. Nassar apologized to the young women and, occasionally turning to them in the courtroom, said: “Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.” Several women groaned when he faced them and sobbed as he spoke.

Pro tip—if over 100 women have spent the last four days explaining how you destroyed them, emotionally, mentally, and physically, do not fucking look at them ever again. They don’t want to see your goddamn face for one more second.

While Nassar tried the apology route, events showed that really, he had just doubled down on that whole “meat bag full of monster trash” thing.

At his sentencing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina (my new hero) read aloud a letter that Nassar had written two months after accepting his plea deal. It did not show a lot of contrition. Among everything else—blaming his sentence on the media, the prosecutors, and his own “noble” desire to avoid stress for his family—he included the line, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Sorry, I was just filled with such intense rage that I sorta lost the ability to person for a second.

For those of you not totally up on your late seventeenth-century plays, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is a paraphrase of a line from a play by William Congreve, first performed in 1697. The actual line is, “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,/Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”  Not quite sure where the whole “hath” thing came from, expect it sounds cool. But the long and short of it is, we’ve been claiming that somehow, rejected women are worse than Hell since before the US was a country. So…. that’s a thing.

Usually the line is tossed out in a romantic comedy to explain why a dissed woman is suddenly turning into a screeching harpy. Still sexist, still not cool, but at least contextually accurate.

Larry Nassar, as you might have guessed, is not using it in a contextually accurate way.

“Scorned” implies being rejected, or derided. Nassar’s victims were not rejected. They were sexually abused. That’s a big freaking difference.

The testimony his accusers have given is as heartbreaking as it is powerful. It paints a picture of a man who was a conscious, even bold predator, one who would abuse a girl while her parents were in the same room. One who relied on various institutions caring more about their reputation than the girls and women in their charge in order to carry on his actions for over twenty years. These weren’t consensual relationships where he eventually grew tired and rejected them. He sexually abused multiple women and girls.

The internet is (appropriately) appalled at his language, and Jude Aquilina literally tore up his letter, which is amazing. But the thing to keep in mind is that it is only the scale of Nassar’s crime that is unique. His attitude, and the way he tries to deflect blame for what he did, is not.

The “woman scorned” trope is frequently used as a defense in sexual assault cases, with the idea that the woman is just making up crazy lies because the man rejected her. Because, you know, women are super emotional and hysterical and we would rather go through the humiliating and grueling process of reporting a sexual assault than admit that some dude doesn’t like us. Women, amirite?

This accusation is lobbed at almost every sexual assault victim who comes forward. Along with the accusation that it was consensual sex that she now regrets, or that she’s just, y’know, a whore. There can be a lot of contradictory reasons that a woman is supposedly lying, and no one seems to ever care that they are contradictory.

Until we clean up our language, and our culture, we are going to continue to battle this old, sexist stereotype. I only hope that we do it before the next serial predator gets a chance to write a letter to a judge.

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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to keep her thoughts together in the face of her own righteous fury, she studies gender in popular culture.

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