Political Callousness on Violence Toward Women
There’s no way to live with what John Mack did to Pamela Small in 1973. Mack--who resigned Thursday as House Speaker Jim Wright’s main aide and executive director of the congressional Democratic Steering and Policy Committee--said his crime had been part of the public record for 16 years. Mack had been protected by Wright, powerful Democrats in Congress and a quiescent press willing to live with his crime against Small--protecting him, fraternizing with him, rewarding him. How could they?
John Paul Mack, then 19, managed a discount import store. Pamela Small, then 20, bought some Venetian blinds there. There was something wrong with them, so Mack asked Small to come into the storeroom to pick new blinds. Then, he blocked the door and told her to lie down. She refused. He took a hammer and repeatedly smashed her skull. Then, he stabbed her five times with a steak knife in her left breast and shoulder and slashed her throat many times. Then, he put her body in a car and drove around. Then, he parked the car and went to a movie.
Small survived, escaped, pressed charges. Mack pleaded guilty to malicious wounding: specifically “that he did . . . stab, cut and wound one Pamela Small with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable and kill.” He was sentenced to 15 years, seven suspended, in the Virginia State Penitentiary.
He never did hard time or much time. He served less than 27 months in a county jail where he worked as a cook. Then, he was paroled--to a job on Wright’s congressional staff.
Wright’s daughter was then married to Mack’s brother. Presumably not a consumer of discount Venetian blinds, she was not in any immediate danger; or if she was, the Speaker didn’t seem to care. The Washington Post said that since Wright became Speaker, Mack was “arguably the most powerful staff member on Capitol Hill.
Wright offered Mack a job before he was sentenced and wrote letters in Mack’s behalf to the probation officer and sentencing judge. Only Wright’s influence can account for the extreme leniency shown Mack for a crime of heinous brutality. Only complete indifference to the worth of a woman’s life--a stunning callousness--can account for Wright’s manipulation of the legal system so that, in fact, the perpetrator has been rewarded with political power for his carnage.
Mack said he “just blew my cool for a second.” Examined by a psychiatrist nearly a year later, Mack said he had “reacted in a way in which any man would perhaps react under similar circumstances.” The “circumstances” he was referring to were long work days and a failing marriage. Happily, he wasn’t saying he had had an appropriate response to a woman choosing Venetian blinds. Unhappily, he was saying that bludgeoning the skull of a woman with a hammer, slashing her throat repeatedly with a steak knife, stabbing her in the breast and shoulder repeatedly, then going to a movie with the body left in the car, was something “any man” would do if he were under pressure.
It’s an interesting and eloquent assertion of gender, implying as it does that it is natural for a man to use massive, grotesque violence against a woman, any woman, when he is upset. Court psychiatrists said that Mack was sane when he committed the crime, that he knew right from wrong. In fact, he knew Wright from wrong. The Speaker sprung him and he was protected by a network of male power. House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Merced) told the Washington Post two weeks ago that if Wright were to fire Mack, “members would be lined up to hire him.” Because of the public outrage, that might no longer be the case.
Mack’s sane, Wright’s sane, Coelho’s sane: What is a sane man? When men know right from wrong, what is it that they know? And why are these men running the country? How many sane men are there in government? How many use hammers; how many use fists?
In the city where I live, a major politician has a history of beating women. In each election for the past decade in which he has been a candidate, women’s groups have taken documentation to the press--affidavits and testimony from women he has hurt. The press never thought it was worth a line of newsprint. The press, too, is composed of sane men. Between the male journalists who know right from wrong and the male politicians who know right from wrong, women are in a vise: information and public policy controlled by Mack’s “any man"--men protecting men who hurt women because “any man” will or might or can.
If Wright’s time had not come, if he were not under indictment by the House Ethics Committee, the public would not have been told about Mack. The sane men in the press who know right from wrong wouldn’t have thought it was important. Congressional insiders knew Mack had committed a felony, some even knew about Mack’s crime; they just didn’t tell the rest of us.
The issue for the press was Wright’s weakened political position. It wasn’t that Mack committed an unspeakable crime of violence; or the meaning of the Speaker’s complicity in protecting him; or the meaning of the congressional support for him--legislators protecting a slasher when, not coincidentally, rape is epidemic, abortion rights threatened and pornography legally protected.
Male dominance means that men who are sane the way Mack was sane run the country and control information; they are the government and the press; they shape reality through laws and perception. They protect “any man’s” violence against any woman. Not by accident is the United States a nightmare of violence against women. Men in power make choices for violence. They protect violence in men because any man, under similar circumstances, would perhaps react the same way: the way Mack did; the way Wright did; the way Coelho and other powerful Democrats did. It’s the boys-will-be-boys theory of good government, a government of men, not laws, not women.
Coehlo says he is “very close” to Mack. “Rightly or wrongly,” he said, “under our system of law John Mack owed his debt to society, not to this young woman.” The woman is chopped liver to him. The question is: What is any woman going to do about it?