This week’s New Yorker has a deep reading of Amanda Knox’s new memoir, Waiting to be Heard. For those who missed the wall-to-wall tabloid coverage of “Foxy Knoxy,” Knox is infamous because she was accused of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher, during their junior year abroad in Perugia, Italy. Prosecutors concocted a story—seemingly based on little evidence—that Knox and her new boyfriend killed Kercher in a Satantic sex ritual gone wrong.
Though The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead disdains the “slut shaming” Knox experienced in the press (the fact that Knox owned a vibrator and purchased condoms were petty details repeated over and over), she then describes Knox’s active sex life as a “dispiriting account of prevailing mores.” Mead is primly upset by the fact that Knox wanted to have sex uncoupled from feelings. In her short piece on Knox, she goes out of her way to mention that Knox contracted oral herpes from a one-night stand, as if that should have deterred her for continuing to pick up men, despite the fact that it’s something that 50-80 percent of American adults have.
Furthermore, she describes Knox, along with other women of her generation, as “caught in a post-post-feminist narrative in which it is proposed that sexual emancipation may be achieved through emotional disengagement.” She argues that it’s new for young women to “strive to adopt the sexual behavior of the most opportunistic guy on campus.”
First, let’s get out of the way that both the behavior and the concomitant press slut-shaming are not new. Consider the case of Roseann Quinn, a sweet-faced Catholic teacher for the deaf, who was killed on New Year’s Eve, 1972, murdered in her own apartment by a drifter she met at a bar and had brought home for sex. Quinn became an enduring cautionary tale for sexual emancipation gone wrong when her story was fictionalized in the 1977 movie Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
If empowerment, that much abused and much diminished term, means anything it means being able to say no as well as yes, without censure or shame. It means neither being reflexively condemned as a volpe cattiva—a wicked fox, as the Italian press translated her nickname—nor submitting unthinkingly to contemporary pressures.
It’s unclear to me why Mead believes that Knox was merely “submitting unthinkingly to contemporary pressures” when she was sexually experimenting in Europe. It’s also unclear to me why she thinks it’s necessarily damaging for young women to gain sexual experience without emotional entanglement. Most women who have a few one-night stands don’t end up dead, like Roseann Quinn, or embroiled in internationally publicized murder trials, like Amanda Knox. In fact, if none of this had ever happened, I imagine that Knox would have looked back on her Italian bed hopping as fun jaunt, instead of a life-altering nightmare.