Am-Anne-Da: Foxy Knoxy, Anne Boleyn, and the Enduring Scarlet A
On October 3rd, Amanda Knox walked out of court a free woman, her whole life finally returned and laid bare at her feet. As her verdict was pronounced and the swarm of cameras shifted their lenses center stage, she wilted into a mess of tears upon learning of her acquittal. This after what many deemed a courageous defense, delivered in near-perfect Italian. This after almost a half-decade of being spoken for by the Telegraph and the Daily Mail and countless, anonymous Internet commenters, and Amanda was at last granted the opportunity to speak for herself. “I am not who they say I am. I did not do the things attributed to me. I am not violent. I don't have a lack of respect for life. And I did not kill. I did not rape. I did not steal.” In speech, she sounds like a woman wearied by life; bearing a burden far too weighty for her 24 years, worn down by the barely fathomable horrors that must have taken place behind Italian maximum security prison walls.
Of all the crimes forever tied to her name, it would seem the only thing Amanda Knox has ever been guilty of is liking sex too much. And now that the Seattle native’s 2009 conviction for the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, has been overturned, she’s no longer considered legally guilty of the heinous crime attributed to her, even if some might continue to speculate.
Whether or not it merits truth, the majority of Knox’s newfound notoriety is doomed to be inextricably linked to that of a wanton sex maniac – a “she-devil” monster who would brutally murder a promising young woman, a flatmate and friend, in the interest of feeding a sick, insatiable appetite for flesh and power. It’s an unflattering portrait that has been painted many times before, and I was always surprised that feminist voices never really took more to Amanda’s cause. Perhaps the delicate nature of the situation prevented those social ideologues from really raising up arms against her portrayal in the press, but it seems plain to me that the pretext of pretending a woman enjoys equal social scrutiny to a man in the media was as much a victim as Meredith Kercher, whose memory is disrespected by the grotesque hoopla surrounding this case.
There is much in her case and circumstances that remind me of another put upon lady – she a queen where Knox is a commoner, but each woman found herself on the opposite end of justice just the same. I'm speaking here of Queen Anne Boleyn, unquestionably the sixteenth century's most despised female figure – a woman unilaterally referred to as “the king's whore,” "the concubine,” and the “scandal of Christendom” during her English Renaissance heyday. King Henry might have loved sticking his fingers beneath the folds of her skirt, but the rest of the British nation would have just as soon slapped the smirking smile of a triumphant courtier off her swarthy face. Just like Knox, she too was thought of as sexually deviant and capable of horrific murder – indeed, no less than half a dozen people were suspected of being poisoned by Anne, one being Catherine of Aragon, the former’s displaced rival.
And yet, when it came time to try her for ostensibly getting her freak on with several gentlemen of the king’s privy chamber – one of them her flippin’ brother – the evidence laid bare before the court was, well, let’s just say Lady Kardashian's father would have been wasting his time as a member of the defense council. Much like that which was presented to convict Knox in her initial trial, Queen Anne’s list of offenses were sometimes based on nothing more significant or damning than heresy, court gossip, and circumstantial oddities. It was suggested by the prosecution that the Queen was too flirtatious and free with favors toward men who were not her husband; almost 500 years later, and nearly identical charges were levied against a 21-year-old college student in conjunction with egregious activities. To be fair, neither woman did herself many favors by reacting to the accusations with a series of bizarre behavior: Anne, during a fit of madness in the Tower, was overheard to have made outlandish proclamations, such as that it would cease to rain in England until she was free, and Knox was criticized for turning cartwheels and generally putting on airs of nonchalance as police investigated her flat, the murder scene. But arguably, external factors are certain to have generated some level of stress-related reaction in both Anne and Amanda, and cartwheels - not to mention courtly kisses - do hardly a murdess make. Surely, it would be as common for a queen to engage in mild, harmless acts of courtly love as it would a young, frisky exchange student to indulge in a bit of promiscuous sex amidst the tall, dark, and handsome set. But both wound up branded harlots and pariahs – suffering from the sin of acting as expected.
So how do we get from sex to murder? In one way or another, the two have always made for appropriate bedfellows. (Conjugal imagery intentionally conjured.) There exists a deep and abiding fear of women’s sexuality that has permeated public discourse as much now as it did then, mostly owing to the fact that sex and uncleanliness find its social counterpart in the way women are perceived as a whole. Prominent British historians have asserted that Thomas Cromwell, the man responsible for Anne’s downfall, brought about charges of incest not because of compelling evidence, but rather to insure that, even after her inevitable execution, the hated queen’s reputation would remain forever sullied in the eyes of her subjects. So too have prosecutors in Amanda Knox’s case been accused of letting the suspect lead them to the evidence, as opposed to the other way around. And since the press has already done such a marvelous job of portraying Knox as a filthy whore, the most reviled thing imaginable, it makes sense, then, that the next logical leap would be murder.
Of course, we all know what happened to Queen Anne: she was found guilty by a jury of “peers” determined to remove her from power, and subsequently beheaded for daring to be brazen in an age that demanded purity. Knox has fared better, though some might argue that four years in maximum security prison is a punishment for a young person like onto death by swordsman. Regardless, she is free now, and possessed of the opportunity to rebuild her life such as the Lady Anne never had. But I have little doubt the stigma of shame will stick with her for a considerable period, if not the rest of her days. Because when a woman loves sex and finds joy in it beyond the bounds of stark traditionalism, one will find the leap from the scandal of Christendom to Foxy Knox is not very far indeed.
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