As I’ve admitted here, I’ve been reading an awful lot about psychopaths and mass murderers. At least all of it I can get on the KULL program. (It’s not that I don’t need to read the other kind, particularly the way investigators get clues, but it’s not urgent, and for now this is just something to read “while working.”)
Anyway, one pattern stands out whenever the victims are transients or the downtrodden, like the women Jack the Ripper killed, there’s always… How to put this delicately?
I’m not saying the women deserved to die. Of course, they didn’t. Most of them were, apparently, fairly inoffensive.
But it still strikes me how weird it is that even in those days, under much worse circumstances for society as a whole, women and men who ended up in the East End (or its equivalent. I’ve read other historical stuff) were alcoholics or otherwise had behavior-control issues. Now, some of the alcoholism, at least, might have been attempts at self-medicating. And some of the behavior issues were almost certainly due to undiagnosed mental illness.
It was, in fact, the same mix we find with our own homeless/marginalized people. They might have had bad luck, and they might have been very mistreated. But in the end, almost always, it’s their own personal behavior that got them where they were.
Perhaps because I’ve been mainlining these books, while working, I really saw it when I hit the sentence in today’s book about how this poor woman, like all Jack the Ripper’s victims was an alcoholic who had left her husband and how it was almost like this place was a pocket for society’s rejected women.
Immediately, I wanted to say “Society’s rejected women. My. How posh that sounds.”
Look, I’m sore some SJW or other has written a dissertation on how what brought women to that extremity was the Victorian repression of women’s sexuality or what have you. And to an extent they were right, in the sense that a woman who transgressed and was discovered couldn’t hold up her head in that community again. (At least for a while. Having grown up in the same type of environment, I know that society had a convenient case of amnesia if the incident wasn’t repeated.)
What modern authors/academics tend to underestimate is how comparatively big and opaque that world was. Move away from that area; change your name (which all of these women seemed to do just like our transients seem to have five or six aliases) and you can start afresh with no issue.
Yeah, if your desire is to have sex with lots of guys indiscriminately with no discretion and no consequences, you might have serious trouble, but at that time and in that place, I don’t think many women would want that. Look, put way your academic hat for a moment and think about this as a woman of the time: think of the hygiene, the conditions, the state of medicine where any infection could be fatal, and, unless you were sterile, the almost inevitable pregnancy. (For the morons who believe in the “herbs” you could take that acted just like the pill. That only works in fantasy novels. There were herbs you could take (and also stuff like lead.) but they weren’t contraceptives, they were abortaficients, and carried considerable risk, particularly over time.)
Maybe it’s being me, and judging on the hygiene and the medicine and the possible pregnancy, but let me say I’d be inclined, given the consequences that any woman still hot to trot with any and all strange men in those circumstances had to have something very wrong with her head.
Not saying it didn’t happen. Just saying what drove women there was more than “society.” It was either mental illness or, absent that, their own actions and decisions.
In the case of at least three of the victims of the Ripper, they were thrown out by their families for not giving up the bottle. In one case, she seems to have separated from her common law husband, and while it’s not clear whether she drunk or not, (she was said to be drunk the night she died, but there’s evidence she was simply very ill) she grifted from her daughter so much that her daughter had moved without leaving an address.
Now, once these women were addicted, could they have broken the habit like that? Maybe not. Particularly with the nasty rotgut stuff of the time, the only “cures” known were cases of sudden religious conversion. (Though those proved it could happen, given sufficient fervor.)
Now Victorian society did indeed set standards in a much harsher way. You were either a good woman or not. But in practical reality things got fudged, as they always do, among humans.
If you want to read a completely unlikely sexual history, read the free sample (if it’s on kindle) of Our Bones Are Scattered. I can’t remember the woman’s name (great book, btw) who appears in the book, and my copy is boxed, but there was a woman, wife of a military man, who had been married something like three times and shacked up in between and while her husband’s very proper (and noble) family didn’t like her, she was still a lady and certainly not “thrown away by society.” (And she didn’t start off a lady.) The poor creatures in East end were the other extreme.
How much of that was luck? How much behavior?
I’m going to risk saying that a lot of them probably had rotten luck, but that without their choices and behavior aggravating it, they wouldn’t have ended up where they were. They might be lower class and near to starving, but not in the East End, and not selling it for a living.
Look, for drunkenness to be a problem in the lower classes of the time, it had to be a really big thing. Most people drank more than we do, and if the lower classes of that time and place were like the lower classes of the sixties/seventies in the village, weekend drunken brawls and entire families drunk off their behinds weren’t considered abnormal. Abnormal was drinking so much you couldn’t hold it together during work/child rearing hours. I’d think from the histories it was much like that.
What kind of mother hounds a daughter (who from the depositions after, did love her) so much the daughter moves to avoid being bled dry of money?
Beyond the alcohol the other thing was how many of these women had had the price of lodging earlier in the day but either spent it or somehow did away with it.
Again, they didn’t deserve to die for this. I’m not blaming them for the monstrous fate visited on them. I’m not even exactly blaming them for ending up in the East End.
It was a different time, options for men and women were not all that great; there would be a lot of medicating for undiagnosed mental or physical health problems.
I’m not saying it was totally their fault. I’m just saying it’s time to do away with phrases like “Victims of society” and “Thrown away by society.”
In any society some people will thrive, some will fail and most people will be somewhere in between. Often, at least in the west the ones that fail share mental problems, addictions, or a lack of ability to plan.
Saying “poor creature was driven to this by her alcoholism and lack of ability to plan” is one thing. Saying “Society threw her away” casts blame upon the hundreds of thousands of people who never did anything against her; who would have helped if they could; and who did the best they could in an era more harsh than we can imagine.
It is a facile judgment for us to pass, and it condemns all those people in the past who weren’t like us.
Perhaps it would be as well to remember that our own, therapeutic, accommodating age will pass, and after us will come an age that might be more or less accommodating. What are the chances the disastrous ends of people of our time will be referred to as “the victims society enabled to self-destruct?” Believe me it’s not impossible. And it’s not impossible that what we do to help the less unfortunate might sometimes hurt them.
This self-satisfied attitude that we now have all the answers and the harsh judgment passed on those who came before would be less reprehensible if our results were better.
As is, let’s admit that some individuals will always be problems in society. That is a condition of their being individual. They’re not widgets that society maliciously – or generously – casts away or keeps. They’re people who make their own decisions for good or ill. Society can lend them a hand, but ultimately society can’t make them be other than what they are.
The right to do stupid things, insane things, and things that might hurt us is ULTIMATELY the most basic freedom we can have. You take away that right, and you’ve given someone the right to decide what’s good for you. It always starts like that, with laws preventing you to get drunk off your *ss, say, or laws (social security) dictating you must allow your betters to save for you. Next thing you know they’re controlling your salt intake according to outmoded theories and poking their nose into your family life.
If you’re a “victim of society” then the people who are heroic or achieve extraordinarily become “privileged” as though what they do has nothing to do with the results, as though they’re widgets totally dependent on circumstances.
Societies that fully embrace this don’t end well.
These women met horrible, dehumanizing deaths. And yes, at least some of the decisions that threw them in the path of the Ripper were their own.
They were humans. They had the power of decision, including bad decisions.
Let’s accord them that dignity.