Young,beautiful, female, foreign. Guilty?

The dramatic saga of a young woman the world has come to know as Amanda Knox has come to light once more. The retrial of Amanda Knox begins in Italy this week for the 2007 killing of her former roommate Meredith Kercher. Amanda and Meredith lived in the small town of Perugia, formerly known for its chocolate and university before Meredith was found slain only a few weeks into their semester abroad. Amanda spent four years in an Italian prison before the conviction was famously overturned in 2011 and she returned home to the US. By now, the story is familiar to most of us.

What is also familiar is how once more, media cannot focus on the case itself- the sloppy narratives from conflicting sources, the compromised evidence, and the fact that someone else was already found guilty for the same crime always share media coverage with a bizarre focus on Amanda’s classic good looks and sexuality. The thrill and focus on Amanda’s sex life were and will likely continue to be the focus of the prosecution. A beautiful woman, who bought condoms, who had a boyfriend, who had a vibrator, who recreationally smoked marijuana and who had romantic dalliances with more than one man (by the way, media, this generic description likely captures a good chunk of women in their twenties today) has been cast as a vixen. And who kills their roommates? Vixens.

Women who are violent- or who are accused of being violent- are seen as more deviant from society than violent men. Aggressiveness and anger are gender characteristics associated with males. This cultural sexism is on full display in the trial and retrial of Amanda Knox. Her beauty, youth and gender contribute to the confusion surrounding her case. The prosecution relentlessly uses Amanda’s sexuality to shame her and cast her as guilty and have suggested that Meredith died in a sex game gone awry. Amanda’s boyfriend in Italy has even said to the press that their sex life was normal. What is the truth? Who really killed Meredith Kercher? Why has the investigation and evidence been compromised? Our main take away is this: even six years later, while many questions are unanswered, the fact that Amanda’s sexuality has been intensely scrutinized and twisted against her is a fact.

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Sex. Do I have your attention yet?

I read Elaine Blair’s review of Daniel Bergner’s book on female sexuality entitled “What Do Women Want?” from the Sunday book review in the New York Times. Bergner’s book explores women and contemporary sex research, especially the notion that women have less of a sex drive than men, through interviews and data analysis from a variety of sources. His research concludes that there has been a marked shift in attitudes towards women’s sexuality over the last few years.

Where did the well-accepted, and now aging, notion that men are the ones with all the sex drive come from? Blair claims evolutionary psychologists of the past spread the idea, through the male lens, since they were men. It wasn’t ladylike to want to have sex. It was primal. Women are more refined and delicate. Men initiate out of raw need. Women associate it with intimacy and need sex is for reproduction. Yet somewhere between the rise of women’s social and economic individualism and power and the mainstream acceptance of popular television series such as Sex and the City and Girls, many exasperating sex myths and gender stereotypes are being questioned today.

Both women and men can want sex for many reasons. Women especially should be comfortable discussing sex with their partners, friends, and doctors. Women should not be afraid to speak their minds and be honest with themselves about anything sexually. From your own anatomical questions to your own personal desires, our society needs to get rid of any leftover puritanical thoughts that chastise female sexuality as deviant and strange. To broaden this lens, society must remember that sex and sexuality is unique for each person based on their history with it, their attitudes towards it, how they interact with it and what they expect from it. With the increasing study of women’s sexuality though an objective lens, maybe we will find that the old notions of sexual roles are void, and I suspect that all will greatly benefit from it.

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