How Do You Solve a Problem Like Kathryn Knott?


Knott as Maria

Let’s get this out of the way: The Kathryn Knott trial is going to be a circus.

But there’s more than just the upcoming legal proceedings that is highly problematic about the entire cloud that surrounds Ms. Knott, the lone defendant in the Center City gay bashing case who opted not to take a plea deal. Ms. Knott is absolutely entitled to a trial; she has every legal right to it. However, there’s a whole host of underlying issues that are already making her a target for hate and criticism. I’d argue that the criticism is rightfully called for in this case. The hate, not so much.

When the news came out that Knott would not take the plea deal and that she was going to trial, a colleague of mine put it in pretty basic terms: “She’s young. She’s cute. She’s blonde.” On the most simplistic level, this is the Pandora’s Box here: the perception that Knott is going to use her status as a white, “pretty” woman to walk away. Nothing could be more antifeminist and more dangerous.

As another of my friends pointed out, “The female defendant chose to stand trial, apparently thinking she has good odds for a better outcome than probation and community service.” Why would Knott think that? Maybe her defense team thinks the evidence supports that. Or maybe, as lots of people on the internet are postulating, she thinks her gender gives her a better chance of prevailing at trial.

Look, the archetype that women are innocent, feeble beings, unable to perpetrate harm, is not only disgusting, but so old that it went out with the films of the ’50s. Plus, look at some of the great women in classical literature: Medea had no problem killing her kids to quench her passion, and Clytemnestra sure has heck had no problem murdering her husband in an act of bloody revenge.

Turn on any episode of the Real Housewives franchise and they’ll destroy that theory within five minutes.

The other perception surrounding Knott is that she might use her privilege as a white “affluent” female to fight the accusations. This is causing outrage, especially in a time of Black Lives Matter where someone like Sandra Bland can be pulled over and later end up dead in a cell, yet Knott thinks she can walk free. Sure, there’s going to be more to her case than just her looks and gender and race (obviously), but the social context and perception is leading to some deeply problematic assumptions about how her trial will be handled.

There is, however, another element to the Knott cloud that has to do with the public’s reactions. We have every right to be angry and displeased over Knott’s decision to go to trial. We have every right to criticize and analyze the social implications of Knott (i.e., this article). Where the line gets drawn is how we speak about Knott in public discourse, in particular on social media.

The victims have made it clear on numerous occasions: They do not want to see hate speech used against Knott. However, as I wrote about a year ago, the language being used on social media to discuss Knott is troublesome because it is just as antifeminist as some believe Knott is. If I see one more post that suggests that Knott should be raped, or, to use a phrase I saw on someone’s Facebook, that the “dumb bitch” should “go rot in hell,” I’m going to scream.

Yes, Knott is fair game for criticism. But to stoop to these levels is a direct violation of the requests of the victims, two men that we ought not to forget.

How do you solve a problem like Kathryn Knott? We talk about it. We wait to see what happens at the trial. We realize that privilege exists.

But more importantly, we act better than her.