Put a face to the word "evil," and it will probably have a toothbrush mustache and a comb-over. Or, in this post-9/11 era, a white turban above an unkempt beard, the pairing barely visible through the narrow aperture of a spider hole. Even if you conjure a mental image of neither Adolf nor Osama, your personal personification of malevolence likely has one trait in common with these notorious bad boys: gender. And this-among other affronts to womankind-has Bridget Jelinek riled.
Jelinek gets riled with some frequency. Over her twenty-year tenure as president of Washington-based American Women for Equality (AWE), she has raised her manicured fist against many an injustice: the price mismatch between men's and women's haircuts, the scarcity of ladies rooms in university engineering buildings, the disrespect for women's maternal role evident in the widespread use of such phrases as "the mother of all bombs." Jelinek and AWE made news last spring when the group's protest of this last indignity involved lobbing Molotov cocktails at White House police.
What set Bridget Jelinek off this time, though, was Monday's release of an updated list of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted. Jelinek's beef with the collection of digitally sharpened mug shots now gracing post office bulletin boards nationwide? There are no female fugitives included.
"The absence left me almost speechless," Jelinek told the Post. "I'm floored by the fact that law enforcement fails to recognize women's very real capacity for evil. Homeland Security is just such an old boys' club that they don't even realize their bias toward the masculine, power-based, violent brand of wickedness. Women can be just as villainous. We just go about it in subtler, more underhanded ways."
Between its first issue on March 14, 1950 and November 1, 2009 a total of 494 menaces to society have appeared on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and only eight of them have been women.
Despite Jelinek's keenness to cite this statistic in support of her theory, women's studies scholar Janice Gowing thinks there's more at work here than a male-dominated government agency failing to recognize peculiarly feminine varieties of evil. She notes that though physically and mentally capable of orchestrating egregious misdeeds-genocide, torture, enslavement-members of the so-called "fairer sex" have historically had fewer opportunities than their male counterparts to thus achieve infamy.
"Search 'most evil people,'" Gowing says, "and the lists you turn up will be exclusively male." Sitting in her snug office surrounded by Mother Figure statuettes, the professor rattles off a familiar catalog of malefactors. "Hitler. Stalin. Vlad the Impaler. Genghis Khan. Saddam Hussein or George W., maybe." Even now, she says, few women hold enough sway to effect evil on the scale necessary to keep such murderous company.
"Of course that could change," Gowing concedes, gesturing toward a newly arrived copy of 2008 VP candidate Sarah Palin's Going Rogue.
Bridget Jelinek isn't waiting, though, for a wave of anti-intellectualism to sweep the gun-toting ex-governor into presidential office in 2012. She's lobbying FBI Director Robert Mueller now to let AWE run workshops in which Bureau bigwigs would, through assisted reenactment of past domestic disputes and familial spats, come to better appreciate just how vile women can be.