Privilege, rage, and Southern Honor

I saw this article published Sunday about the murderer of University of Virginia student and lacrosse star Yeardley Love, and was puzzled by the headline that appeared to juxtapose the life of “privilege, [and] rage” he led.  The lede in the story then contrasts the murderer’s appearance on the links at an exclusive country club just hours before he murdered Love.  But, privilege and rage aren’t opposed to each other–in fact, they’re deeply intertwined in the lives of American ruling class men.  Consider please a few excerpts from the story, which look like textbook examples of how ruling class men presume to use other people, and women in particular, as part of their performance of dominance:

[George] Huguely[V] finished the eighth grade at Mater Dei School in Bethesda and matriculated to nearby Landon School, an elite boys’ private school. He did not want for confidence. Thrust into a football game as a freshman, he promised a coach he would make a big play — in exchange for a kiss from the coach’s fiancee, according to a Washington Post profile in 2006. Huguely promptly intercepted a pass, then walked off the field to ask for the fiancee’s number.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

Huguely also displayed an irreverent side. Once he stole his coach’s car keys from his office, pulled his car onto the lacrosse field and, from the driver’s seat, struck up a conversation with the coach. The team burst out laughing, according to Huguely’s account.

See what I mean?  These are textbook preppy douchebag stunts that should not have been encouraged or rewarded, but they apparently were.  This is what happens when anyone tries to interfere with the privilege exercised by ruling-class men:

One November night in 2008, a police officer found Huguely stumbling drunk into traffic near a fraternity at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. The officer, Rebecca Moss, told him that he’d have to find a ride home or go to jail. At this, Huguely unleashed racial and sexual epithets and threats that ended only when she was able to subdue the much larger Huguely with the help of a Taser after a three- or four-minute struggle, she said.

Ross Haine, Huguely’s attorney, said his client was “just so drunk, he did not remember doing or saying any of those things, really.” Huguely pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and public intoxication and completed 20 hours of substance abuse education, according to court records.

Rage was the inevitable result of the failure to let little Georgie do whatever he wants to do!  Why didn’t this result in his expulsion from UVA?

The university would have suspended Huguely for the arrest, according to President John T. Casteen III, but it never learned of the incident from Huguely — who was required to report it — his parents or the police. Yet it was not a well-kept secret among lacrosse players. A former player and the father of another player said the incident was common knowledge on the team because Huguely himself recounted a version that cast him as the victim of the officer’s aggressiveness.

U no haz public arrest records in Virginia?  Yeah:  relying on students self-reporting their arrests is an excellent policy!  But, UVA is only the last (or latest?) institution in a long line of schools and teams that should have beat the sociopathy out of this man, but didn’t, because they are the institutions that create and maintain class privilege.  And of course, one of the features of ruling class men’s privilege is their unobstructed right to any women they choose.  These women have no right to pursue any other romantic interests, of course, or to refuse the advances of ruling-class men:

Clear signs of trouble in Love’s relationship with Huguely emerged in February 2009, when a teammate of Huguely walked Love home from a team victory party on The Corner, a strip of burger joints and bars near campus. Word reached Huguely, who believed the two had kissed.

Huguely went to the teammate’s apartment, where he was sleeping, and pummeled him, according to accounts confirmed by the university.Later, in a tavern with some teammates, Huguely recounted the assault “like some cheesy action movie, where he stood above the guy while he was sleeping and said, ‘Sweet dreams, punk,’ and then just punched him in the face,” according to a bartender who heard the account.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

At a celebratory party after back-to-back victories by the men’s and women’s teams, Huguely jumped on Love and began to choke her, according to an eyewitness.Three current and former lacrosse players from rival University of North Carolina pulled him off Love. One of the UNC men drove Love, who was shaken by the attack, home to suburban Baltimore for a break from Huguely.

The whole time I was reading this story, I kept thinking about Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s classic study of white Southern manhood, Southern Honor:  Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (1982).  It’s been years since I read it–of course, Wyatt-Brown didn’t cast his book as a study in masculinity, but that’s what it is.  (Wyatt-Brown spent a few years early in his career teaching in my department at Baa Ram U., before he got the call to come out of the wilderness.)  This story isn’t so much a Southern story as it is a story about the corruption and violence of ruling-class masculinity and the failure of schools and universities to discipline and punish students who attempt to exercise this kind of privilege.  (Maybe a university president who didn’t have a roman numeral after his name would understand this better?)

0 thoughts on “Privilege, rage, and Southern Honor

  1. This story makes me so sick, because this has been the obvious end of the story for so long, his need to control Love so extreme, and so many people didn’t do anything. Like intimate partner violence is not an issue for rich kids?

    And obviously, the substance abuse education was very effective.

    The one thing I’d say is that I think this is a particular feature of ruling class male privilege when you can’t count on it any more in our more democratic and meritocratic world: while, in Ann Richards’ memorable phrase, they may be born on third base, they do still have to run home. And there are some areas that actually require hard work and intelligence. So the rage has to do with not being able to count on the privilege you think you should have. If this makes any sense?


  2. Possibly relevant:

    “To reduce the slave to this groveling, what was the price which the master paid? Tyranny, brutality, and lawlessness reigned and to some extent still reign in the South. The sweeter, kindlier feelings were blunted: brothers sold sisters to serfdom and fathers debauched even their own dark daughters. The arrogant, strutting bully, who shot his enemy and thrashed his dogs and his darkies, became a living, moving ideal from the cotton-patch to the United States Senate…”

    –W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown


  3. @rootlesscosmo: I think it’s HIGHLY relevant.

    Patricia Roberts-Miller, a rhetoric scholar who has written extensively on pro-slavery rhetoric in the American South did a lecture one time called “Kissing the Rod” on the highly gendered language of dominance and submission that Southern white men used to defend their privilege (i.e. submitting to the demands of the anti-slavery North was like being forced to “kiss the rod,” tantamount to sexual humiliation).

    Mark Twain’s comments on Sir Walter Scott and Southern “chivalry”(which I wrote about this weekend) seem relevant as well:

    “It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them.” (Life on the Mississippi)


  4. Yes, Wyatt-Brown and especially other scholars in the 1990s and 2000s have written extensively on the gendered and racialized components of Southern white masculinity. Recall above, when the murderer was arrested by a woman police officer, “Huguely unleashed racial and sexual epithets and threats. . . ” It doesn’t say whether the police officer was white or not, but it doesn’t really matter. In many white men’s minds, it’s all a jumble.

    Have I written on the blog about the time a white man from Virginia called me a “effing N—er bitch?” It’s interesting how intertwined and inseparable those insults are in some people’s minds: sexuality, race, and sex, all in one big angry bag of hate.

    Bookbag: I didn’t mean to imply that UVA was uniquely negligent. Clearly, there are a lot of institutions that were complicit in the making of this murderer. I think most universities would prefer not to know and therefore not have to deal with student misconduct off campus. At Baa Ram U., the student conduct code just lists several reasons for which a student *might* be brought up for a disciplinary hearing, but it doesn’t demand that hearings be held for any violations of the honor code or criminal or civil laws. Very weasely, IMHO. (And the honor code is just about conduct on campus–academic and otherwise. It doesn’t demand that a student turn hirself in for arrests or other behavior problems off campus.)


  5. how ruling class men presume to use other people, and women in particular, as part of their performance of dominance.

    Thanks for putting it just that way. I think this helps explain a lot of the worst kinds of male behavior towards women — it’s not even about the women, but about an audience of other men.


  6. That’s what I assumed the situation was, Historiann: how ridiculous. You would think public universities, at the very least, would be notified of violent arrests like the one in question and would act upon that information. How depressing that that is not the case.


  7. The coach at Landon may well have been, as he certainly was perceivedto be, just part of the help. At the preps it isn’t always or even often the assumption that any old history teacher can run a practice, or that any old coach can explain the Mayflower Compact. Athletic staff members may be the equivalent of what we would call adjuncts, knitting together one or more actual jobs and maybe doing a little personal training on the weekends. The deference thus reinforced to Huguely-type pranking with the gf and the ride would be a pretty good launch platform into a collegiate career of cop-beating. At my place, any kid caught peeing on the way home from a bar ends up in the student paper, although I’m guessing maybe arrest reports wouldn’t necessarily travel from Lexington to Charlottesville on their own. Maybe some intercollegiate network process should be set up? In some towns, there are citizen organizations that formally “notify” the municipality of every missing manhold cover, or broken sidewalk, which has real impact at damages time in the case of liability claims. Maybe there is a model here for collegiate accountability?


  8. Not to discount anything you’ve said here, because I don’t, but I do think the sports angle to this is particularly salient because he would have received even more reinforcement that he could do no wrong because of the praise he’d received all his life b/c of his athletic accomplishments. So that’s adding to the sense of privilege and entitlement. (I can also imagine a rendering of the story of the struggle with the police officer in which he brags that she could only take him down with a Taser.)

    Slate’s Hang Up and Listen sports podcast did a brief segment on the issue of male athletes and violence a few weeks ago. They talked over a few theories, including one about brain scans (in the case of Ben Roethlisberger and his motorcycle accident a few years back) but they did spend a fair amount of time talking about how years of praise for physical prowess feeds into this. They also mentioned that these star athletes are also never being told that physical aggression towards women is wrong, one mentioning that he heard team reps telling their athletes not to get into these kinds of situation because they would get in trouble, not because it is wrong to treat women in this fashion.


  9. Good point, thefrogprincess. According to this story, sports (and Huguely’s teams in particular) played a big role in letting this guy off the hook his whole life. What was interesting about this story was its assertion that his glory days had passed–and that when other people saw him out with the lacrosse team, people would think, “there goes the lacrosse team with some guy.” He apparently wasn’t cutting such a dashing athletic figure in college.

    If his team was more about accountability and less about protecting privilege, they might have functioned in the way Indyann suggests–to report criminal behavior to the uni. After all, this story says that Huguely’s tasing and arrest were not just common fame on his team, but one of his teammate’s parents knew about it!

    But no one ever sees the pattern until someone ends up dead, I guess. I find this hard to believe given this kid’s rap sheet. (Or should I say, phantom rap sheet, because he is a privileged white man.)


  10. Yes! I’m going to make a HUGE generalization here, but in my experience, the worse grade grubbers have been white male athletes who just aren’t accustomed to being told “no” or not having exceptions made for them when they screw up. They’re typically also used to getting exactly what they want from female authority figures.


  11. Unfortunately, this IS a Southern thing. Of course it’s male, but in the South it’s Male² and much less about class and privilege than in other parts of the country. This is amply demonstrated by research studies in recent years that placed male college students (who else?) from different regions in the US in situations that might challenge their “honor” (read, of course, “masculinity”). Amazingly enough, the Southern boys not only are more overtly aggressive in their reactions but show greater releases of testosterone in response to challenge.

    Working class men in the South are also quicker to respond to challenges to their honor/masculinity than working-class men of the North.

    Studies have also compared statistics by region on things like murders, gun crimes, and such, and the South “wins” every time. Even our laws about what constitutes self-defense differ significantly from other regions of the country.

    We are an honor culture here–like some countries I won’t name because I don’t want to get us started on all that! So yeah, it’s about masculinity and socio-economic power, sure. But here in the South, just remember–it’s Male². In the Deep South, possibly even to the third power.


  12. Well, hate to burst some bubbles, but…

    a few days after Yardley Love’s funeral , Chrystal Snipes was killed by her boyfriend in Chesterfield, VA–not too far away from UVA. She didn’t get a People cover. I guess her story wasn’t glossy enough; and it lacked a hook to hang a familiar story on.

    It didn’t fit any particular theory or stereotypes and couldn’t be made to confirm any pre-held beliefs. I guess therefore her life was worth much less and she should just be ignored.

    But the truth is that people have been killing each other since the beginning of time for all sorts of reasons. Like Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and bad runs right down the middle of every human heart, and not between classes, races, schools, states, or anything else. George Huguely (allegedly) killed Yardley Love; not Virginia, not a university, not Landon, not a sport.

    But admitting that wouldn’t permit us to point fingers and feel superior and righteous…


  13. What? I just looked up the story of Chrystal Snipes. What do you mean it didn’t fit a particular stereotype? She was killed by her partner after being abused and harassed by him. Of all the examples to choose, you chose the one victim that fits in perfectly with a pattern of intimate partner violence.

    But we are not supposed to join the dots. Instead we should say things like, “Who could have known?”, and “People just kill people, don’t you know.”

    Just to make sure nobody picks up on the behaviour of jerks who think they *own* other people.


  14. That’s right: if I don’t write about every single murder in the world on this blog, then “I guess therefore [their lives are] worth much less and . . . should just be ignored.”

    Piss off, troll.


  15. I’m guessing our troll comes from Big Lax, because according to the Sports Illustrated story about this murder

    “[a]nticipating a backlash, US Lacrosse even sent talking points to chapters around the country last week. They included:

    • We are shocked by the allegations, which are both tragic and horrific.

    • The reported circumstances and allegations are contrary to the overall character and culture of the sport of lacrosse, which emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and respect, among many other qualities.

    • The reported circumstances and allegations are an aberration and should not call into question the culture of an entire sport. Lacrosse, like all sports, is not immune from human tragedy.”

    The story continued: Yet the profile emerging of Huguely doesn’t exactly splinter the stereotype of the entitled lacrosse player.


  16. LadyProf: thanks for the intel on this. How lovely that the boyz have time to troll blogs to spread their talking points. Why on Earth would US Lacrosse decide that “defending” their sport was in order, if in fact (as Douchey McDouchebag argues above) that people get murdered every day, nothing to see here folks, move along?

    So the problem would appear to extend from individual sports teams to the national organization, which serves as a kind of front for organized crime. Awesome!


  17. p.s. to all: LadyProf may well be exactly right that this pathetic “defense” of Huguely is a coordinated effort. I just checked my sitemeter, and it appears that there are people just googling up “George Huguely” and landing here. How nice for the accused murderer that he has so many friends on the internets trying to help out his cause!


  18. I misspelled the poor woman’s (the victim the troll mentioned) name while replying: Crystal D. Snipes.

    And I forgot to pat him on the head for his spurious Solzhenitsyn quote!

    *pat pat pat*


  19. Not only did he misspell Crystal Snipes’ name. He misspelled Yeardley Love’s name. Something tells me the victims aren’t all that important to him.

    Hisoriann, let me second Notorious Ph.D. Your observation about “how ruling class men presume to use other people, and women in particular, as part of their performance of dominance” succinctly captures one of the most important aspects of the patriarchal power structure.


  20. Oops! Please forgive my own misspelling. Historiann, I love your posts and apologize profusely for omitting the “t” in your nic.


  21. Not sure if this is relevant or not, but yesterday I googled “demographics of domestic abuse.” What came up: poorer people abuse/are abused more than richer people (and report it less). And, of course, women abuse their partners too (reports I saw ranged from 30% to 50% of abusers being female), though women are less lethal–and less reported.

    “The troll” did make a good point: elite men get the press coverage. I once had a friend, working-class, whose husband killed her, then himself. Far more typical story, I think; he’d been abused himself, was mentally ill, couldn’t hold down a job. I knew the man; he felt powerless, not privileged. If any “system” was to blame, I think, it was the social services system in this country, which didn’t treat his ills or curb his abuses, didn’t offer her good advice and secure shelter.


  22. Interesting article, especially regarding the ruling class angle.

    When read Historiann’s sentence, “what happens when anyone tries to interfere with the privilege exercised by ruling-class men,” I was also reminded of the angry rage of men’s rights/father’s rights activists. As far as I have been able to tell, the movement is an angry backlash to a real or perceived loss of male privilege that some men interpret as women “gaining unfair advantages.”

    What do people make of the socioeconomic angle there, given that MRAs seem to be mostly (white) middle-class men?

    I also think the sports angle was an important factor in his entitlement, probably amplified by his class privilege, as male sports culture often trains boys and men to display toxic masculinity.


  23. No problem on the misspellings! This is in fact the non-peer reviewed world-wide timewasting web, after all.

    Fannie, I think you’re right about MRAs. I also think Ignatz is correct that men at all socioeconomic levels use (and perhaps abuse) women in their performance of manhood. But, this post was in particular about the construction of narratives about privilege vs. rage. If you read the WaPo article, the author appears to want to suggest that it’s odd or unusual that a man as privileged as the accused murderer was such an angry guy. I wanted to point out that it’s not paradoxical at all, and that it may be that schools, coaches, and teams throughout his life enabled the growth of his rage and sense of entitlement.

    Rich men are different in that they have other institutions at their backs. Had a poor and/or non-white kid at a public high school demanded a kiss from the coach’s fiancee, or stolen the coach’s car for a joyride, I’m not convinced that these antics would have been laughed off as the foibles of a charming youth. But guys like the accused murderer benefit over and over again from that kind of free pass on their aggression and entitlement.


  24. “If you read the WaPo article, the author appears to want to suggest that it’s odd or unusual that a man as privileged as the accused murderer was such an angry guy.”

    Ah. LOL. I don’t find it “odd or unusual” at all. Some of the most angry men I’ve met are rich, white Republicans who foam at the mouth listening to Rush Limbaugh tell them how difficult their lives are compared to women and minorities. Yep, definitely a lot of entitlement-induced rage happening there.


  25. Pingback: Violence, rape, and class : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  26. Thanks, Shane, for that info. I wanted to highlight something else from the very end of the story you linked to:

    So while UVA president John Casteen met with Virginia’s governor this week, asking him to change state law so college officials would be notified when students were arrested, maybe the gov should take a quick look at the abuse laws already on the books.

    That’s a good thing that Casteen did, and one that promises to be a huge headache for unis if it actually comes true. I just might take back my crack about the roman numeral at the end of his name.


  27. I was tired last night, and I am afraid I wasn’t being clear about the whole point of my comment, which was to say that I don’t see a paradox here at all.

    I see this murder as an honor killing.

    While (white, at least) Southern men at all class levels are into the honor thing, when you add in class privilege, it makes it worse. That’s sociology’s take as I understand it (I’m a psychologist, not a sociologist. I ran across this body of literature doing research on personality development.)

    While we are on the subject of rage, domestic violence is about power, not anger. These guys are very much in control of their tempers, otherwise they wouldn’t be losing them exclusively on women and sleeping men. They use their supposed tempers to manipulate, terrorize, intimidate, and control, and they know exactly what they are doing. The majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are quite well-behaved outside the house. So if there’s no rage in the first place, only ego and power, there’s no paradox.

    My apologies for my muddled writing last night. I can only hope this one’s not worse.


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