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Amy Cooper Is a Feminist and Victim? Who Knew?

Vivia Chen

July 21, 2020

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Amy Cooper (aka “Karen”) is back in the news again. And readers are urging me to weigh in.

I’m talking, of course, about the white woman who called the police on a Black male birdwatcher in Central Park.

As you might know, Cooper is now in legal trouble. New York’s district attorney has decided to prosecute her for filing a false police report. The question is: Why bother?

Christian Cooper (no relation to Amy Cooper), the man whom she falsely accused, thinks it’s pointless. He’s refusing to cooperate with prosecutors. But lots of people disagree, including Christian’s sister, Melody Cooper. “She wants an example made out of the woman who weaponized her whiteness against him,” reports TheGrio.

Me? I tend to agree with Christian that Amy Cooper has suffered enough. (He told the New York Times, ”Bringing her more misery just seems like piling on.”) Not only did she lose her Wall Street job, but she’s been demonized beyond all proportion. While there’s no denial that she played the race card in her interaction with Christian, is she really racism incarnate?

To state the obvious: None of us knows her, and her entire life shouldn’t be defined by those few minutes in Central Park that were captured on video. There’s a limit to what we can say about her character, psyche, history or anything else.

Well, it turns out lots of people feel equipped to fill in the blanks. Ever since I wrote about how some female lawyers are worried that Amy Cooper evokes misogynistic stereotypes (such as the professional, single woman as basket case), my mailbox has been brimming with readers’ comments. She’s turned into a Rorschach test, revealing our dark thoughts, fears and desires about womanhood, racism and birdwatching.

And here’s what some readers are telling me: Amy Cooper is not the wrongdoer. She’s the victim—and a feminist heroine to boot!

Who would have thunk that?

Before we go there, let me say this: Most readers agree that she acted reprehensibly. Many were also troubled that the white women in my post were more concerned about their own victim status than the tragic history of racism. “The white women you give as examples don’t see the crazy—and frankly dangerous—irony of whining about unfair groupings by race and gender,” wrote a Black female lawyer.

But at least a quarter of the readers’ messages I got also defended Amy Cooper—to varying degrees. Several women told me she was rightfully scared of Christian Cooper because she found herself alone in the woodsy part of the park with a strange man. What’s more, he pulled out dog treats that could have been poisoned. (Apparently, there’s often tension between birdwatchers and dog owners, and birders deploy treats to get owners to leash their dogs.)

She called the police to scare him because she was scared,” said one reader. Though this reader agrees Amy Cooper “went racist,” she added that “he was more threatening.”

Then there was this: “I am writing this letter in support of Amy Cooper. I do not believe that Amy filed a farce police report, as I believe that Amy was being antagonized, provoked and bullied by Christian Cooper.” This reader goes on to say that she’s concerned about female suppression and how it’s important to speak up because “the ‘Karens’ are in need of a voice of empowerment.” She added, “trying to knock the ‘Karens’ down a few pegs in status by playing the shame game is offensive to Anglo women.”

How does one begin to parse those comments? Is this reader suggesting that the fight for equality is a white woman’s cause or that she’s insulted that all uppity white women are reduced to a “Karen” caricature?

Another reader focused on Amy Cooper as feminist: “Amy Cooper was acting in defiance of a man who felt he could tell her what to do, and she wasn’t going to be put in her place.”

Then, there were a few comments that carried racist undertones, such as this: “If the man were white and she called the police on him, he would have been roundly condemned and perhaps even charged with sexual assault. But the man was Black and she was white. The color of his skin automatically granted him the victim status, even if facts spoke to the contrary. That is what really needs to be talked about.”

And, yes, this reader lamented that we are all too focused on race.

My favorite of the bunch, though, was the reader who put the blame on birdwatchers. “I believe this was an overstep of a birding groupie against unleashed dogs in the ramble. So erase her last act and it’s a stupid fight between birders and dog owners.”

All things considered, it’s easier to make the birders the culprit.

Email: vchen@alm.com. Twitter: @lawcareerist

 

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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