Rae Carruth Is Free. But Patriarchy Has Us All Locked Up.

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Culture & Conversation Abortion

Rae Carruth Is Free. But Patriarchy Has Us All Locked Up.

D. Danyelle Thomas

The former NFL player hired men to kill his child's mother because she refused to have an abortion. But the takeaway about murderous masculinity shouldn't be telling women to end pregnancies to stay alive.

Yesterday, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was released from prison after an 18-year sentence. The one-time NFL player had been convicted of orchestrating the 1999 murder-for-hire conspiracy that killed Cherica Adams, who was then heavily pregnant with their son.

Carruth had nothing to say to media upon his release, but he’s had tongues wagging and Twitter fingers flying since earlier this year, when he wrote in letters from prison that he wanted primary custody of his son and, later, to be part of his son’s life. That son, 18-year-old Chancellor Adams, lives with permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy due to oxygen deprivation he experienced in utero when his mother was fatally wounded by a man Carruth paid to shoot her. Carruth had threatened Adams and engineered the plot because he’d been pressuring Adams to have an abortion she didn’t want.

Carruth’s release unleashed a swell of social media conversations about his potential for redemption and rehabilitation within a society that despises him. But it was telling that some online commenters seized the opportunity to weigh in not about Carruth’s future—but to question Cherica Adams’ decision to carry her pregnancy to term despite Carruth’s objections.

One Twitter user identified as @CharisLoveXO joined the chorus, stating that “Rae Carruth served his time. There is no sense in bashing him. It is just so sad that his son is disabled because of his choices. Ladies, if a man does not want a child with you, do not carry on the pregnancy without his consent. It can cost you your life.”

A storm of angry responses accused the user of victim-blaming Cherica Adams, who was Carruth’s on-and-off-again girlfriend, and others for their deaths at the hands of angry partners.

Charis clarified, stating in a subsequent tweet that she was “not blaming the victim. Tons of women die because a man asked for an abortion and she refused. I am trying to prevent victims.” The backlash from the series of tweets forced the user to make her Twitter account private.

Apparently, in CharisLoveXO’s view, women who decide to continue a pregnancy unwanted by their partner and parent by themselves may open themselves up to abuse from men who don’t want to be fathers.

There’s a warped misinterpretation of truth here. Carruth’s violence, while notable for his high profile, is not an aberration, nor is it limited to something men with money do. Intimate partner violence is common, and it happens to women before and during pregnancy and often in the immediate postpartum period.

Our culture has normalized the hypersexuality of men and views control of sexual behavior and reproduction as the responsibilities of women. If we accept that perspective and see hypersexuality without care for consequences as a default trait of masculinity, we frame Cherica Adams’ decision to continue an unwanted pregnancy (unwanted by him, at least) as irresponsible or “trapping him,” and we ignore Carruth’s consent to risk potential pregnancy by engaging in unprotected sex. Male self-centeredness is simply “what men do,” so we see little issue with the fact that we give more weight to Carruth’s desire not to parent than we do to Adam’s desire to parent—and then rationalize his decision to orchestrate her murder because Adams’ refusal to be dominated or dictated to drove him to the edge.

And when I say “we,” I’m including women. Rae Carruth’s actions were a result of men’s socialization for violence—coupled with stifled emotional intelligence—being defined as true masculinity. And when women make excuses for men who abuse women—even kill them—we’re showing our own socialization to uphold and overlook the harmful patriarchal norms we’ve disguised as characteristics of “real” manhood.

Women’s defense of the indefensible when it comes to the behavior of men is nothing new—not even with Carruth himself. Recalling his shock while witnessing the Carruth trial in 2001, writer Peter Richmond described the courtroom procession of women with whom Carruth had been romantic as “this procession of improbable women, a spangled harem of them, drifting into the courtroom and out again, leaving the scent of their perfume and the shadow of their glitter and the echo of their cool. Week in, week out, they never stopped coming.” During Carruth’s trial, a mother of one of his many girlfriends actually gave a glowing defense testimony on his behalf, mouthing the words “I love you” to Carruth as she exited the stand. Her daughter chose to testify against Carruth just days before.

The lesson from all of this is not a warning that it is better to terminate a pregnancy unwanted by a man lest he threatens to harm you. We should not take away from this a desire to teach women how to protect ourselves from death rather than tell men not to kill. Any advice that does not center or at least include an admonition to men to reasonably respond to rejection—from phone numbers in the club to an unwanted pregnancy—is blaming victims for their victimization.

Saundra Adams, Cherica’s mother and the person who is raising Cherica’s son, has said,“I don’t even want to see Rae Carruth to go to hell. I want him to come to repentance. Because Rae is never going to have peace in his life until he tells the truth.”

While Carruth’s peace is of little importance to me, I agree with Adams on the necessity of the truth being told by and about Carruth. Let the truth about him be a vehicle to tell the truths of toxic masculinity. Patriarchal socialization that fails to hold men accountable as emotionally intelligent, moral, and sentient beings poisons us all.

As women continue to be murdered for rejecting men’s advances, leaving violent relationships, and deciding that the damage of repeat infidelities is more than they wish to handle, the common denominator remains men who think that physical or mortal harm are a viable answer. Y’all, women don’t need to be told how to escape harm, manage their reproductive health, or avoid murder at the hands of an intimate partner. If you truly want to help women, it’s time to redirect your energy and become your brother’s keeper instead.