The XX Factor

Lori Berenson, Stoic

The revamped New York Times Magazine debuts this Sunday with a cover story from the novelist Jennifer Egan about Lori Berenson, the American woman who was imprisoned in 1996 in Peru for collaborating with a terrorist group. You should really read the entire profile , but one stray observation I had was the way that Peruvians reacted to Berenson’s refusal to cry in public. Egan describes the following conversation between Berenson and Marie Manrique, the woman with whom Berenson is staying after she was paroled:

I asked how her Peruvian friends felt about Manrique’s making Berenson’s parole possible by living with her. Reactions were mixed, she said; she’d just received an e-mail from a friend who referred to Berenson as soberbia , meaning “haughty.”

“You know, I can’t win,” Berenson said unhappily. “I’m quiet, I don’t joke around. I’m just like that.”

“Here’s a question,” Manrique said. “You didn’t cry.”

She meant that Berenson had never once broken down in public-a fact Peruvians saw as proof of her coldness and lack of remorse.

“I’ve always been a very private person,” Berenson said. “I sometimes have cried in front of people-I haven’t intended to- it’s something I’d definitely avoid doing. For dignity.”

Berenson does admit to aiding the terrorist group M.R.T.A. by renting a house for them. So clearly she is culpable. But reading that passage I wondered if there is a cultural expectation that women will become vulnerable when faced with tremendous adversity, and when Berenson defied that expectation-by being brash, by being stoic-she was punished more harshly in the court of public opinion.