It's no secret America has a complicated relationship with women: Throughout U.S. history, women have been largely treated as second-class citizens, not even gaining the right to vote until 1919. In the earliest days of the country's formation, fear and hatred of women led to a full-on witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts. But did America’s deeply ingrained fear of both witches and women play a role in how the Michelle Carter case completely blew up, attracting attention all over the nation?
HBO's new documentary, "I Love You, Now Die," chronicles the controversial case and explores just that question.
Carter, then a teenager, became infamous after encouraging her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself. He was found dead in 2014, after he filled his truck with carbon monoxide while sitting in a parking lot. Post-death, a trail of text messages revealed that Carter, then 17, was relentless in her pro-suicide texts to him. The texts exchanged between the teens were used in court, and led to Carter's involuntary manslaughter conviction in 2017.
Carter and Roy's story made national headlines — both because of the uniqueness of the case and because of the way Carter was portrayed. In the media, Carter was depicted as both a teenage black widow and a sociopath.
Journalist Jesse Barron, who wrote a piece on the case for Esquire, noted in the documentary Carter was portrayed as particularly sinister. While he called her actions “scary” in the new doc, he said there was much more to it than that when it came to her new reputation.
He explained, “There was a narrative that got set that didn’t change, and it was set in the community, it was set in town, it was set in the press, and that is of this heartless bitch who killed a guy to get popular.”
(The prosecution claimed Carter was so encouraging of Roy's suicide because she thought it would get her attention from her fellow students.)
Barron said the “reason that’s such a compelling story is it combines two things people feel about teenage girls: One of them is that they are coercive, that they have a kind of secret power that men don’t have, that boys don’t have, and that they can use it. The other thing is that they are crazy and they only live for attention and they only want to be popular and they’re vapid.”
He concluded the Carter case is the perfect combination of what people hate about teenage girls.
Barron also noted the “narrative that she did it [encouraged Roy to commit suicide] in this sort of witchy, Satanic, coercive way, I think came more from us [the media, society] than from her. It’s an American fable.”
And it's not just Barron who alludes to the fear of women and witches in connection with Carter's media persona in “I Love You, Now Die.”
Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who testified in Carter’s trial, noted, “Men are terrified of women. We all struggle with that. There’s a long history of witches in our culture.”
He said witches were often “strong, loving women who treated people, deranged people, sick people, and we have vilified women in many roles throughout history.” He added, “There’s in many men a fear that women can control them.”
Whether or not Carter coerced Roy to kill himself, and in theory held a sort of power and control over his actions, was at the root of Carter’s trial. At the end of it, it was decided that yes — Carter did have that sort of power and control over a man.
Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017. She's currently serving a 15-month sentence while her defense tries to have her conviction vacated.
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