Saturday, April 10, 2004

Killer Moms

I didn't want to write another feminist rant, but what can you do when the world offers you a topic like this on a salver?
The first two news stories that I saw on the AP Breaking News were about killer moms, with titles like these:

Florida Woman Charged in Death of Her Infant Son; Husband Sought for Questioning

Illinois Woman Convicted of Killing Son in 1989 Now Wants to Raise Her Second Child

The impression one gets from these headlines is pretty obvious: women murdering their children. However, the actual stories are a tiny bit more complicated. Take the Florida story. Here's an excerpt from the body of the article:

A woman has been charged in the death of her infant son, who had burns, bruises and broken bones when he was brought to the hospital unconscious, police said.
Lakyna Anderson, 26, was charged Friday with aggravated manslaughter in the death of 9-month-old Jamarion. She told investigators her husband was responsible for the boy's injuries and that he was watching Jamarion the day he died, according to an arrest report.
Nicklous Anderson, 23, had been found by the state to have abused one of her children previously, although he was not listed as a suspect in the death Thursday of 9-month-old Jamarion, according to Diane Carhart, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Police were searching for him Saturday for questioning, Carhart said

And here's an excerpt from the Illinois story:

A woman convicted of killing her 2-year-old son is now fighting the state of Illinois to be allowed to raise her second child.
In 1989, Sheryl Hardy - then Sheryl McGee Coe - smoked a cigarette while her husband at the time punished her son for soiling his pants by lifting him by his ankles and repeatedly dunking him in the toilet. The boy, Bradley McGee, died the next day of head injuries.

In other words, neither woman was necessarily the murderer of the child in question, and in both cases the women's roles look more like those of someone assisting and abetting a crime, or at least not stopping a crime, than those of the killer, though the Florida case is too open for final judgment. But you'd never get this from the headlines.

And just in case the reader misses the main point: that mothers are held to higher standards than fathers, both articles include a quote from someone making it explicit. In the Florida case:

Authorities said Lakyna Anderson was charged because she left the baby with a man who had a previous history of abuse.

Very bad if she did, but not the same as killing the child. Or it wouldn't be regarded the same if Lakyna was the child's father, I bet.

In the Illinois case we get an even more explicit example of different standards for mothers:

"They tortured this child," said Kip Liles, an emergency shelter parent who cared for Bradley McGee temporarily before his death. "Any mother who sits back and lets her child get abused and does nothing about is just as guilty. People like that should never get a second chance."

There you are. Mothers are held to higher standards.