Sunday, September 03, 2017

Creating Murderers

A new study analyzing ten murder cases in the US shows that murderers' dads fall into three categories:  anti-dads, ueber-dads and absent dads?  

We must face the question:  Is it bad fathering which creates murderers?  Asking that question might sound sexist, but I assure you it's not, because dads are the role models of their sons, and most murderers are male so were once sons.

So fathers:  Will your child turn out to be a murderer?  Are your fathering skills adequate to prevent that?  Can you sleep well knowing all this?

Okay.  I made all that up.  But not to worry, just reverse the sex of the parent and you will get an actual study!  It's even summarized in the UK Independent:*

After examining 10 murder cases in the US series Murderers and their Mothers, Dr Elizabeth Yardley began to demystify the psyche of killers by looking closely at their maternal relations.
Debunking accusations of sexism by explaining that mothers “matter more” in the making of murderers due to the “inherently gendered nature of society”, she used a blog on the Huffington Post, Yardley explained that care-giving and nurturing connotations can be taken for granted when it comes to motherhood.
The criminology professor and podcaster deems the killers’ mothers behaviour as a contributing factor in their actions.
Isn't it interesting what kinds of studies get disseminated and how?  I have no idea if Dr. Yardley's teeny-tiny sample of ten cases was compared to some random drawing of mothers from the general population**, but I doubt that, if that she thought ten cases is enough to go by and  decided that only the mothers matter when it comes to parenting.

So what are the murderers' horrible mother like?  According to Yardley, they fall into three groups:  Anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers.  Ueber-mothers protect their children too much, passive mothers protect their children too little, and anti-mothers come themselves from violent homes and pass the violence on. 

Mothering is a tightrope act!  It's almost impossible to be a good mother, and if you are not, you will create a murderer.  Or a Hitler.  Hitler mentions his mother in Mein Kampf, by the way, noting that she was a stay-at-home mother who dedicated her life to her children.  Probably an ueber-mother?

Which means that WWII is women's fault, as is almost everything in this world since Eve took the apple from one of my people.  Or so they say.

My point in reviewing that particular article about a pretty iffy study is that there's a giant market for articles which blame the Biblical Eve and her daughters, even when it comes to something like murders where the vast majority of murderers are men.
*  First, a general caveat:  As I can't find the study itself, what I say about it assumes that the summary in the Independent is correct.  If it's incorrect, the shame belongs to the latter newspaper.

Second, note that Yardley doesn't debunk any accusations of sexism; she simply decides to ignore the fathers and their possible roles altogether.   To see why this matters, suppose that a father beats his son all the time, but the mother is passive and does not protect the son.  If the son ends up a murderer later in life, and is entered into a study like Yardley's, the fault is all in the bad mothering.
**  I couldn't find anything on the study online, so I can't tell if the mothers of the ten murderers (or in the ten murder cases, as there might be multiple murderers) were compared to mothers in general.  It's possible that the general population of mothers includes anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers, and it's even theoretically possible that they might exist in the same proportions as they exist in Yardley's study.  In that case the results would be meaningless.

More specifically, it's possible that the childhood homes of people who later become murderers are very dysfunctional, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the mothers are the  main causal agents for the dysfunctional aspects.  Their behavior could be a response to what the fathers do or the result of complex interplay between the family members.  An inherited tendency toward violent behavior (from either or both parents) is also possible. 

Finally, studies which begin from a murderer and walk backward in an attempt to find causal factors can easily be tinged by the knowledge that the final result of the family's child-rearing was a violent child.  This could color the classifications used for the mothers in Yardley's study.