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An odd dichotomy -- finally resolved?

A while ago, I took a look or two at the different ways mothers and fathers who kill their children are treated. Usually, the mothers are thought of as "sick" and "disturbed" and the event is treated as a tragedy (see Andrea Yates), while the fathers are "monsters" and "evil" see New Hampshire's Manuel Gehring).

This story from California, featuring Marcus Wesson, brought it back to my attention. Mr. Wesson, as you might recall, ran his family as his personal harem, with multiple wives and having children with his own children, until he killed nine of them.

With this case, I think I finally crystallized my thoughts. Why is Wesson a demon, while Yates a victim, to a large portion of our society? I think I might have an idea.

For better or worse, we as a society tend to think of children as an extension of their mothers. The role of fathers has been downplayed more and more, to the point where nearly every portrayal of fathers is falling into the "doofus dad" category.

With that in mind, it becomes clear: a father kills the children to strike at the mother. He is furious with her, but wants to make sure she suffers, so she kills her through her children, knowing that she will suffer even more than if he had killed her outright.

But when a mother kills her children, it's a form of self-destructive behavior. It's suicide by proxy. She's striking at herself, punishing herself for her perceived wrongdoings and shortcomings. And by sparing herself, she's forcing herself to live with the consequences of the killings.

I realize the Wesson case doesn't quite fit in here -- that one seems to be more about control issues, and "punishing" the children who resisted him -- but it prompted me to re-visit the issue.

Of course, I might have figured it out a bit sooner if I'd actually read the article that reader Lyana had recommended, over at Slate. It touches a lot of the questions I had, and probably would have helped me figure this out a lot faster.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I feel the need for another shower...


Comments (6)

Hmmmm.Uhhh. No.</... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Uhhh. No.

The reason why fathers are demonized while mothers are not is extremely simple and tied directly to feminists.

Jay, I am just curious. W... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Jay, I am just curious. What if one looked at all the cases in the past 10 or whatever number of years where children have been killed by either the mother OR the father (eliminate the cases where both parents may have been complicit even in a passive role). I wonder in how many cases where the father is the murderer the mother (his wife) is also killed. This is compared to cases where the mother is the murderer of the children and whether she goes on to kill her husband. I am not in anyway trying to make excuses for mothers killing their children. However, I am simply guessing with no hard stats to back me up that mother's (when it happens) tend to kill their kids only and fathers (when it happens) tend to kill their kids and wives. I am wondering whether this supports your "strike at the mother" supposition?

The Yates case is kind of a... (Below threshold)
joe:

The Yates case is kind of a special case; lots of people blamed the father because he explicitly made clear he did NO housework and helped her in NO way with raising five kids, finding it beneath him as a man. He also was warned that she might be clinically and severely depressed and decided he couldn't care less. After the murders, his first priority was finding a new womb to hold even more kids that he wouldn't bother to care for.

I think in general people j... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I think in general people just don't think mother's can kill their kids.

Statistically the most likely abuser of children is the mother, it is in reality just an extention that the most likely murderer of children is also probably the mother (the majority of child murders often happens, when abuse goes too far, premeditation isn't that common).

But I do think when a case makes the national news, the woman is almost always played sympathetically-the only one in recent times that I can think of that wasn't (but even she got the "mental ill" excuse to some degree) was Susan Smith-but then I think most of the anger at her was directed, because she suckered us all in with her carjacking story.

I imagine that it's very un... (Below threshold)
dchamil:

I imagine that it's very unusual for a mother to kill a child, so doing so is due to being deranged. In contrast, I have seen many news items in which the mom's current boyfriend kills a child due to the mom's previous husband, hence the man is a monster. Something very similar happens in a pride of lions, where the first act of a newly-dominant male is to kill (and eat) all the cubs sired by the previously-dominant male. And now, back to our blog, still in progress!

Let's not forget that in al... (Below threshold)
penny:

Let's not forget that in all of these high profile mother as killer cases feminist groups have rushed in to portray them as victims of male/situational oppression.

Andrea Yates just can't be a severely personality disordered woman whose infantile narcissism and probable borderline personality disorder resulted in her act of vengeance against her husband. He was the first person she phoned after her actions. Severe depression isn't an uncommon situation. Rarely does it result in homicide - more likely suicide. Why didn't she take that path if things were so bad?




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