Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Of course, it's the mother's fault.

The Australian media has been following a story about 18 month old twins who starved in their suburban Brisbane home. It is, undoubtedly, a terrible thing - the kids, a boy and a girl, died of malnutrition and were left dead in their cot for a week. No one outside the house new they existed, their mother says "I don't think I fed them enough" and the father claims he hadn't
seen them since Christmas.

Obviously, something went terribly, terribly wrong.

This article, in the Brisbane Times highlights some of what is continuing to go wrong. The father's lawyers are claiming:

prosecutors would have trouble making a possible murder charge stick, arguing his partner had sole responsibility for the care of the twins.
The court heard that despite living in the same house with the toddlers, the woman and their four other children, he had not seen the dead youngsters since Christmas.
-Kellett, Christine "Parent may face murder charges" June 18 2008

This is problematic for a number of reasons. Why can a man who lived in the same house as a woman and their six children, presumably aiding in care for the eldest four be completely free of responsibility for the youngest two? Furthermore, he says he hadn't seen the twins since Christmas, and uses this to back up the claims that he was not responsible for the kids. Personally, (and I'm not a lawyer, or even a law student) I think that the fact he hadn't seen his kids for six months in spite of living in the same house as them is negligent in and of itself. And yet, this is being presented as a defence.

How? It feeds in to one of the sadder and more dangerous myths that our society loves. Woman with children - mothers, mums, mummies - are magically and instinctively better able to care for them and happily and naturally bear the burden of responsibility for raising them. This is so much bullshit. A pair of breasts does give you magical nurturing powers. I only know the details that the newspapers have reported, and from I can see, this woman, caring for six kids, all under 12, with (presumably) little support from the father (and allegedly, no support at all in the case of the youngest two), with 'relationship difficulties' existing between her and her partner who nevertheless still lived in the same house - this woman finally broke down. Two children died. Why didn't she feel she could ask for help? What happened in that family?

And yet, if it isn't just media tomfoolery, the father thinks that arguing that his partner was the sole caregiver gets him off the hook. It's the mother's fault, of course.

Almost as disturbing is the way the Sydney Morning Herald has been reporting the case. Consider the following:

The mother, who appeared overweight and wearing a brown prison tracksuit with her hair tied back, kept her eyes downcast throughout the briefing.
The toddlers' father, 28, also appeared in court wearing handcuffs.

- Kellett, Christine, "Twins 'dead a week'" June 17 2008

The mother appeared in the dock first, barefoot and wearing a brown prison tracksuit.

- Kellett, Christine and Dick, Tim, "How could toddlers starve to death in suburbia?" June 18 2008

What's disturbing about these articles is that the journalist(s) felt the need to describe the mother's appearance - but not the father's. Why? Is it because the most important thing about a woman is her appearance? Why was this necessary? Why is it relevant. Quite frankly I find it bizarre - or lazy filler.

Except. Look at that the first excerpt again "the mother, who appeared overweight" and consider the social implications of going barefoot to court. It isn't a desperate woman with potential mental health issues being blamed here. It's a barefoot fatty. A slovenly, stupid, uncultured fat hick. No wonder they were sleeping in different rooms. You can't expect a man to sleep with a fat chick!

Two children dead, and the resulting media storm revealing disturbing and hidden facets of our own society, victimising women, victimising one woman who didn't (couldn't?) follow society's dictates.

Of course it's the mother's fault. She's fat.

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