4 Oct 2009, Comments (3)

Essentialism damages, even kills

Author: Helen

Is this becoming a pattern in Australian heterosexual behaviour and criminal sentencing?

1. A dysfunctional couple have a child. The dad just decides he’ll opt out of the child care role.
2. The mum is such an abominable carer that the child dies.
3. The dad continues to live in the same house without lifting a finger to help said child.
4. The dad’s legal team argue that he is less culpable than the mother, as he had less responsibility than the mother.

This has now happened twice. I wrote about the first incident here. In the first case the prosecutor threw the argument out and charged both parents equally severely. In this case, it’s succeeded; the dad has twelve years for manslaughter, the mother a life sentence for murder. Notice, also, the headline of the linked newspaper report, which refers only to the “cruel mother”.

Is there any possible reason for the unequal view of the parents’ culpability, and the dad’s assumption that it was OK for him to do nothing, apart from the extremely essentialist and determinist views of gender that are so popular at the moment? Have we gone so far down the track of dumbed-down evpsych / Women-are-from-Venus/ “hard-wired” interpretations of human behaviour, that adult court officials can actually believe this story? That an adult couple can share the same house and the same family, yet the woman must be more responsible for their folie a deux simply because she should be genetically hard-wired (or something) to be the nurturing parent? Or that men are so hard-wired not to be the nurturers that the father surely can’t have been expected to step in, or pick up a phone? (And people say feminists are disparaging towards men.)

I’m at a loss for any other explanation. It’s like magical thinking.

Gender essentialism (as well as all the other forms) is damaging. It’s not only damaging and insulting to women, but to men as well. And it keeps both of us from living as well as we could. And yes, sometimes, it kills.

 

 

Note – There are obvious disability and mental illness issues in this story, too. I’ve focused on one aspect of it here but there is really much more in it to unpack.

Comments (3)

  • Angie says:

    Thank you for writing this. The very same thought has been swirling in my head since the verdicts were announced. The very notion that a man wouldn’t be as culpable as a woman because he is a father and not a mother is … well so repugnant as to be beyond words really.

  • derrida derider says:

    I agree. Mind you given the evident mental health issues here I don’t think either mum or dad should have gone down for murder. A very, very sad case all round.

  • […] Violence generally also features, with Helen explaining why gender essentialism within families can be dangerous. […]

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