During the time that Florida mother Casey Anthony was in custody and on trial, any number of American fathers, stepfathers, and live-in boyfriends killed their children.
Daily, the local and national media dutifully report awful examples of paternal cruelty and infanticidal violence.
Most recently, on June 30, 2011, a single Texas father, Carlos Rico, choked his four-year-old son, and then left him for dead; miraculously the boy lived. This father faces attempted murder charges. One wonders whether he will become a media sensation. He should. His only motivation seems to have been that his son’s very devoted stepmother left him and changed her Facebook status to “single.”
On June 13, 2011, a 37-year-old Maine father shot his wife and their two children (ages 12 and 13) inside their home. Angry and frustrated about an ongoing custody dispute, he resolved the matter by killing everyone, including himself.
On May 8, 2011, a Los Angeles father shot his girlfriend, their two five-year old twins, and then himself. Precious little ink has been spilled about this.
On April 19, 2011, an Arkansas father ran over his two children, ages 18 months and 4 years-old; he was arrested and was charged with two counts of capital murder.
Nobody knows his name. No petitions have been launched, no demonstrations held. For the record, his name is Robert Carter and he is 23 years-old.
In addition, during this approximately two month period, if we are to believe the existing studies, an untold number of fathers abused their wives and children both physically and sexually.
However, the American public did not launch any vocal campaigns against any of these violent and abusive fathers or against fathers in general.
Why not? People expect men to be violent. It is a given. When male-on-male, male-on-female, or male-on child violence erupts, people are not all that surprised and they do not condemn all fathers for the crimes of a few. In general, people want to forgive male sinners, or at least to show them compassion.
This is not true where mothers are concerned. In general, once a mother is accused—merely accused—the accusation itself psychologically convicts her. Unconsciously and automatically, people presume that she is guilty, not innocent. Her sexual and reproductive history is held against her, as is everything else.
We tend to have double standards when it comes to parenting. We expect much less of fathers and are ready to reward them for doing very little or to forgive them for failing one or two or three obligations: marrying the mother of their children, economically supporting the family, “helping out” from time to time. We do not expect fathers to fight for custody and when they do we are quick to assume that there must really be something wrong with the mother and that the fighting father is heroic.
According to an original study included in the updated and revised second edition of "Mothers on Trial. The Battle for Children and Custody," which features eight entirely new chapters to honor its 25th anniversary—the kinds of fathers who battle for custody are wife batterers (62%) who willingly impoverished the mothers of their children (67%) and also kidnapped their children (37%). Few of the paternal kidnappers were ever found and when they were, they were rarely jailed or custodially punished. Paternal kidnappings continue to this day and are far more common than stranger kidnappings.
When mothers kidnapped their children (mainly in order to protect them from being beaten or repeatedly raped by their fathers), they were invariably hunted down, jailed for long periods, and punished with limited and supervised visitation.
Which brings me to Casey Anthony. I am not privy to any insider details about the case. Neither the jury nor I know who murdered poor Caylee.
I have never met the mother.
What I am familiar with is the lynch-like sentiments of strangers who wish this mother dead. Why? Because she is seen as a “slut?” This is not a capital crime.
Or, more to the point, because she did not report her child missing within minutes as any normal, caring mother would do? This behavior is quite upsetting, troubling, but it does not mean she murdered her daughter. It does mean that her anti-maternal behavior has upset many grownups.
Why are people so upset by what they see as her lack of maternalism? Just as we expect men to be violent, we do not expect women, especially mothers, to be violent, and certainly not violent towards their own young and helpless children. Mothers are seen as civilization’s last line of defense against violence and anarchy. We each personally feel endangered, we each identify with the murdered or abused child, and our fury at the mother knows no bounds.
All women, all mothers, are seen as caretakers, and if even one mother turns bad, our species and culture as a whole feels endangered.
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. She is the author of thirteen books, including the 25th anniversary edition of "Mothers on Trial" and may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies. She is the author of 4 studies about honor killings and 16 books.