A Virginia grandmother was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday for the murder of her granddaughter. Read about it here (Delmar Now, 10/9/11). The circumstances and press coverage surrounding the toddler’s tragic death speak volumes about assumptions that are common regarding men, women and their children.
It all happened last November 29th. Carmela dela Rosa is the mother of Kat Ogdoc. Kat and James Ogdoc were girlfriend and boyfriend when she became pregnant four years ago. They married shortly before their daughter, Angelyn was born, and remain so today.
Dela Rosa, who’s now 51, suffered from bouts of depression, and her relationship with her granddaughter is disputed, with some people calling her loving, but her own daughter Kat saying she had little to do with the baby and was cool and stand-offish.
On November 29th of last year, Kat, dela Rosa and members of dela Rosa’s extended family went to Tyson’s Corner Center, Virginia’s largest mall. There, security cameras recorded the family having dinner and two of the children riding a recreational train. As the family was leaving, dela Rosa, holding Angelyn, was seen to lag behind and, in an instant, throw the child off a 45-foot high pedestrian walkway. Angelyn died at the hospital 12 hours later.
At the trial for first-degree murder, dela Rosa claimed insanity, but her defense was rejected by the jury. The prosecution’s testifying psychiatrist said she had borderline personality disorder that was treatable but that dela Rosa refused treatment.
Whatever her state of mind, though, dela Rosa’s own reason for murdering her granddaughter was that she was angry at James Ogdoc.
Dela Rosa was upset that her son-in-law had gotten her daughter pregnant out of wedlock, prosecutors said.
He apparently added to dela Rosa’s ire by calling his wife on her cell phone while he was at work and they were at the mall.
And it’s here that the first of our cultural assumptions comes into play. Note the article’s phrasing – “had gotten her daughter pregnant.” Here’s how McLeanPatch says it:
Dela Rosa told police she had resented her son-in-law for years because he impregnated her teenage daughter, preventing her from meeting new people and exploring the world.
“He impregnated her.”
Note that in both cases, the woman is passive. She has nothing to do with getting pregnant; the man did it to her. She’s the passive victim and he’s the active perpetrator. There’s no concept that when two people have sex, well, two people have sex.
Never mind reality. Never mind the fact that women in this society have an astonishing array of contraceptive options available to them. Never mind that Kat Ogdoc could have utilized any of them she chose. And never mind that, in all likelihood, both James and Kat knew they were risking pregnancy by having sex without contraception.
No, according to the popular narrative, relied on not only by dela Rosa, but apparently accepted by both publications referred to, pregnancy is something men do to women without their agreement or apparently their participation. It’s a concept straight out of the 1950s.
And it turns out that way of seeing sex between men and women can have real consequences – like a dead two-year-old. After all, dela Rosa was angry with James – not Kat, not Kat and James. She was reading from a very familiar cultural script that holds the man solely responsible when an teenage girl becomes pregnant. So to punish him for what that script calls his wrongful act, dela Rosa killed his child. Surely, if she’s seen both James and Kat as responsible for her pregnancy, dela Rosa wouldn’t have been moved to see them punished.
Second, once again we’re confronted with the voiceless man. James Ogdoc is alive and as well as a father can be whose two-year-old daughter was murdered 10 months ago. He and Kat are still married, but you’d barely know he exists from the linked-to article. We hear of Kat’s understandable anguish and despair at the death of her child. We hear nothing from or about James.
That too helps us to do what dela Rosa did – view him as the wrongdoer, the one who got her daughter pregnant. The less human he is, the easier it is to condemn him. The more human she is, the easier it is to sympathize with her and the harder it is to hold her equally responsible. The absence of any word from James allows readers to make assumptions about him and for our cultural mythology about men, women and sex to control how we interpret events.
Then there’s the seemingly universal proscription on calling such acts by their proper names – child abuse and domestic violence. Dela Rosa’s murder of Angelyn is both, by any definition of the terms, but no article I’ve read says so. In so doing, they once again abet a cultural narrative that doggedly strives to convince us that it’s men and only men who harm children. Again, never mind the fact that women, particularly mothers, do far more child abuse than do men and that they commit the same amount of domestic violence.
The unsurprising result is that fathers have real difficulty getting custody in family courts and are easily tagged as abusers irrespective of the evidence.
Dela Rosa was sentenced to 35 years in prison for first-degree murder. But she’s 51 and Virginia law says that when a prisoner turns 60 and has completed 10 years of his/her sentence, he/she can apply for conditional parole. So in 10 years, dela Rosa will be 61. That means she’ll be trying to get out in 2021. My guess is she’ll succeed.
Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.