WaPo: Absolving a Female Filicide of Responsibility

January 4, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Washington Post is at it again (Washington Post, 1/1/19).  In the linked-to article, the Post pulls out all the stops to reinforce the notion that men, but not women, are dangerous to their families and kids.  The most remarkable part of the piece is that it uses a case in which a mother murdered her two children to try to make the point.

On about September 5, 2018, Noera Ayaz shot and killed her two sons and then herself.  Not one word of the article even suggests that she should be criticized for doing so.  On the contrary, the entire piece extols her virtues as a mother and human being generally. 

I of course have no reason to doubt what her friends and relatives say about her.  The gist is that (a) she was a wonderful person, (b) everyone who knew her is astonished and dismayed at what she did and (c) she was depressed and taking anti-depressants at the time of her crime. 

While all of that can be seen in retrospect to point to Ayaz’s suicide, it doesn’t explain why she had to murder her kids first.  Apparently she was married, although the article doesn’t name her husband who seems to wish to keep out of the news as much as possible.  Ayaz left a diary or journal that may hold clues to her state of mind and perhaps her motivation, but, since her husband is her heir, he has it.  So just why she chose to murder her children remains a mystery.

But that doesn’t keep the Post from exonerating her which it does from Word#1.  But, as I read the piece, its raison d’etre is less Noera Ayaz than the Post’s need to continue the fiction of male corruption and female innocence.  (A glance at the comments reveals how well it’s done that insidious work.  Many commenters parrot the claim that the husband must be the true culprit, despite the fact that he’s not a suspect and the police have never viewed him as one.)

So the first sally in that direction made by Post writer Justin Jouvenal is to elide the differences between various forms of murder-suicide.

About 90 percent of the perpetrators who carried out murder-suicides in the first half of 2017 were men, and the majority of the victims were wives or girlfriends, according to the most recent data on the phenomenon by the Violence Policy Center.

But murder-suicides aren’t all alike.  Not infrequently, a couple will decide to take their own lives together, so one of them kills the other and then himself.  The other type of murder-suicide is similar to the Ayaz case in which there is clearly no agreement to depart this life, but only the desire of one person to kill another and then herself.  In the former, it can be said that the killer indeed killed another person and that person is therefore a victim.  But it’s still vastly different from the latter type of case.  The Post wants us to believe that all cases of murder-suicide are non-consensual matters.  They’re not.

Then the article offers us this:

Cases in which mothers kill their children are rare.

That too is technically true, but misleading.  Fortunately, child murder itself, irrespective of by whom, is rare.  About 450 children per year are murdered according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  Therefore, mothers killing their children is a rare event.  By the same token, fathers who kill their children are also rare, as are grandparents, teachers, strangers, etc.  Jouvenal could have just said “Child murder is a rare phenomenon,” but that wouldn’t have served the real and greater purpose of the article.

Had he wanted to, Jouvenal could have easily located some real data on the question of who murders children.  This took me about 10 seconds to locate.

A 1999 United States Department of Justice study concluded that between 1976 and 1997 in the United States, mothers were responsible for a higher share of children killed during infancy, while fathers were more likely to have been responsible for the murders of children aged eight or older.[1]

Furthermore, 52% of the children killed by their mothers (maternal filicide) were female, while 57% of the children killed by their fathers (paternal filicide) were male. Parents were responsible for 61% of child murders under the age of five.[2] Sometimes, there is a combination of murder and suicide in filicide cases. On average, according to FBI statistics, 450 children are murdered by their parents each year in the United States.[3]

So did this.

By now, most readers have gotten the point – women, even when they murder their children, must be understood and forgiven; men, not so much.  But just to gild the lily, the article ends this way:

David Adams, co-director of Emerge, a domestic-violence counseling program in Massachusetts, said men and women engage in the acts for different reasons.

“With men, it’s pretty typically a scenario where they are possessively jealous and looking to punish a partner for thinking about leaving them or having left them,” Adams said. “For women, it’s sort of operating out of hopelessness and despondency.”

Never mind that there’s essentially no evidence for either proposition and of course neither Adams nor Jouvenal cites any.  For both, sufficient unto the point is the naked assertion of it.

That’s the more remarkable because it’s immediately preceded in the piece by this:

There is little research on women who carry out murder-suicides…

So we don’t know why women carry out murder-suicides, but the WaPo will tell us why they do anyway.  Again, its agenda is the innocence of women, so why not make up a few facts as support?

The idea that, had the murderer of the Ayaz children been their father, the Post would have run a similar article hymning his virtues and entirely ignoring his heinous crime, is beyond belief.  The article aims at a single thing – maintaining the fiction of male corruption and female innocence. 

In so doing, it encourages not only society, but judges and juries to view female perpetrators differently from male ones.  It encourages the already unequal treatment they receive by all parts of the legal system.  In the criminal system, women are treated far more leniently than men at all stages of the process, beginning with arrest and including charging, bail, plea bargaining and sentencing.  In the family system, children are routinely denied meaningful relationships with their fathers and vice versa, while women receive the lion’s share of child custody and disproportionate shares of the family’s assets.  And of course they continue to do so in the form of child support and alimony long after the marriage is over.

Those massive inequalities are fine and dandy with the Post.  That’s why an article about a four-month-old case that’s otherwise of no interest except to the families and friends associated with it appeared in the first place.

Echoing the God of the Old and that of the New Testaments, we treat men and women differently in this culture.  For men we reserve our harshest judgements, our condemnation, but women receive our love.  By that I mean that, when faced with male wrongdoing, we condemn and punish him, much like the Old Testament God who assured us that he was “quick to anger.”  But with female perpetrators, we give our love, meaning that we seek to empathize.  We try to “stand in her shoes” and “see things from her point of view” and ask “what made her do it?”  The God of the New Testament is a god of love and it is that we give to female criminals like Noera Ayaz.

In the process, we necessarily make different assumptions about men and women.  If male wrongdoing is to be condemned without inquiring into his motivations, we assume that he is responsible for the choices he makes and, if they’re the wrong ones, must be punished.  But with women like Ayaz, we do the opposite, our assumption being that, in some way, she was the helpless victim of forces beyond her control.  In other words, she’s not responsible for her actions, she lacks the agency that we unquestioningly attribute to the male perpetrator.

The above of course can be mediated by factors such as race and class.  Ayaz was a successful D.C. lawyer.  What if she’d been a single black mother on welfare?  Would the Post defend her?  Would it mention her at all?

Whatever the case, the point is that the Post embraces the inequality of the sexes as long as it’s men who hold the short end (harsher treatment by the criminal and family court systems) of the equality stick.  In doing that and in seeking to absolve women of all responsibility for their own foul deeds via the expedient of removing normal human agency from their makeup, it does no one any favors.

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