Friday, March 20, 2009

Maternal instinks?

The wife likes to say that menall men, as a breedare crazy and dangerous. Even speaking for my gender, I have to admit that it's hard to argue the point, for the evidence suggests we're simply not as civilized as women are. We have a decided tendency to go off the deep end, especially when we're young, and when we do snap, we're capable of some pretty horrific acts. You don't see women climbing up onto a clock tower and picking off random bystanders with a .30-06, or hacking picnicking lovers to death in the woods, or killing people and making a frittata out of their remains, or strangling dozens of prostitutes over a 20-year period*, or getting together with their 17-year-old BFFs and plotting the massacre of scores of fellow students in the high-school cafeteria. It just doesn't happen. (The worst thing you usually hear about high-school girls is that they'll purposely spill something on a rival's prom dress.) Kathy also avers that the already shocking number of registered sex offenders in any given American neighborhood is likely just the tip of the iceberg. "And that's where you really see the difference," she says, "is child abductions. A woman will kidnap a child, toobut she does it in order to have a child. To keep the child and raise it as her own." Leaving aside custody disputes, she adds, "A man kidnaps a child and what does he do? He rapes it, tortures it and finally kills it. Maybe cuts off the head or chops the child into little pieces and sets fire to it for good measure."

As compelling as all that is, lately I'm not so sure about my wife's paradigm. I realize that to some degree it's just because we're hearing about it more, so no, I'm not falling victim to some alternate man-bites-dog
version of reality, as described in last year's piece for Skeptic. But it certainly does seem like there are more and more screwball moms out there nowadays: women who are utterly lacking in the maternal instincts that are so deeply ingrained in my wife and the other obsessively (s)mothering moms of her generation. First there was Casey Anthony. (Do I really need to provide background on the case? But click here for all you can stand.) Now there's this case, which, I hasten to add, is yet to be investigated fully, though the authorities are dubious about the mom's story. There have also been a couple of stories like this one lately, where a woman gives birth, plops the infant in a plastic bag, stashes him or her in the trunk of her car, then rides around with the dead baby for a while. And those are just the stories that get tons of media (probably because the mothers and/or kids are cute and white). Hardly a day goes by where I don't hear a story out of Philly about a mom who "left her kids in the car/house while ____________________." (Often the word that goes in the blank space is "partying.") Sometimes there's a fire and the kids narrowly escape, sometimes the neighbors hear a lot of crying or screaming and call the cops, sometimes one of the older kids does something awful to one of the younger kids and the police find out about it after being notified by ER personnel or the school nurse. Andhere's the kickerchild-protective services will come to collect the children, and on the news that night you'll see a clip of the mother, keening hysterically as she tries to break free from the cops who restrain her, "Please don't take my babies! Please don't take my babies..!"


Inasmuch as I don't think that women are genetically that different today than they were 30 or 40 years ago, I blame much of this, again, on the climate of entitlement that began to overspread American society in the 1980s. It strikes me that a fair number of women today flat-out reject the idea that having children means they must sacrifice some of the more free-spirited activities that they enjoy. As I've written of my daughter
I took some heat for thisshe wants to drive the kind of car she wants to drive, and she's going to drive that car, her beloved Jeep Mangler, uh, Wrangler, even if it means that my beloved grandson, Jordan, will be strapped like a piece of luggage in the back of an open vehicle that's shown itself in tests to be highly unstable in its road manners. That is a minor version of the mentality we're dealing with here. To her credit, I cannot imagine Jen leaving Jordan home alone while she goes out to party, and I know that she loves him dearly; he is the light of her life. Which makes it especially striking and significant to me that even she's not willing to make certain trade-offs in his favor. I would imagine that the women who leave their kids home while they go out and have sex use a slightly more expansive/aggressive variant of the same rationale: Hey, just because I had a kid, that doesn't mean my life is over. I'm still a person, a woman, and I deserve to have certain needs met.

Then again, I guess I should look at the bright side. At least these mothers only kill or endanger their own kids. Sadly, that's not the case with us men.

* And now I'm sure that somebody's going to trot out Aileen Wournos, the hooker who hit back. Look, if it makes you happy to dig up such here-and-then cases, more power to ya. But you get my drift.


Noadi said...

I don't think this is something more common now than in the past just that you're noticing more stories. I can think of any number of similar cases from 100 years ago of women harming their children (it got a lot of media play back then too). The media runs in cycles if a type of story bring in rating it covers more of them, a few years ago it would have been school violence stories getting more play.

Dimension Skipper said...

Sorry, off-topic from the post, but I just thought you (and possibly some of your readers) might enjoy today's Brewster Rockit: Space Guy! strip (by Tim Rickard).

One could even make a case for it being kind of SHAMbloggy in terms of illustrating a for bureaucracy metaphor or the general dilemma of any entity given authority in deciding just who or what is worth saving or bailing out. OK, so maybe that's a stretch.

Anonymous said...

Men are bad, as a young man I'm really tired of hearing this. Your article is about women being bad, yet it starts and ends with you a man, making insults at all men because of a few insane people.

Jen said...

Hi, Steve. Heavy topic here.

It's always an interesting thing to explore, the nature of humans. Whether the focus is on male or female, it doesn't really matter much for there is little difference. We each have our own cross to bear.

You wrote that "it certainly does seem like there are more and more screwball moms out there nowadays: women who are utterly lacking in the maternal instincts that are so deeply ingrained in my wife and the other obsessively (s)mothering moms of her generation." While this might be true, I think it is also true that both men and women grieve when something goes horribly wrong in the parental realm.

Your posting reminded me of how I was affected by news a few weeks ago that focused on parents, dads and moms both, who accidentally left their children to suffocate and die in vehicles. One man expressed how his guilt and grief never go away. He told a reporter, "I don't feel blessed any more. I feel I have been wronged by God. And that I have wronged God." A double whammy; he got burned and was also the one doing the burning. He had been on his way to work, which was to build a wall in the auditorium of a church. He got a call about another job and was talking while driving. He forgot totally about his baby in the backseat, the one he was going to drop off at daycare, went on to his job, and left the baby to die in the car.

Grief seems to be one of those things that is untouchable. Suffering also seems to cut an easy path to self-destruction. But some people find ways to stop that cycle. A woman who had learned about that man who was grieving over the loss of his child contacted him. His wife was unable to bear children and that baby they lost due to his negligence had been adopted, from a Russian orphanage. (Yes, another double tragedy: an orphaned Russian baby was brought to America to die of suffocation.) The woman who contacted him had made the same mistake and accidentally left her child to die in a vehicle, too. She offered to be a surrogate mother for him so that he might find joy in parenting another child, and probably to help alleviate her own grief as well.

Some people might say he doesn't deserve this, that he blew his chance with the first child. Or that the woman has no business bringing another child to life. But who is the judge here? If he wants another child and this woman is willing to carry it for him, who can or should prevent this? Both of these people are steeped in grief over things they did, things that cannot be changed; they will never get those dead children back. All they want is another chance to be good parents.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that men and women can make horrible life-changing and life-ending mistakes they have to live with for the rest of their lives. It doesn't make sense to me to blame one gender more than the other.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? We'll probably never know.

We're all to blame and we're all responsible, too. It's not easy bearing the burden of our own mistakes, but we don't really have a choice about it. We can forgive but we never really forget; and we can be forgiven, but our mistakes are never really forgotten. They still linger, suspended somewhere in the past; the memory of (some of) them sometimes comes back to haunt us, whether we like it or not.

Well, I do want to end this on a positive note so will point to an interesting news report about a woman who falsely accused a man of raping her and sent him to prison and how he forgave and eventually befriended her. These two helped each other heal from an experience that had been painful for both of them. Another very interesting aspect of this story is the way it reveals how memory plays tricks on us.

Steve Salerno said...

Jen: I had to laugh when you wrote that you wanted to end on a "positive note"--then you brought up the guy who did all that time after being falsely accused of raping a woman. I grant you, it has an uplifting, redemptive element at the end, but seriously, if that's the best we can do in terms of genuinely "positive notes," we're in deep ca-ca. ;)

I did want to challenge you on your overarching point, however. And by this time I hope we're past the need to be politically correct or "egalitarian," so I'll ask you for your honest response: Don't you think that men by and large are far more unstable and thus far more dangerous than women? I certainly think so. And there would seem to be plenty of empirical evidence to that effect. Even if you want to dredge up that old alibi about how women drive men to do the sinister things they do, men surely provoke women in any number of serious ways as well, yet you simply don't see women retaliate or lash out in the wholesale way that men do. Now, it's true that if a woman has a grievance against a particular man, and things get hot enough, she might kill him. (See under Jean Harris or Betty Broderick.) But she doesn't get hold of an automatic weapon, walk into a crowded shopping mall, shoot everyone in sight, kill herself, then leave behind a note talking about how despondent she was over the failure of her marriage.

Anonymous said...

I will grant you that men who go insane tend to be more destructive then women who go insane.

I will not grant you that men as a sex are more unstable, or more destructive then women.

Because there is no way to support the generalization that because men who go insane and go shoot a bunch of people represent men as a group.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 8:49: OK, maybe what we have here, then, is a disagreement over terms or nuance. Using your way of looking at it, would you at least agree with me that men seem vastly more likely to "go insane"? Let's list a few names: Manson, Dahmer, the Green River Killer, Bundy, that dude in Chicago who dressed like a clown (Gacy?), George Metesky ("the mad bomber"), the Unabomber, Charles Whitman, Jack the Ripper, Albert DeSalvo, Son of Sam, Ed Gein, Zodiac, Al Capone, John Gotti, Vito Genovese and the rest of the Mob, the 9/11 hijackers, etc., etc. (I know you can come up with a few women, but there are vastly more men.) Or let's do a survey of the papers from, say, the past month. Let's see how many violent crimes were committed, and then let's break them down by gender.

In my opinion, the problem isn't that these people are insane. It's that they're sane and they do these things. Consider the 9/11 hijackers: Were they insane? Or just really, really driven? (And please don't tell me it's "cultural." Why is it that in each case where it's "cultural," it's always the men doing the wet work? Hmmm. Could it be, maybe, that violence is closer to the male nature?)

Come on, Anon. Let's get real here.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Steve, I was volunteering once with a coordinator that had spent 20 years in prison education. She told me that she could not work in a female prison as when women go bad - they are really bad! I just don't think the world hears about it or is ready to destroy the archetype of women as all nurturing and wonderful.


Steve Salerno said...

Londoner, I see your point in a way, though I think it's a bit misleading to root arguments in impressions gained from people who worked "in a women's prison." After all, when you see women in prison, you're seeing all of the "bad ones" collected in one place. That's a little bit like going to a facility that specializes in euthanizing dangerous dogs and assuming on that basis that all dogs are dangerous.

Overall, there are very few prisons for women (compared to prisons for men), and the percentage of women among the total number of those incarcerated in the U.S. is very small. While it's true that there can be many reasons why we're less likely to send a woman to prison, the sheer skew of the numbers would seem to tell us something about the overall incidence of violent crime among gals.

Jen said...

So I ended on a positive note after all, by making you laugh! And yes, we are into some serious "ca-ca" when the good news is about false imprisonment and rape.

Steve, regarding your question: No, I don't think that at all. Men might "act out" more against other people and this does make them (the ones acting out) more dangerous than other more self-controlled men, but this is not because of instability. (That would certainly get people off the hook, wouldn't it. Natural instability leads inevitably to violence?)

In short, what is lacking is education, from an early age and continuing on throughout the rest of life. Maybe some people are more prone to becoming violent under pressure, but self-awareness and conscious reflection of the needs that are going unmet combined with tools (methods) to get them met in other ways can help such people to change, if they are willing to try practicing new behavior. That is the key: the desire to change and the will to follow through on the process of it.

This is simplistic, of course, and the reality is that we have a lot of potentially violent people "out there" ticking away like time bombs and who have no desire or will to change.

Anonymous said...

Steve, why are there no politicians or soldiers on your list? You list some interesting psychos, but don't forget that a man (mostly men, but with a support base of women) in a uniform or grey suit can deliver more violnce in seconds than any of the crazies can dish out in a lifetime, and the public and media will love them for it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon 7:38 - The media and public's love for soldiers is based upon a highly sanitized reporting of their actions, rather than a clear representation of those actions. When occurrences of incidents such as occurred in the Abu Garib prison or the Me Lai massacre in Vietnam are reported, that "love" quickly evaporates. Sadly, such atrocities are part and parcel of war, rather than the aberrations we would like to believe them to be. When confronted with such brutality, we are quick to express our outrage. We would be infinitely better off if we were to feel that outrage at the mere suggestion of going to war, rather than waiting for events that are the inevitable manifestations of warfare, then damning the immediate participants. Once the boots are on the ground, ideology and morality dissolve. The only priorities that remain are survival, protecting one's fellow combatants, and failing that, avenging their deaths. Even the success of a given objective becomes secondary. Not pretty, but true.

Steve Salerno said...

I feel I have to add my 1.5 cents here on the issue of soldiers. I think America's warriors get a bum rap--and that goes to Ron's point about how media "love" evaporates after some untoward event. Clearly anyone who can write that the media "love" our enlisted men and women is either very young or has a very short memory. While it's true that since 9/11 the media have been largely predisposed to root for the home team, 'twas not always thus. In fact, I would say that for much of the past half-century post-Ike, the relationship between the media and the military has been an adversarial one.

Which brings me back to the bum rap. I think that when soldiers have been ordered into battle for the express purpose of committing mayhem upon a stipulated enemy, that is a very different situation from one in which, say, a Charles Whitman goes berserk and lays waste to a college campus. I'm not trying to invoke the "Nuremberg" defense here: "We were just following orders." But the bottom line is that even under the best of circumstances, war is hell. If you hand anyone, male or female, an M-16 and order that person into a firefight, I don't think you can hold the person accountable for trying to kill the people shooting at him or her.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's fair, a large proportion of the media is anti war.
It's a pretty mixed bag of crazies you name, and they are not all the same.
I think one big difference between your list and the military, is that war is to a great extent a business, with profits for the winners, male and female. Quite rational in it's own way. I don't know if the people at Abu Ghraib got more money for what they did, but I would guess not, so I would have to say that something more psychological was going on there. Bit obvious really.
People keep saying that orders came from on high, from the Don. In that case, our institutions are lost to us.
Pretty much confirmed by the latest torture scandal.
Your post is about the difference between men and women, and I wouldn't argue that men are not more prone to flipping out, in a disastrous manner. You could maybe argue that they are more vulnerable to violence, psychologically, just check the biographies of the dictators and killers. You batter one or two little boys for years, and you end up with global war. Whether they are more vulnerable, or the effects are just more easily seen, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

"In that case, our institutions are lost to us."

If you are in any doubt as to the above, read Misha Glenny's superlative reportage on the unholy alliance between politics, organised crime and business for war-mongering and profit since globalisation: "McMafia"--an eye-opener on how the world really works.

As to the gender issue, it's largely down to social conditioning, IMHO. It is still acceptable for males to express rage and violence as the 'competitive spirit,' the winner takes all mentality, while females are expected to repress such feelings.

It has never worked as a strategy for social balance, men may wreak physical damage on the world but that is far outweighed, again IMHO, by the long-term psychological damage repressed women inflict, particularly on their less intelligent sons.

Elizabeth said...

What if women ran the world?
The Christian Science Monitor

By Mark Lange
Thu Mar 26, 4:00 am

San Francisco – It is getting harder to escape the sense that most of the trouble in the world – whether it's coming out of the Senate, a mortgage lender, or a tank turret – can be traced to one overriding problem: too many men steering. Had our economic, domestic, and foreign policy been more informed by women, we might be enjoying a safer ride.

Doubt it? Here's a test. Would any of the women you admire have set up a healthcare system as byzantine, costly, and underperforming as America's? Or a financial system where mortgage lenders don't have to care about being paid back? Or a bailout that spends $1 trillion in public money to subsidize the purchase of junk debt from the same geniuses that generated it?

It may be time for guys to hand over the keys, ask for directions, and sit (quietly, please) in the back seat for a while.

Forget gender politics; just look at results. Our computer-based fantasy financial instruments have erased perhaps 45 percent of the world's wealth. We've waged two wars at the same time for six years at a fully loaded cost in the trillions. And we've managed the simultaneous implosion of what amounts to most of the male industrial complex, from banks to newspapers to automakers.

Women's effectiveness as decisionmakers is well documented, even if it isn't entirely accepted by either gender.

An MIT study of female leaders running village councils in India found that by objective measures (building better wells, taking fewer bribes) women ran their villages better. American women are about to eclipse men in sheer payroll numbers – and they're now majority owners of nearly half of the private companies in the country. Yet somehow the average working woman still devotes much more time to child care and housework.

What's clear is that, on average, men overestimate their IQ while women underestimate theirs. And that may be a clue, in terms of effectiveness: While decisiveness and risk-taking matter, hubris (too often male) creates problems. Humility and collaboration (more often female) solve them. What explains the difference?

Full text:

Dimension Skipper said...

Eliz, I didn't read the whole article, but just based on the part you posted I have two questions:

1) Where do I sign up?, but then I thought about...

2) Does that mean we should elect Palin next go-round if she and the Republicans decide she's ready and she's the only woman running?


Anonymous said...

'It has never worked as a strategy for social balance, men may wreak physical damage on the world but that is far outweighed, again IMHO, by the long-term psychological damage repressed women inflict, particularly on their less intelligent sons.'

What do you mean?

Elizabeth said...

Not all women are created equal, DimSkip, as I'm sure you know. :)

So no Palin. It could be a Republican woman after all -- if we really, really must -- just not Palin. Please. Let's find somebody who 1. has a clue, and 2. does not wink at the audience during a (vice)presidential debate (this ain't too much to ask, is it?).

Steve Salerno said...

Just in postscript, this is the kind of thing that you don't see women do...and you see men do all the more often of late:

Elizabeth said...

Steve, yes, this is indeed a "good" (and horrible) example of how men and women are different. What a terrible story. Jeebus.

Steve Salerno said...

And again today:

Elizabeth said...

Oh yes, Steve, this just never ends, does it...

Elizabeth said...

OTOH, you have moms doing this: