Janet Albrechtsen (Age Opinion Page August 23) is right to say
'men and women have an equal capacity for all things evil'. But
does this mean women act on this capacity and commit as much or
more violence than men? And is it really true that we 'pity mothers
but vilify fathers' when they kill? After 33-year old Steven Fraser
was charged with murdering his three children ABC News described
how 'a man wept uncontrollably' in a Sydney court. You'd hardly
have known this was the very man alleged to have killed his own
children while the poor mother was off at TAFE. To reinforce the
'father as victim' paradigm we were told the alleged killer was
'involved in a custody battle over the children'.
When Roland Jonker killed his estranged wife's son and their own
two children in Perth in 1998 the (Herald\Sun) carried the headline
"Dad loved his boys to death". And when Kevin Crowe pulled
a gun from his car and shot dead his estranged wife in 1987 the
Sunday Tabloid screamed 'Love pulls the trigger'. By contrast,
when Heather Osland conspired with her son to kill her violent husband
and was sentenced to 15 years and her son was found not guilty,
the Herald-Sun proclaimed 'This killer got Justice'. And
only three days ago the Sunday Age led with 'When love turns
lethal' to explain why estranged father Dean Williamson smothered
his son with a pillow. It's just plain wrong for Albrechtsen to
argue that the media doesn't side with men when they kill within
Janet Albrechtsen surely knows the law of provocation consistently
delivers manslaughter verdicts and reduced sentences when men kill
their ex wife or girl friend. So contemptuous of murdered women
is this law a 1998 federal government report 'Fatal Offences
against the Person' called for its abolition and Justice Minister
Amanda Vanstone declared it 'an excuse for men to kill women'.
Contrary to the implications in Albrechtsen's article it's almost
impossible for women to run a provocation defence. And as she knows,
when women do kill the man in their life it's for reasons far graver
than those trotted out when men kill. In misinterpreting the real
origins of violence Albrechtsen affirms the 'men's movement' view
that male violence is a product of the pro-female bias of the Family
Court and of the callous abandonment of men by women.
Thus we read of 'a wife taking the children, or the husband finding
out that custody has been awarded to his former wife'. But in whose
care were the Jonker and Fraser children when they were murdered?
Jonker and Fraser weren't, to quote Albrechtsen, 'deprived of their
children'. The evidence now suggests they should have been. And
how do these assertions of men deprived of their children tally
with the fact that 40% of custody contests in the Family Court result
in men receiving custody of the children?
None of this means that women are saints or that men are evil.
Nor does it mean that the question of infanticide isn't a vexed
one or shouldn't be examined. It's instructive that the federal
report did question the female infanticide defence. So too does
feminists Jocelynne Scutt who believes it obfuscates the real sociological
obstacles - lack of child care and financial support - borne by
women. If Janet Albrechtsen thinks men are vilified she might ponder
those mothers forced to grapple with Age cartoonist Michael Leunig's
censorious approach to a woman's 'child rearing business'.
Nevertheless Albrechtsen's question remains. So, do men who kill
their children do so for the same reasons as women? It's a question
almost too dark and debilitating to explore. For what if we conclude
that those few men who do it are driven by a desire to wreak revenge
on a woman who refused to stay put? Whatever the explanation for
a woman killing her child, few seem to argue that it has its origins
in revenge. What's disturbing about Albrechten's article is her
desire to paint women as the prime perpetrators of violence. The
assertion that 'women commit a greater share of physical abuse,
an equal rate of sibling violence and assaults on the elderly, about
a quarter of sexual abuse, and a fair preponderance of spousal assault'
would astound even the average misogynist. The only thing left out
It's just demeaning for blokes to seek to blame women for everything
that befalls us or to claim the media vilifies men but sanctifies
women who kill within the confines of the family. Women do kill
their biological infants (but not their step-children) in greater
numbers than men. But why on the basis of that fact must we conclude
that it's a woman's fault when a man kills their children, kills
himself or kills her when she leaves?
And let's cut to the chase. Every man knows how taxing it is to
be left with an infant, let alone without respite. So let's do something
about it. And let's stop telling blokes it's romantic or some God
given property right to kill the ex or the kids, or that if only
the little woman does as she's told everything will be apples.
FROM THE MAIL BAG
Did I miss something important
you said in the House of Representatives? If so, I extend my abject
apologies. I have today communicated to all the female MsHR and
Senators my strongest possible urging that they read your article
and visit your website to read about your sister, and what that
terrible experience means in terms of the present state of the Australian
courts and law.
Criminal jurisdiction is,
of course, the province of our State governments, but I cannot believe
that the number of women we have in the Federal Parliament can count
for nothing in this dreadful state of affairs.
I have asked my "sisters"
I would like to congratulate you on your
stance on matters contained in your article in this morning's 'Age'.
I admire the way you are consistently articulate an intelligence
in the area of violence where so many lose the plot by being partisan
and 'over the top'.
You have turned the tragedy of your sister's
fate into a positive by being a voice of passionate reason. More
power to your arm.
Dear Phil, I sent this email on Friday.
A very restrained response considering.
Needless to say I have had no reply.
I'm not sure that in attempting to redress
the balance, you have not gone too far in the opposite direction.
I don't remember anyone calling this man evil, but I do remember
(are you too young?) the hatred that Lindy Chamberlain was subjected
to in this country not so long ago, and how she was portrayed as
evil incarnate, for supposedly killing her baby, to say nothing
of the severity of her sentence.
I also think it is difficult to argue (unless
you use very selective evidence) that women are treated more favourably
in law. There is a woman serving a long sentence in NSW for threatening
to kill her husband on the evidence of his friend a detective, and
there are men who kill women who are given heavily reduced sentences
on the grounds of provocation. Phil Cleary has written very eloquently
about this in relation to the murder of his sister.
Also there have been cases where women have
been murdered and where the police have conspired to let a murderer
go free. eg the Tanner case and the alleged (but impossible) double
suicide of two women (in NSW?)
I also think it is quite unhelpful to be
cynical and contemptuous of post-natal depression. When men kill
their children they always seem to have a motive, (eg if I cannot
have these children then no one else shall) whereas women seem to
kill irrationally, (apart from the woman in the US who killed her
children to be with a lover) which makes us more inclined to link
it to mental illness.
Thanks for writing your piece on men who
kill their children. Always a tragedy whoever the murderer is, but
I get sick of the space the angry dads get in the media, their simplistic
analysis and the women-bashing that underpins so much of the debate.