Someone on the internet is wrong. That someone is Melissa at Shakesville.
Earlier today, she tweeted about the case of the unfortunate mother who was jailed for leaving her 9 year old daughter to play at a local park while she was working. You can read a commentary on this case at Reason by Lenore Skenazy of Freerangekids.com. Melissa and I had a difference of opinion about this case. She seems to think race was a factor in the mother’s arrest. I do not. Here’s why.
As Lenore has documented over the last several years, the arrest and detention of parents because their children were left unattended is ubiquitous. There have been cases where a mother has been pursued by family services and taken to court for leaving her kids off at the mall with a 12 year old sibling. There have been numerous cases of mothers arrested for leaving their kids in the car while they dash into the grocery store or post office for something. There are many other cases of mothers getting fined and served and investigated for letting their children walk to school or ride their bikes by themselves. By the way, nowhere in Lenore’s commentary does she mention race as the reason for the arrest. That’s because it’s not the common thread that holds these instances together.
I have two personal experiences with the rampant crackdown on mothers. The first happened when Brook was in first grade when she innocently told a Lifeskills volunteer that I had forced her to drink wine. When the principal called me to tell me he was calling DYFS on me, I had no idea what he was talking about. Was the kid slurring her words? Falling off her chair? Asking for something to treat her hangover? I don’t keep that much alcohol in my house. What the hell was she talking about? Then I remembered the Easter at my mom’s house when Brook had the zooms and was driving everyone crazy and I joked about giving her a swig of my chardonnay. That was it. That right there nearly got me a permanent record with the state of NJ and the potential lost custody of my daughter.
In the second experience, it was about 11 am on a Sunday in November when I got a knock on my door. There were two policemen there. They were responding to a report that there was a mentally disabled boy wearing an orange shirt, jeans and bare feet wandering around the neighborhood doing strange and suspicious things. They asked me if I knew anything about it. I had no idea what they were talking about. Then they hinted darkly that they were on the alert for that kid and left. Then I turned around and saw my 10 year old Brook with her short hair, orange shirt, jeans and bare feet standing in the doorway trembling. What the heck were you doing, I asked? She burst into tears. She got up that morning and wanted to make an art project out of acorns. So she went out to the back of our row of townhouses without her shoes on and was looking under the trees for them. She was very upset and neither one of us could figure out which one of the neighbors was mean enough to report her for something like that.
Butcha know, people do it all the time.
As for the case that has hit the news, I have some problems with attributing this to a race problem. First, we have no idea who reported the kid to the police. Are we assuming that the conscientious citizen was white and was deliberately targeting an African American mother? We have no evidence on this. The report doesn’t say who did the snitching or what was the race of the arresting officers or even if such a thing would have mattered in the least.
Secondly, if this were a case of race, we would have to disregard the countless reports from women all over the world who have been put through the same process. The perps come in all shapes, sizes, colors and socio-economic groups and the punishments are all pretty much the same.
But that doesn’t seem to stop people from assuming this is a race issue or that, yes, it is primarily directed at women but maybe it’s harder on African American women or some such nonsense. If that’s what you want to see in this case, you would be a victim of confirmation bias. You want to see a racial angle to this when it’s much more insidious than that.
If you had been a long time follower of Freerangekids, you would see that the problem emanates from “stranger danger”. My bet is that the person who reported that kid neglected has been hearing a steady drumbeat of stories of violence against children ever since Fox and the local news channels figured out that their audiences loved to be terrified. Like the anti-vaxxers, it is impossible to reason with these people, particularly older white women, that the rate of violent crime has actually done down in the past 30 years. All they see are rapes and murders of little kids on TV 24/7. Lenore points out that the chances that your kid will be snatched is infinitesimally small but people have a hard time reasoning when their logic boards have been short circuited by violent sexual imagery. It’s emotional, not rational. This is what I think has happened in this instance as well. Little girl, left in park by herself for hours playing, something I would have done when I was her age, now looks like a sitting duck for any male who can walk by to prey upon her and satisfy his filthy secret lusts. Where is her mother??
So, if it’s not race, what do these cases have in common? They almost always involve mothers. You rarely hear of a father getting this treatment. These mothers are almost always in a hurry, alone, busy, sometimes single or divorced, or simply ignorant of the unlikely possibility that their kids are going to be snatched. What they aren’t is sheltering their children 100% of the time with their bodies, protecting with a maternal force field 10 feet wide at all hours of the day and night. I’ve even read on some blogs that new mothers are afraid to take a shower while their newborns are sleeping because “something might happen” while they’re shampooing their hair. How did homo erectus escape the savannah??
We might speculate why the current culture in America, England and Australia, in particular, are coming down so hard on mothers but since Fox and other cable news sources seem to be popular media features in each of these countries, we can’t discount the idea that the effect that so many child rape/murder stories have on the audience is intentional. Couple this with the attack on women’s reproductive choices and it sure looks to me like someone(s) is trying to get women to embrace motherhood or else… That is the message they send anyway. We come down on mothers like a hammer if they step even a teensy bit outside the rigid rules of acceptable behavior that are prescribed to them. If women give up their careers to stay home, it shouldn’t be surprising that they find it too hard to be the bodyguards to their children and work too. Socially, they need to project full engagement with their children even when those kids don’t need it or be tagged the “bad mother” on the block. If you’re the kind of mother who doesn’t care what people think, you may change your tune when DYFS pays you a visit.
As for women vs race, I got a little annoyed with Melissa when it was suggested that somehow we need to spread the problem around to include race. Aren’t African American women still women? And don’t women have the right to demand attention to the tribulations they face without having to sweep up every fricking non-priviliged group in their train? Doesn’t that dilute the issues that women have to deal with simply because they are women? Isn’t it about time for the African American community, the LGBT community, the Native American community to give something back? Isn’t it time women stopped apologizing and sacrificing their primary concerns as women in order to let some other group steal the microphone? Isn’t it enough that the accused in these cases are just women?? I only ask.
Well, I guess this makes me a racist again because I see no reason to stop championing the cause of the majority of people in the world who neglect themselves for the sake of others. Nor am I going to give in to confirmation bias because that is what my tribe would expect of me. That’s what NOW and NARAL have done in the past and where are they now? Seriously, where ARE they? Why aren’t they all over these arrests? Or did they cede too much to others and neutralize themselves?
The instances of arrest for “bad” motherhood are not going to end until women start to recognize it as another threat to their autonomy.
Only slightly off topic, this advertisement from Pantene struck a chord with me. How many times a day do women apologize and what makes us do it?
Finally, please remember that the word racism is not to be taken lightly lest it lose it’s true and serious meaning. Use of the word will result in automatic moderation until I can fish you out of the queue. It’s a leftover from 2008 but still a useful one.