If you were on Twitter, you may have noted that at 2:15 PM Eastern Time it exploded. That was approximately the time that Casey Anthony, the so-called “Tot Mom”, was found in a Florida court of law not guilty of murdering her two year old daughter, Caylee. There were many, many declarations of outrage. So many that I got the Fail Whale. I love the Fail Whale.
I admit that I avoided the trial and the case with a ten-foot pole. Why, I wasn’t really sure, but it just felt, for lack of a better word, icky. Since becoming a mother I can’t really bear stories about children in jeopardy or who have gone missing. When I was going through infertility, such stories stoked an almost unbearable anger: I couldn’t get pregnant, and yet many neglectful women didn’t understand what a miracle children were.
But finally this weekend, after seeing countless tweets about the subject matter, I broke down and read about the case. It is a drab, dreary, sordid case, filled with difficult to explain photos of a mother partying while her child is missing, strange inconsistencies of statements made to people, allegations of incest and molestation. I don’t really want to get into all of the details, because I don’t understand the case that well. But the media have made a lot of hay with the story. It was on the cover of People magazine. CNN’s Headline News has gained tremendous ratings off the trial. Primarily, Nancy Grace has been a particular beneficiary of the story.
Nancy Grace is a controversial figure, albeit a popular one. According to Wikipedia, she became a prosecutor after the murder of her fiancee. Later, she became a media figure on Court TV. She seems to focus on cases like Anthony’s or the Natalee Holloway disappearance: violence against women or children. From what I can tell from the limited viewings I’ve seen of her program, in Nancy Grace’s world there is black and white. With no shades of grey. I think this comforts a lot of viewers, who have suffered their own tragedies or just know that a lot of bad stuff happens in life. Grace makes them believe there can be Justice for victims of crimes.
The Casey Anthony case was nagging me, and I finally realized why: it reminded me of Ayelet Waldman’s book, “Bad Mother” which is a provocative, reassuring and sometimes maddening read. Definitely recommended. She writes about the magnifying glass put on certain “bad mother” cases like the Anthony’s or Susan Smith, and WHY this happens.
“While women have always, historically, been the enforcers of acceptable social conduct, even when it was to their detriment (remember Abigail Williams, the lead accuser in the Salem witch trials?), an hour or two surfing the myriad of mommy blogs provides compelling support for the notion that, in this area at least, we women are primary authors of our own subjection.”
“And why? Because the Andrea Yateses and Susan Smiths, the ‘crack hos’ and the welfare moms provide us with a profound personal service. By defining for us the kind of mothers we’re not, they make it easier for us to stomach what we are.”
In other words, my kids are currently watching Caillou and eating McDonald’s (Michael Pollan, look away!) and this makes me feel like a slug. But, this doesn’t make me as bad as say, Britney Spears circa 2007, or the mom I saw at Target who was talking on her cell while her five children terrorized the aisles.
I think this is why the Casey Anthony verdict has caused such a stir: there are such pressures on us now to be perfect mothers. Especially after infertility! Organic food, never yelling, no TV, breastfeeding only, no C-sections, etc, etc, etc.
Again from Waldman:
“The question becomes: How does one find consolation in the face of all this failure and guilt? One way is by reveling in the dark exploits of mothers who are worse, far worse, than we are. We obsess about these famous bogeymamas; we judge ourselves for a little while not against the impossible standard of the Good Mother but against the heinous Bad Mother.”
Do you think Ayelet Waldman is right? Is Casey Anthony a “bogeyman” that the media has built up to make us feel better about ourselves?” Or is it not that simple?