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Home > Gender Roles > Historical Archive
image (c) 2004 ArtToday - All rights reserved.

Snow White Strikes Again

by Paul Goetz

It's interesting to think of a nation's history in terms of some of the images portrayed by various methods, both overt and subliminal. I guess one could call that a form of "art history." With the advent of mass media, art history will undoubtedly take on a new twist. I don't envy future art history teachers. All cultures have their own myriad of dichotomies. The macabre and brutal side by side with the beautiful and innocent. Images of finely prepared meals in restaurants alongside those of bloody slaughter houses. Images of the rich and famous alongside those of festering ghettos or the homeless.

The United States hasn't been around all that long. Many of the more idyllic images from the past are those Norman Rockwell paintings that seem deeply ingrained on the American psyche.

After Norman Rockwell came images of the American family with television shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It To Beaver. They set a kind of standard and established a goal for many Americans. Especially the white middle class folks and hopefuls. And, of course, who can forget all those wonderful fairy tales? Fairy tales make a strong impression on children. Here they start to see and learn gender roles - who does what. Snow White, Cinderella, and Prince Charming. What lovely stories and powerful images.

Nowadays, thanks to technology, mainstream American women routinely remove most of the hair from their bodies, not only for their own erotic pleasures, but so that society still thinks of them in terms of childhood innocence, and those fairy tale images. Smooth and innocent as a baby. Panty hose are perhaps the most readily available commodity in the United States today. You can get them at any grocery store, most gas stations, and all drug stores.

In America images of women and body hair don't mix. Body hair suggests the sort of stuff we don't like to talk about. When's the last time you can remember seeing a picture in mainstream media of a woman with underarm or leg hair? That's as taboo as seeing a picture of a man with any hint of genitalia. America doesn't like to admit that women have body hair and that men have genitals. Look at all the women on the covers of all the magazines strategically located next to the check out aisle in your grocery store. See any hairy ones? And people with no hair are sweet and innocent. Right??

On the June 19, 1996, police in Rowlett, Texas charged Darlie Routier with brutally killing her two young sons. She had concocted a false story, blaming some fictitious man, similar to Susan Smith a year earlier. It seems most ironic that on the same day President Clinton and the US Department of Justice announced $46 million in grants to fight domestic violence, mostly for battered women's shelters. "Domestic violence fills our emergency rooms with injured and our shelters with families," said HHS Secretary Donna Shalala after an earlier release of grant money. "These grants will help provide the lifeline to safety for domestic violence victims and their children." Also about the same day, a grand jury in Rochester, MN indicted Janet Olson, age 29, on two counts of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder in the June first suffocation deaths of her 7- and 22-month old daughters.

The grants won't do much for the Routier boys, however, or the Olson girls, or the Smith boys, or future kids that will die at the hands of their mothers. And die they do. I recall reading several cases recently about kids being thrown off a bridge by their mother. They were tiny briefs, easily overlooked. Most tidbits of such information appear as tiny briefs, or perhaps a small article, usually on a back page. Sometimes there is a larger article in the local paper, but it is rarely carried on any national level. And, after the initial notice of the incident, there is frequently no coverage of the legal procedure, trial, plea bargain, etc. even at the local level. Maybe, a year or two later, there will again be a tiny brief on a back page something like, "Mom gets two year sentence and five years probation in death of infants."

Smash gurgle gurgle go the kids as the nation's leaders continue in fairy tale denial. I used to think it was sad that the President of the United States and other high ranking officials, along with most of the mainstream media, refuse to tell the public the truth about numbers of mothers killing and abusing children and other statistics about violence by women. They refuse to even use terms such as "domestic violence" in articles that do report on acts of violence by women. Now I think it's just plain criminal.

It's been over 20 years since widely respected researchers such as Murray Straus and Richard Gelles started to show that women are just as prone to violence as men, and 18 years since Suzanne Steinmetz published The Battered Husband Syndrome, for which she was rewarded with threats, by women. However, only with rare exception will any media source tell all the facts or the truth. John Leo, in US News and World Report (ON SOCIETY 5-13-96), states, "...feminists made domestic violence a political issue... the modern newsroom is supportive of feminism, news stories on domestic violence are carefully crafted, consistently unreliable, and often just wrong."

Of all children killed by a parent, 89.7% were killed by their mother.

There are many reports and statistics that are not openly presented to the public. I've yet to hear either the Clinton Gang or the Dole Gang mention reports such as one from Child Protection Services in Louisiana which shows that from 1989 through and including 1992, of all children killed by a parent, 89.7% were killed by their mother. Or, a 1994 report from the US Department of Justice which shows that mothers kill their own children six times more often than the biological fathers do: 55% to 9%. The Department of Justice estimated that 2,475 children were murdered in 1994.

I can't recall one speech or press release, ever, by any public official or agency head addressing the issues of violence by women. This denial takes form both in partial truths and misrepresentation of known facts.

Where are the grants to combat violence by women?

One of the reporters covering the Routier murders talked with Peter Smerick of the FBI, a specialist in profiling criminals, who was quoted as saying, "All of us are like diamonds; we have different facets."

One mark of maturity is admitting and accepting both dark and light and the many facets of humanity. Until we begin to allocate the resources necessary to address the issues related to violence by women, children like the Routier boys and the Smith boys will continue to die at the hands of their own mothers. It's about time we got past the Gomer Pyle "GOLLY GEE" mentality. Denial and failure to allocate resources for a significant problem only leads to more suffering.

This is a society in which men and women alike glamorize and objectify the female by artifice, by dressing them in dainty shoes, fragile clothes and cosmetics, by creating cleavage with push up bras, by making them alluring and touchable with panty hose and shiny fabrics, and by covering their genitals with doilies. This is a society which clings desperately to fairy tale images. It is high time both men and women faced the truth: Women may be less muscular, but they can be just as brutal and just as much creatures of violence as men.

Postscript:

On February 1, 1997, about six months after this article was written, a jury found Darlie Routier guilty by of capital murder for the death of her youngest son, five year old Damon. It took the jury of seven women and five men about ten hours to reach the verdict. It took the jury only about four hours to then agree to recommend the death penalty, and on February 4, 1997, she became the seventh woman on death row in Texas.

The trial was covered extensively by The Houston Chronicle and other Texas newspapers, as well as by Associated Press. Most other newspapers around the nation, however, chose not to print most of what Associated Press reported, saying very little, if anything, about the incident, the trial, and the outcome. After the death sentence some papers carried a tiny brief of about 70 words or a small article, somewhere around page 13. There are rumors of two true-crime books in the making.

On February 7, 1997, Ms. Routier's family members used the Maury Povich Show to assail prosecution evidence and launch their national campaign in which they hope to defend Ms. Routier's reputation while she is locked away.

A few weeks after being sentenced to death row, Ms. Routier was featured on Prime Time Live, who seemed to present a fairly unbiased report on the matter, giving relatively equal time to Ms. Routier and the prosecution, and making no judgment themselves. No one on the show mentioned any of the specific testimony from the trial.

After the show I thought for awhile, and I cannot recall ever seeing a man who had just recently been sent to death row, featured on Prime Time Live. I can't imagine such a man, a convicted child murderer, getting a personal interview done in the way the interview with this woman was. She was approached in a quite sympathetic manner, pointing out that she was in the process of appealing, and claiming to be innocent.

Testimony at the trial from acquaintances, friends, and a maid, included the following (as reported by The Houston Chronicle and Associated Press):

  • Ms. Routier "celebrated Mother's Day with male strippers, publicly humiliated her children and supplied a 16-year-old baby sitter with marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes...." and "laughed it off" when the propriety of the matter was brought to her attention.
  • Ms. Routier "harshly disciplined her boys in public."
  • Ms. Routier made comments prior to the boys deaths about needing $10,000 to get out of debt, and when offered condolence about the cost of the funerals said she wasn't worried because she would collect $5000 each on the boys' insurance policies. That testimony elicited gasps in the courtroom.
  • At her son's fifth birthday party, when he squirted her with a water pistol she grabbed it away from him and smashed it with a piece of the birthday cake. And, when he appeared angry, in front of the other parents, who had suddenly stopped laughing, she told him he "got what he deserved."

On about the 13th of May, 1997 Janet Olson of Rochester, MN pleaded guilty to second degree murder in the deaths of her 7- and 22-month old daughters. She reached a plea bargain, avoided a jury trial, and, technically, did not admit guilt. How someone can plead guilty to second degree murder without admitting guilt is perhaps another story for another day. On May 17, 1996, The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported the plea in a small article on page 12, the back page of section A.


Copyright 1996-1997 Paul F. Goetz

View other articles by Paul Goetz .



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