One of the touchstones of feminism is that it absolves all women from all accountability for their actions and can be summed up in the title of this essay – The Patriarchy made me do it” – from the relatively benign (nagging) to the most lethal (murder).
In any civilised society the murder of innocents should be met with universal approbation and universal condemnation, and there is none more innocent than a newborn infant is there? Herod is oft used as an example of the evil of men; he slaughtered thousands of innocent babes, in an effort to make sure just one died. When one reads of tyrants and despots who have also killed the innocent, the word slaughter is the one invariably used – because it describes the sheer horror and loathing attached to this most evil of deeds.
The Slaughter of Innocents. The killing of babies.
What one will notice though, is that this most pejorative of terms is only used when men kill babies, when women kill babies, other words are used, words that place a distance between the act and the one who carried out this act. In fact, when women kill, the reluctance to focus blame or condemnation upon the heads of these women culminates in one overarching and all encompassing……..excuse.
The Patriarchy Made me Do it.
Since time immemorial, the patriarchy has been forcing women into committing heinous acts of barbarity, and so therefore when a female commits such an act – yes you’ve guessed it – it is the fault of this all powerful patriarchy. So it is that modern feminism has utilised this powerful coercive force as a catch all overarching alternative culprit for the acts of women that fly in the face of civilised behaviour.
Who are, or what is this all powerful patriarchy? Why it is men, all men, acting in concert, bound together with one overriding purpose – to enslave, to disempower, to oppress, to coerce ALL women into bending to the will of the all powerful patriarchy – the collective power of men over women.
Which is rather odd, when one considers, that with regard to that most abhorrent of all abhorrent acts, the slaughter of babies – newborn infants – that it was this all powerful patriarchy which introduced in 1922 (amended in 1938) in Great Britain, similarly in Canada and Australia and in 1949 in Ireland, these Infanticide Acts, which sought to absolve any woman who killed her newborn infant from full culpability for this act of murder, by making it NOT murder, not slaughter, not really her fault. From The Enactment of an Irish Infanticide Act by Karen Brennan.
“In 1922, an infanticide statute was enacted in England and Wales. The Infanticide Act 1922 was later amended in 1938 to accommodate the killing of infants up to the age of 12 months, allowing a woman who wilfully killed her infant to be charged with/convicted of infanticide, an offence akin to manslaughter in terms of seriousness and punishment, notwithstanding that she would otherwise be guilty of murder, provided that at the time of killing the balance of her mind was disturbed by the effect of childbirth or lactation.1
The Irish Parliament followed suit in 1949. The Infanticide Act 1949 drew extensively on the English example, allowing a woman who murdered her infant to be tried for/convicted of infanticide where she “by any wilful act or omission caused the death of her child” aged under 12 months while “the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child”.2
Where a woman was sent for trial for or convicted of infanticide she would be tried and punished as if she had been charged with or convicted of manslaughter.3 Importantly, this meant she would be tried at the Circuit Criminal Court, a court of lower criminal jurisdiction, and would be subject to a flexible sentencing regime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Numerous other jurisdictions have adopted similar measures. (4)”
(4) For example Canada, Hong Kong, Fiji, New South Wales and Victoria have all enacted similar measures.
One of the first things one should note are the years – we are talking about a period in time when according to feminism was the zenith of patriarchal oppression of women, a period of time that precedes that oft quoted period when women were apparently chained in kitchens, enslaved by men, and to all intents and purposes voiceless – the 1950’s. This oppression of course was ongoing, was a historical fact, the 1950’s being that period in time when women started to fight against these oppressive patriarchal chains.
But with regard to the killing of babies by their mothers, surely these acts were so rare that legislation was unnecessary, surely in the rare instances that a woman killed her newborn the mechanisms for dealing with such acts was already incorporated into the statute books, after all, even a woman who killed her newborn infant was entitled to a defence?
Between the years 1927 – 1949 in Ireland a total of 1,158 babies died, of those, 167 were over I year old, 135 were under 1 year old, and 856 were classified as Concealment of Birth cases (COB) a lesser charge, but nonetheless these babies died. At the hands of their mothers.
Over a period of 22 years, a little over 52 babies died every year – at the hands of their mothers. Approximately one per week, every week, for 22 years.
Figures from Table A page 52 The Enactment of an Irish Infanticide Act.
In her paper Punishing Infanticide in the Irish Free State, Dr Karen Brennan examines how a sample (124) of these women were punished through:
“The impact of patriarchal ideologies and pragmatic considerations on sentencing practice in cases of infanticide is explored, particularly in regard to the use of religious institutions. One of the questions considered is whether the approach to sentencing women convicted of infanticide offences was a unique product of the patriarchal, conservative, catholic, and nationalist philosophies of the Irish Free State, or whether sentencing practice in these cases reflects wider trends in the response to female criminality which have been identified elsewhere.”
Throughout her paper Brennan focuses on not just the prevailing attitudes within Irish society that apparently led to these women killing their babies, but naturally enough presents us with a smokescreen of obfuscation, sleight of academic hand, and deliberate misdirection to emphasis:
“…..that in order to avoid a prison term many women had to abide by a particularly onerous condition which, among other things, involved a deprivation of liberty. Indeed, when convent disposals are taken into consideration, it can be said that 75% of infanticide-related convictions resulted in a form of detention.”
In fact, further along in her paper, having expanded on her theme of focusing on the supposed main issues “sexual immorality” relating to the act of women killing their newborn infants, she wraps up with this in relation to these women being sent to convents and religious institutions to:
“…be “doubly oppressive” because their objective is to re-socialise the offender to conform to “traditional female roles”.140”
What she is talking about is that Irish judges were reluctant to send women to prison, in fact both Irish judges and juries, prosecutors were also almost all reluctant to charge women with murder at all. Incorporated into the Infanticide Act was a mechanism for a lesser charges of Manslaughter, Concealment of Birth and child abandonment/child cruelty and the general practice of sending these “offenders” to convents or religious institutions for a maximum of three years, as punishment, for killing their babies: Brennan explores this in her paper. One presumes that part of the re-socialisation process might include some focus on NOT killing your newborn infant?
“This article explores sentencing of women convicted of infanticide offences at the Central Criminal Court between 1922 and 1949. A sample of 124 cases involving women who had been convicted of manslaughter, concealment of birth, or child abandonment/child cruelty, after appearing at the Central Criminal Court on a charge of murdering their newly or recently born infant, is examined.
The sentences imposed in this sample mainly include short prison terms, suspended prison sentences, and conditional discharges/probation. It will be argued that the limited use of imprisonment, particularly in cases involving manslaughter convictions, indicates that Irish judges took a lenient approach to sentencing in cases of maternal infanticide. The court records show that a notable aspect of sentencing practice in these Irish infanticide cases is the use of non-penal religious institutions, mostly convents, as an alternative to traditional custody.”
But what does Brennan really focus on in her paper? What is it that exercises her mind, rather than of course the deaths of newborn infants at the hands of their mothers? or is that one of those “traditional female roles”?
“The focus on traditional standards and the perceived link between public morals and the security of the Irish nation had a particular impact on women.14 Ecclesiastical and political discourse constructed an idealised Irish woman, one who, by being pure, passive, self-sacrificing, and domestic, would support the state’s efforts to develop the fledgingnation and help defend it against the forces of modern influence.15 Particular importance was placed on the virtue of Irish women.
It seems that a view emerged which identified sexual immorality in females as posing a threat, not only to the family, but also to the stability of the new nation.16 One group of women attracted particular attention in the state’s drive towards national purity: the unmarried mother.
These women represented the antithesis of the idealised version of womanhood presented by state and church officials and were thought to pose a particular danger to the nation’s morality.17 Thus, although motherhood was idealised by politicians and church-men alike, “the female body and the maternal body, particularly in its unmarried condition, became a central focus of concern to the state and the Catholic Church”.18”
She places a huge amount of emphasis on “increasing disquiet about sexual morality” comes back over and over again to:
“Strong cultural disapproval of illegitimacy and sexual immorality meant unmarried mothers potentially faced familial condemnation and alienation from the community, as well as unemployment and economic hardship. Double standards in sexual morality allowed men to avoid responsibility.19”
Eventually concluding Section II – Gender Ideology of the Irish Free State, with this summary, bearing in mind that the ostensible subject of her paper is Infanticide in Ireland. Without once mentioning the immorality of killing your newborn baby.
“In summary, as a result of cultural and ideological views, unmarried motherhood was largely unacceptable in the Irish Free State. From the state’s point of view, it appears that the solution to the issue of unmarried motherhood was to tacitly support institutionalisation of problematic women, for such periods as would ensure their reform and, in some cases, protect society against moral contagion.”
Indeed, the notion that these “problematic women” who killed their babies should be “institutionalised” is the patriarchy in all its evil action against innocent women.
What is clear though from a reading of both papers is this – the killing of babies at the hands of their mothers is in effect irrelevant, because women only kill because of external factors, and those external factors can be summed up in one word – Patriarchy. The second thing which is abundantly clear is that the notion that women should be punished for killing their babies is anathema – and even when they are punished – by being sent to convents or religious institutions for a maximum of three years, this is “doubly oppressive” apparently because it results in a “loss of liberty” she also continues to refer to these women as “unmarried mothers” in an obvious attempt to distract the reader from one salient and pertinent fact – they are not, and were not “mothers” or has she forgotten – they killed their babies.
Ironically, while Brennan bewails the “patriarchial gender ideologies” of that period in time – she fails to either notice, or deliberately ignores, that these “patriarchal gender ideologies” are the very reasons why women who killed their babies not just had available to them a legislative device (Infanticide Acts) for avoiding punishment for murder, but a judicial and institutional mechanism for literally allowing them to get away with murder. The theme here in these papers is that women who kill their babies should NOT be punished, at all, it is “inhumane” it is “doubly oppressive” and anyway:
The Patriarchy Made me Do it – 1,158 times – one baby a week, every week for 22 years. Has anything changed at all in the last 70 years? Anything?
Ask the feminists.
© Anja Eriud