Bigotry of Low Expectations

Double standards for parent murderers.

By Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute.

National Review Online, August 28, 2001 10:10 a.m. Also by Kopel on the Yates case: New Trial for Andrea Yates, 11/9/05.

Murder a bunch of people in your family. Take long enough to perform the multiple killings so that it's plain that the killings were not a momentary passion. Are you the victim?

Consider Nikolay Soltys, currently on the FBI's most-wanted list for murdering seven people: his three-year-old son, his pregnant wife, two cousins (aged 9 and 10), and his aunt and uncle. Nobody defends those heinous acts. Nobody offers excuses about how tough it is to be an immigrant, to support an extended family, to cope with job-related stresses, or the like. Even though there is speculation that money problems helped push Soltys over the edge, nobody is claiming that the murders are "society's fault" because society isn't supportive enough of fathers of small children. Instead, Soltys is accurately described as a "monster."

Imagine the outrage if a "fathers' rights" group formed a legal defense fund for Soltys, claiming, "One of our fatherly beliefs is to be there for other men." Imagine the outrage if a Ukrainian-American group organized a candlelight vigil for Soltys, claiming that America's selfish failure to provide enough social welfare programs was responsible for driving Soltys to perpetrate the crime.

Soltys's victims were four children and three adults. Now consider another murderer, who systematically killed five children: Andrea Yates. Both Nikolay Soltys and Andrea Yates were, on some level, demented; for only a demented person would commit such wicked acts. One of them lured the final victim — a three-year-old boy — to his death by enticing him with toys. The other captured the final victim — a seven-year-old boy — by chasing him through the house as he fled for his life, and then dragging him to a bathtub to hold head under water and watch him drown.

Yet despite the similarities of Soltys and Yates, commentators like Anna Quindlen and Katie Couric rush to explain her actions, but not his, as the result of the stresses of parenthood. It's society's fault, supposedly.

The Texas chapter of the National Organization Women has actually started a legal defense fund for Yates, the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition. The group plans a candlelight vigil for her on September 12, before her competency hearing in state court. "One of our feminist beliefs is to be there for other women," says Deborah Bell, President of the Texas chapter of NOW.

Motherhood and fatherhood can both be very stressful. But that's not even a good excuse for abandoning one's small children by running off with a paramour. It's certainly no excuse for killing children. Why the double standard for Soltys and Yates?

Perhaps it's the soft bigotry of low expectations. On the one hand, NOW, Couric, and Quindlen tell us that everything men can do, women can do just as well — in fact, better, because women are morally superior. So if the percentage of female chief financial officers at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage of Navy admirals, the percentage of physics professors, or the percentage of any other profession is less than 50% female, the only explanation must be unjust discrimination against capable women.

But on the other hand, women supposedly can't be expected to live up to the most basic moral standards.

In many countries — including Great Britain, Canada, Italy, and Australia — infanticide laws allow women to kill their child in the first year of his or her life. Some allow the mother to kill all her children, providing that one child hasn't yet celebrated a first birthday. The killer need then only show that the "balance of her mind was disturbed" by childbirth and having a baby in the house — and what mother or father couldn't prove that? Then, the woman can only be convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder. The practical result is the child-killer ends up with probation and counseling, rather than prison.

Fortunately, in Texas as well as the rest of the United States, child-killers like Mrs. Yates must prove insanity (typically defined as the inability to distinguish right from wrong), rather than the laughably easy standard of being "disturbed" by the stresses of a baby.

Many other countries sneer at the United States for imposing the death penalty. Given the worldwide hullabaloo over the execution of Timothy McVeigh — who murdered 169 people in cold blood — we can expect even greater caterwauling should justice prevail and the child-killing mass murderer Andrea Yates be executed. "You're executing a mother!" the foreign press and politicians will scream.

But which society really fosters a culture of death: the society that tolerates infanticide, or the society that does not?

Which organization is really pro-child: the National Organization for Women, which supports women who kill their children, or the National Rifle Association, which supports women who protect their children?

In the conflict between civilization and savagery, the gun-totin', murderer-executin' State of Texas turns out to be the real defender of human dignity, against a cultural "elite" which has progressed from defending ninth-month abortions to defending the murder of children — provided, of course, that the murderer is the mother rather than the father.

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