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The Peterson case sheds light on a very real problem 
13th-Mar-2005 12:02 pm
Slammy evil
A few days ago Oprah did a show on the Peterson case (here and here are a couple relevant snippets). The ostensible purpose of the show was "why did Scott do it?" and the answer, best I can tell, is that "he's a sociopath." Glad we could clear that up.

However, the show inadvertently raised a deeper question for me. First, I hadn't realized that the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the US is murder by their husbands or partners.
Among all murders of women across the country in 2000—the most recent yearly statistics available from the U.S. Department of Justice—more than 33 percent were killed by an intimate partner.
That's nothing short of horrifying, if you think about it, and it suggests that pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting is currently being attended by some sort of critical social pathology. Further, we're talking about something that's an aberration from the normal track of human history. At a basic, elementary level, natural selection would predict that the tendency to murder the woman carrying your child is the sort of trait that would be selected out of the gene pool posthaste, right?

So what's up? Well, if you read what the shrink in the two links above is saying, the indication is that men are freaking out about the impending shift that fatherhood represents in their lives. Well, okay, but men have been becoming fathers since, I don't know, the dawn of time? Has murder always been the leading cause of death among pregnant women? I haven't seen anything pointing to this yet, but maybe that's the case.

It occurs to me that there's been a dramatic social shift in recent decades that might be a contributor to this phenomenon. Just theorizing here - treat this as a hypothesis to be examined and not as a statement of fact, please.

We know that gender roles have been evolving steadily since the '60s. Women have more power and autonomy in relationships, more career opportunities, more political weight, etc. At the same time women have been expanding the scope of their personal and professional possibilities, men have found themselves being asked to assume more in the way of domestic responsibilities (after all, the need for these traditionally female functions didn't disappear just because Mommy landed a job as CEO, right?)

One of the key areas of expanding male responsibility lies with the domestic side of parenting, and it starts well before the kid is born. Historically the culture and practice surrounding pregnancy was exclusively female, with the archetypal example being childbirth itself. Whether surrounded by the women of the village and attended by a midwife in earlier eras or wheeled off into the birthing room at the local hospital in more recent times, the mother gave birth in the absence of the father. The birthing place was female domain, while the male ritual required the father to keep vigil with other men nearby.

Now, though, men are routinely enlisted in Lamaze classes and are expected to be in the room helping the mother through the ordeal. In cultural terms, I cannot state too strongly how radical a change this represents. We're talking about roles and rituals that have evolved over thousands of years being turned upside down in the space of a generation, and it is simply ridiculous to think that a society can change so significantly in such a short period of time without massive upheavals.

So, it's safe to assume that a percentage of men throughout history have been less suited to the demands of fatherhood than others. However, in cultures that provide ample buffers and ritualized support structures, we'd probably expect fewer instances of what we saw in the Peterson case (if we assume that the postmortem on Scott's motivation is accurate, anyway). Society has provided ways of lessening the shock traditionally, and that ought to provide ill-suited men with a safer, easier way into their new lives as parents.

Contemporary society has, in this view, rapidly stripped away all the safeguards that have evolved over the past 10+ millennia and flung these ill-suited men headlong and unarmed into a situation that is threatening, and for some, perhaps even terrifying.

None of this excuses murdering the mother of your child - duh - but if I'm right, it does mean we need to start looking hard at ways of creating new buffers and support processes for men who are about to become fathers.

26th-Mar-2005 03:28 am (UTC)
Consider perhaps that women entering the work-force has impacted the character of women in a way that has had negative effects on kin (including boys who grew up to be these men who murder their wives). I'm not suggesting that career rights for women should be stripped away, but I do think that a certain amount of spiritual integrity can be taken from a person in entering the work force...ie selling out for security. The competitive dog-eat dog work environment can create a narcisism in people. If women are suffering certain wears and tears from the stresses of modern working life it is sure to impact the children in the sense of not having a fully emotionally present mother...this relationship sets the stage for all future impressions of women and kinds of relationships entered into.
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