Casey Anthony and the thirst for crocodile tears
Boasting everything from alleged molestation, a mistress, a suicide attempt, a chlorophyll/chloroform Google mix-up, a concocted character “Zanny the Nanny” right through to fake employment at Universal Studios and at the very heart one very dead toddler, the Casey Anthony trial had it all.
On July 5, the jury, after deliberating for a mere handful of hours, found Casey Anthony not guilty.
Not quite the same as saying she’s innocent. Nevertheless, the jury’s verdict came from the leftest of left field. And it was on that not guilty pronouncement that the story got really interesting.
Outside that Florida courtroom, in the sweltering, stifling Orlando summer heat, those who couldn’t secure courtroom seats waited on tenterhooks. And on that startling verdict, they erupted. There were screams. There were tears. One person even fainted.
This was not the outcome those folks were waiting for.
Outside the courtroom stood, by and large, women. Women, mothers, who without a shadow of doubt, were convinced that the young mom had killed her daughter.
On July 17, a little after midnight, Casey was released and the same women were there to greet her. Shouting. Pumping fists. Shaking placards. Each voraciously demanding justice. Cue some elaborate stunts involving duct-taped mouths.
That the coroner could not ascertain the cause of Caylee’s death meant little. That the prosecution could not persuade the jury meant nothing.
These women of course, were completely convinced. And this is where my interest lies.
Curiously, those women outside the courtroom believed that they each had some insight, some evidence, that the prosecution, the jurors, the judge, evidently just weren’t privy to.
Intellectually we know that women can kill. That they can abuse children. That they can rape and maim and assault. We all know this.
And yet constantly, retaught to us through every cultural influence available, is that women are the fairer sex, the gentler sex. So when a woman is implicated in a horrendous crime, words like “evil” get bandied around. Because it’s not just a crime that’s occurred, more so, it’s a perversion of all that is good. And right. And gender appropriate. And worse still, when it’s a mother and that’s the stuff of nightmares.
After a month of toddler Caylee not being sighted by family members, her grandmother Cindy, rang 911 to report her missing; to allege that her daughter Casey’s car smelled like death.
Casey never reported Caylee missing. During Caylee’s disappearance, Casey was photographed “partying”. During the investigation, Casey told a host of lies leading to one very expensive goose chase. This strange behaviour convinced a host of Americans that of course Casey killed her daughter.
As a society, we have some very fixed expectations of appropriate responses to tragedy. When British tourist Peter Falconio went missing in 2001, his girlfriend – Joanne Lees – wasn’t hysterical. She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t pleading. She didn’t look suitably mortified. And so, based on the absence of an acceptable reaction, something was perceived as very wrong.
Flashback to the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain. Lindy didn’t beat her breast, didn’t yell, didn’t collapse in a hysterical mess. She appeared cold, she appeared unemotional, she appeared detached. And she was presumed guilty accordingly.
Considered as every bit as bad as blood on her hands, is a woman not acting in the narrow ways society determines as appropriate. There are, apparently, correct, sanctioned ways grief should be exhibited; just ask our PM post-floods. There are phone calls that need to be made and facial expressions that need to be donned. And tears too, are mandatory.
While on one hand it’s simply curious that some people claim to instinctively know how another person should react, more broadly, the ramifications of such expectations ripple widely.
Complicity gets readily presumed – even in the complete absence of evidence – based on nothing more than emotional responses considered odd. Women who don’t act appropriately, who don’t leave cheating husbands or abusing boyfriends get quickly judged. Girls who don’t report rapes or sexual harassment or assaults promptly are considered suspicious. As profiteers. As venomous.
There’s a very insidious, sexist undercurrent to our expectations of women’s appropriate reactions. These expectations, harboured by both men and women, see us stereotype and try and readily convict women without a shred of evidence.
Fortunately the legal system generally asks for just a little more than that.
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