What Casey Anthony Taught us about Motherhood

So Casey Anthony was acquitted.

Here’s the truth: we spent a lot of time on this case, but none of us sat in/watched the trial for 6-8 weeks straight. Instead, we saw the entire trial through the eyes of Nancy Grace, a sensationalist, muckraking “journalist” who effectively (er…ineffectively) hanged “tot mom” before the trial had even begun.

A lot of people think that Anthony’s acquittal suggests we’re racist; a black woman would NEVER have gotten off like this. I tend to agree – I think a black woman would have been in even deeper shit than Casey was in (completely notwithstanding the fact that Casey’s daughter was also white – can you imagine the media caring if this child had been black? that shit happens all the time, right? no big).

But I think the real problem – the one that actually existed in this trial and not just in our theoretical world where we speculate about “what ifs” – is that Casey Anthony was almost sentenced to death for being a slut and a bad mother. We gave her a nickname that reminded us how immature she is and then decided she should die for going to clubs and drinking.

Before you get concerned, I’m not trying to argue that child abuse and neglect aren’t very real, very prevalent, and absolutely terrible for the children who are forced to suffer these conditions. According to Childhelp, an organization that works to prevent child abuse, five children die every day as a result of child abuse.

Casey Anthony my have been a neglectful mother. She may have been an abusive mother. She may have killed her daughter. But from what I understand, that wasn’t the prosecution’s case, and it certainly wasn’t the case made to the American public by Nancy Grace. The case was that Casey wanted to be free to “live the good life.” Or something. But going to clubs – before or after disappearance or death – is not a crime. Drinking is not a crime. And if Casey Anthony had left her child with a babysitter or nanny (which appears not to be the case), the arguments used by the prosecution and certain elements of the media wouldn’t have had to change – that is, no one said, “Casey left her daughter home alone.” They said, “Casey went to clubs.”

This is pretty embarrassing for us, I think, and says a lot about how we view motherhood in this country. That we were willing to convict Casey for being a club-goer AND a mom suggests a lot more about us than the “it would have been different if Casey were a black woman” argument. We are simply not okay with certain types of mothers and certain types of motherhood. Going to clubs, assuming there is supervision (which her parents claimed to constantly provide, and which I would have severely contested if I were the defense given that the grandparents themselves went a month before calling police), is not okay with the American populace because we associate clubs with dancing and drinking and hooking up.

At what point is it necessary for a woman to stop being a woman and turn 100% into a mother? At what point does she have to give up everything for her child?

If Casey Anthony had truly left her daughter with a responsible babysitter, or her parents, to go to a club, do you really think this case would have looked any different?

I know, I know. There’s other elements at play here. For one, Casey was convicted of lying. A lot.

But I’m terrified about the assumptions we’ve made about Casey Anthony and what that means for future mothers who lose their children (and, frankly, for those who are lucky enough not to lose their children). What else should women, and in particular, single women, give up for their children? They’re clearly not supposed to have lives. What about careers? What about education?

Casey Anthony is obviously a very disturbed woman. She needs help. Her way of dealing with her missing daughter – whether or not Casey killed her – was to lie and go to clubs a lot. That’s not healthy. She was probably scared and incredibly upset. This does not, does not mean she killed that daughter. Might she have? Given the evidence and my own understand of the trial (thanks to Nancy Grace!), I’d say of course. Is this enough to convict her? Fuck no.

“Tot mom” was 22, 23? when her daughter was reported missing. Nancy Grace’s nickname constantly reminds us how young and immature Casey Anthony is, in effect pointing a finger at all young mothers. Not all young mothers are immature – many are competent, capable, and happy. And not all young mothers wanted their children – some were raped or abused. Some were left alone by partners who deserted them. Some just don’t know that they had, or have, other options and resources, and some just don’t have those resources.

Casey Anthony’s trial could have been the opportunity for a national discussion on the difficulties of motherhood and the unrealistic expectations we have for single twenty-somethings who don’t know how to raise children but are all but forced to do so anyway. We could have provided resources; we could have turned Caylee Anthony’s memory into programs to help women and their children instead of a gruesome debate about whether these women love their daughters enough.

If you all care about Caylee so much, do something about it. Stop whining about how this is a misappropriation of justice or whatever the hell everyone’s saying and help young mothers. Give women the resources to make the decisions about whether or not motherhood is right for them. We don’t know what happened – but if it’s really what you think it was, create the conditions so that it doesn’t ever happen again.

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    • Eileen
    • July 8th, 2011

    I see the point you’re getting at, but I’m pretty sure this is not the best example to use. I didn’t follow the trial closely, but I think the clubbing pictures were to contradict the initial claim that Casey allegedly made to her parents, which was that she hadn’t reported Caylee as missing because she’d been trying to track down the (made-up) nanny who’d kidnapped her. That’s not the same as leaving your kid with a babysitter, or even as dealing with the grief of having your kid die.

    Additionally, and this was a problem that the prosecution had to work against from the beginning, Casey seemed to adore Caylee; all her friends said they had a really close relationship. And since Florida has a safe haven law for infants up to a week old, even if Casey couldn’t afford an abortion or couldn’t figure out how to arrange a private adoption, if she didn’t want her baby she didn’t have to keep her or face any repercussions for NOT keeping her.

    So, yeah, I feel sorry for an unemployed young woman who is a single mother and is in over her head. But I think that making Casey Anthony the face of the “young motherhood is hard” movement would be a really bad idea. Young motherhood (or motherhood at all, really) IS hard, but I doubt anyone’s sympathy is going to be won over by a poster child who thought it was okay to leave a dead toddler (anyone’s dead toddler) in the middle of the woods.

    PS I still want to hear about the nice boys. Don’t think I’ve been dissuaded.

  1. I can see some of your points here, very interesting. I can’t say that I’ve heard this argument yet. I agree though, that she shouldn’t have been convicted. There was no where near enough evidence to prove she was guilty. Not beyond a reasonable doubt. We all think she did it because the media has been telling us she did. I’m actually proud of our court system after this!

    • commonsense
    • July 16th, 2011

    She leaves the house with her daughter after a fight with her mother about stealing from her grandparents and being a sh*tty mother in a huff. The next day she moves in with her boyfriend and the child is “missing”. She tells everyone that Casey is with a babysitter named Zanny while she parties it up. Finally, her mother pins her down because her car is found abandoned with the smell of decomposition in the car. She says Zanny kidnapped the child and sends all of Orlando on a wild goose chase. Eventually the police found out that Zanny isn’t real. Casey never had a job (she was stealing money from her parents). Lies, lies and more lies.

    At the first day at trial,her lawyer says that they are no longer going with the nanny took the kid. Now she says that the baby DROWNED and was never kidnapped.

    Either way, if your CHILD was either missing OR DEAD, do you think that you would be out partying it up, entering hot body contests for 31 days??? She moved in with her boyfriend the day that that child “drowned”. She was always upset that she had to babysit her child and couldn’t hang out the way she wanted.

    Sorry but if you become a mother that changes the rules. You can’t go out as much. You need to work to support them. Everything becomes about them. You can’t party it up every night like you used to when you were in college. That is why they say don’t have kids until you are ready for it. Either you grow up, give the child for adoption or DON”t have kids.

    I understand the point that you were trying to make but using Casey Anthony as an example made no sense.

    • Rocio
    • August 30th, 2011

    Thank you! Finally a voice of reason!

    I took a class on the cultural constructions of motherhood last semester & it made me look at this whole thing very differently from most people. It was clear to me the ire toward Casey Anthony came just as much from the fact that she partied a lot as the possibility that she killed her child.

    @Commonsense No, just no. It’s a stupid modern American idea that you give up everything for your child. There is no society on earth other than us or any other time period in human history where people expected a woman to take care of a child all by herself with little to no help and give up EVERYTHING for her child. Of course people have a responsibility to take care of their children but erasing everything you were to be 100% virginal mother is not what it means to be a good mother.

    The Casey Anthony trial reminded me how DEEP this sh*t runs. If you stray from dominant ideas about what a mother should be you’re an evil slut who will ruin her children. <– voice of the dominant not me!

    • CMJ
    • September 24th, 2011

    It’s NOT that Casey went to clubs that bothers people. It’s that she went to clubs only days after knowing that her daughter had died, and she didn’t even report the situation for a month.

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