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Jewish World Review July 2, 2001 / 11 Tamuz, 5761

Amy Holmes

Amy Holmes
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Consumer Reports

Is Yates on the road to feminist stardom? -- PREDICTABLY, Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who confessed to killing her five young children, is becoming an icon in liberal feminist ideology, which contends that women are hounded by oppressive and overwhelming forces - forces that can lead to murder. Not yet a heroine of the Lorena Bobbitt variety - although her husband is already being described as "demanding" - Yates has quickly gone from being viewed as the author of an incomprehensible atrocity to a casualty in the psychological war of modern motherhood.

Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen finds resonance in the story: "Every mother I've asked about the Yates case has the same reaction. She's appalled; she's aghast. And then she gets this look. And the look says that at some forbidden level, she understands. Just because you love people doesn't mean that taking care of them day in and day out isn't often hard, and sometimes even horrible."

Quindlen dismisses the sympathy and respect implied in the adage, "G-d could not be everywhere, so he made mothers," as a cosmic joke designed to obscure the "dark side of being a surrogate deity."

Let's be clear: According to Yates' husband, parents, siblings, in-laws and doctors, she is mentally ill. Some family members suggest that her illness began before her first child was born. By her own comments, Yates had been planning the murders "for months" - long before she was taken off the anti-psychotic drug, Haldol. She was not "isolated" as some suggest, but surrounded by close relatives. Indeed, the day of the killings, Yates' mother-in-law was supposed to babysit. What has not surfaced is any explanation of why Yates hid her irrational fantasies from her husband and doctor. That she was in ongoing psychiatric care deepens rather than illuminates the mystery of her final act.

A jury will decide Yates' legal culpability, whether at any point her rational mind was capable of averting disaster. A judge will decide whether she is allowed conjugal visits. In the meantime, the circumstances of her crime are incomplete and merely descriptive. Yates is no more symbolic of modern motherhood than a deranged postal worker or domestic terrorist.

Pity her, perhaps. Understand her, never.

JWR contributor Amy Holmes is a Washington-based writer. To comment, click here.


05/07/01: Now they're 'profiling' presidents' daughters?

© 2001, Amy Holmes