Blame the system
By Kath Gelber
@column = Susan Smith, the woman who, in desperation, killed her two children and then blamed their disappearances on a black man who hijacked her car, has become the latest victim in that great tragedy called US domestic politics.
@column = She has been portrayed in the media fracas surrounding the case as "evil", "wicked" and — possibly worst of all — a "bad mother". Her personal history, including the suicide of her father when she was a child, sexual assault by her stepfather as a teenager and her attempts at suicide, simply became grist for the sensation-hungry media mill, rather than being treated as real factors in understanding the distress she was facing.
@column = In stark contrast, the media have treated other players in this tragedy with awe, reverence and respect. Smith's ex-husband, who admits to having beaten her, is portrayed sympathetically with references to his regret at having "treated her roughly". Smith's boyfriend, who refused to continue a relationship with her because he would not care for another man's children, is lent a sympathetic ear.
@column = Although these people have admitted to being unsupportive, uncaring or even downright brutal in their treatment of Smith, they are the "good guys". She is "evil" and they, by extension, must be "good".
@column = The case has been individualised to the extent that one is led to believe that Smith committed the murders in an insane and totally inexplicable act.
@column = Treatment of the case in this way serves only to avoid a plausible explanation of Smith's action in the context of US contemporary life. The richest (for some) country on earth harbours some of the worst dysfunction, poverty and negative social consequences of a system which chews up and spits out its members, and then blames them for the horrific result.
@column = There is little doubt Smith was suffering from mental illness at the time she committed the inexcusable murders. But while the media are baying for her blood, the smokescreen over any analysis of the social causes of her illness is getting thicker.
@column = Tragic events such as these are not simply the product of an individual deranged mind. They must be examined in the context of a society which provides few life choices to women excluding children and family and no support to divorced women with children, and which places the burden for care of children exclusively on individuals. This is also a system which fails to deal with the kind of abuse Smith received from her stepfather.
@column = Smith is another victim of this system. It's this system which deserves to be tried for its failure to meet human needs, and its willingness to blame its victims.