On the news last week there was a story about a family who has finally been reunited with their daughter after she was stolen from the hospital 23 years ago. Talk about a parent’s worst nightmare, right? The news played clips of the father and mother’s plea 23 years ago to “please bring our daughter back,” and how they “had no interest in pressing charges.” Of course they didn’t, right? Because number one priority – don’t hurt my kid and I want her back.
But now! The woman who is being charged with the baby-napping is facing charges and, although the parents are being pretty chill about it, they’re ok with that end result. This seems like a typical “oh my god, I can’t believe it, after all these years” story, except for one thing that keeps nagging at me.
As far as I could tell it was a solid two days of interviewing the parents, splashing the same two photos of the now 23 year old reunited with her parents and then one of her as an infant with the woman who snatched her from the hospital, and discussing what could happen, if anything, to this woman now that she has been caught. The main focus of the investigation – as far as the news is concerned – is whether or not the woman harmed the girl in any way. Was their abuse? Was their sexual abuse? If these things aren’t present, if the 23 year old woman testifies that these things didn’t happen, the court will probably go easy on her. And the news people, and presumably the television audience, seem relieved by this fact. The fascination is not with how the young woman is coping with this massive life change, this awful crime and the family that has suffered for it, but with what will happen to the woman who stole her. Why? Because the woman successfully raised daughter that was not her’s to raise? Because she didn’t “hurt” the child? Because look! now the baby is all grown up and she looks alright, so no harm no foul, right? We don’t want too harsh a penalty… she is a mother after all.
I feel like this is a classic case of sexism in a weird reversed way. The way women are given the benefit of the doubt because they have ovaries. Like the debate over women in combat (the government is protecting our frail, lady bodies… even against our will), like women being excluded from the draft (yay no draft for women! because we couldn’t stand to send our mothers, sisters, and wives … just our sons, fathers, and brothers into war). Like, because she is a woman, we can only blame this on her maternal extincts. She had had multiple miscarriages, she may have been temporarily distraught, so distraught she was compelled to take a baby from the hospital and raise it on her own. Maternal instinct? To steal someone’s child? No. If this had been a man, no matter how well he cared for the child, public opinion would be completely different, the reaction of the media would be horror, not pity.
The crime in this case is not against the child. That’s not the point, at least not the total point. Yes, the 23 year old woman probably feels like her life has turned upside down, and her identity is forever shaky. I get that, and that’s completely unfair and awful. But the real crime is against the parents who have suffered, and felt a loss their daughter may have never felt for 23 years, never knowing what happened to their child, never knowing her, never knowing why or how. The woman who snatched that baby girl should go to jail for a very very long time, and the fact that she didn’t abuse the baby she stole, the fact that she loved her as if she were her own, should hold no baring in this case, whether in the real court, or in the court of public opinion. Just because women are seen as being “naturally motherly” does not make it ever ok to take another person’s child, and it is ludicrous to make any excuses otherwise.