(October is domestic violence awareness month. My blog will focus on domestic violence from the often ignored and silent perspective – the male victim – and how organizations, politicians, and society deny men and their children the same awareness, compassion, and resources offered to women.)
Lady Madonna: Cont.
by Tim Goldich
Andrea’s mother and siblings told reporters that Rusty, a controlling husband who often downplayed his wife’s mental illness and shut them out, bears some responsibility for the tragedy. Andrea’s best friend, Deborah Holmes, did the same. On radio call-in shows, Internet chat rooms and newspaper editorial pages, the questions continue. . . . Rusty is “innocent of any criminal offense,” says his lawyer, Ed Mallet. Some legal experts, however, think that even if Yates escapes criminal charges (including contempt of court) he may have a tough time defending himself in civil court where a jury could find him partly responsible. (Newsweek, 04/01/02, p.6)
More than just “questions” circulate throughout the Internet.
Andrea went to prison, but many people believed that she was not the only one who was culpable in this tragedy. Rusty had been warned not to leave her alone with the children and a doctor had taken her off medication while apparently believing that she could be a danger to herself or others. Many people believed that they shared in the blame.
http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/women/andrea_yates/13.html (retrieved 08/02/07)
In fact, many expressed more hostility and blame toward Rusty than Andrea. A typical sentiment was articulated by Barbara Robinson: “Rusty Yates is Culpable, Too: Father’s Bizarre, Domineering Actions Played a Role in Children’s Deaths”
(http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0322-02.htm, retrieved 08/02/07, published 03/22/02 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal).
Robinson goes so far as to suggest that “her husband should have been on trial instead of Andrea.”
I couldn’t understand how a man could repeatedly impregnate a mentally ill wife and force or allow her to home-school their children. Yates exhibited a sense of arrogance as he explained why his children had to be home-schooled: “The social integration that the world claims is so essential is exactly what we need to protect our children from.” So the Yates didn’t integrate with their neighbors, who didn’t agree with Rusty’s beliefs. Rusty Yates claims he and Andrea jointly made decisions — including Andrea giving birth to all five children without pain control measures; Andrea abandoning her nursing career to become a homemaker; Andrea home-schooling the children; the family moving from their four-bedroom house into a 38-foot trailer and an adjacent 350-square-foot motor home.
There’s a world of difference between “force” and “allow.” Is Andrea an adult woman accountable for her own actions? Or is she a child? Was Rusty her husband or her father?
Is Rusty Yates culpable? Of course he is. He’s in it; he’s involved; he plied a force of influence in the overall situation. But the same can be said of any wife whose husband “snapped” and did what Andrea Yates did. To whatever degree husbands may be judged “domineering,” wives may be judged “manipulative” in equal measure. The difference comes in the differing degree to which men and women, husbands and wives, are held accountable for their force of influence.
It should be noted that not everyone judged Andrea Yates so lightly. According to CBSNews.com, Dr. Park Dietz, the state’s expert witness “testified that Yates’ thoughts about harming her children were an obsession and a symptom of severe depression, not psychosis.” Additionally there was “the state’s key expert witness, Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated Yates in May. He testified that she did not kill her children to save them from hell as she claims, but because she was overwhelmed and felt inadequate as a mother.”
Damning opinion regarding Andrea Yates exists, but you have to do some digging to find it. Where male killers are concerned only the opposite prevails.
Back now to the Chicago Sun Times article, “Police aren’t saying why Christopher Vaughn allegedly shot his wife Kimberly, and three kids in the family’s red SUV on June 14. But in other family-murder cases, a clear pattern emerges, experts say. Fathers often wipe out their families simply because they’re tired of them. They want to be free again, without going through the hassles and obligations of divorce and child support.” (p. 4). We don’t know why Christopher Vaughn allegedly shot his wife Kimberly, but even so, we’ll just lump him in with the rest of his presumed inferior species as an article of faith. Compare antipathy like that with the outsized empathy shown Andrea Yates. Following the Today show report on the Yates’ tragedy, Katie “Couric provided an address where viewers could send contributions for Yates’s defense fund” (TV Guide, 09/01/01, p. 10).
“Suzanne O’Malley, a journalist, covered this trial for numerous publications and had unique access to Andrea and Rusty Yates. As the author of ARE YOU THERE ALONE?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates, O’Malley talks to Bookreporter.com’s Diana Keough” (INTERVIEW February 20, 2004 http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-omalley-suzanne.asp).
If anyone got in close enough to the Yates tragedy to hold an informed opinion it was Suzanne O’Malley. Says she, “Sure, spending time with Rusty Yates changed my thinking about him. But the 2,000 pages of Andrea Yates’s medical records affected me more. Before I read them, I felt Rusty Yates was a monster.” Is that really how she felt, or, like everyone else, did O’Malley simply presume guilt and evil upon the nearest male?
For Diana Keough, O’Malley’s interviewer, even Rusty’s forgiveness of Andrea is regarded with suspicion. O’Malley responds: “How I explain it is that Rusty Yates understands his wife is mentally ill. For him, the crime of killing their five children never required forgiveness — the deaths were a tragedy from which to seek future safeguards, not blame.” Sounds sensible enough. If only women could be expected to apply such magnanimity toward men.
The interview continues:
Q: Characterize Rusty Yates for us. He seems like a man who things happen to. The world seems to circle around him with him not really taking grasp of any issue except as a topline thought. He knew Andrea was ill, but never hired an attorney or other advocate to help him get her the care she desperately needed. He knew she was ill, but still left the children with her that morning. Andrea’s attorney was hired by her three brothers without Rusty even being consulted. This does not seem like a man “in charge.” Are these sentiments on target?
SOM (Suzanne O’Malley): No.
Indeed, these sentiments are not on target. With one breath we demonize Man for being “controlling” and “demanding.” With the next breath we hold him in contempt for not being “in charge.” In an effort to avoid being judged a “wimp” (i.e., “a man who things happen to”), a man tries his best to take charge only to suffer being judged a “patriarchal oppressor.” Where is the win position? Whether judged a wimp or an oppressor, either way, we will go to extraordinary lengths to hold him solely responsible.
Fortunately, Suzanne O’Maley dug deep enough into this tragedy, the people involved and all surrounding factors to see things more clearly. Says she:
1) There is a Rusty Yates standing on every street corner in America. I don’t perceive him to be different from many spouses. If you are talking to him about feelings on a Sunday afternoon in front of the television set, he will interrupt what you’re saying to appreciate a touchdown or a really good putt.
2) Read the book excerpts from the 2,000 pages of Andrea Yates’s medical records. If there’s one thing Rusty Yates is, it’s an advocate. When psychiatrists are unable to diagnose an illness after years of family effort, I wonder how a family, a lawyer, or any layman can succeed.
3) Hindsight is 20/20. Andrea Yates was left alone with the children for an hour that Wednesday morning when Rusty Yates left for work. Andrea and the children were watching television and Rusty’s mother was on her way over to look after them. When Andrea had been ill the first time (in 1999, after the birth of her 4th child), she had twice tried to kill herself. The family’s focus was on making sure she didn’t try to kill herself again. They never thought she would harm the children.
4) Andrea Yates’s attorney was hired by her then 72-year-old mother two days after the murders (with the consultation of her three brothers). Prior to that Friday morning, Rusty Yates was identifying the dead bodies of his children at the coroner’s office, selecting their coffins, making funeral arrangements, seeing a NASA grief counselor, ferrying relatives to and from the airport, giving the Assistant District Attorney a tour of the crime scene, and seeking advice from a friend who is an attorney. Rusty Yates had also scheduled a meeting that Friday afternoon with noted defense attorney Mike Ramsay (who recently won the Robert Durst murder and dismemberment case in Galveston, Texas). Ramsay had been recommended to Yates by the office of NBC’s Katie Couric. So had the attorney Andrea’s mother had selected. Rusty Yates agreed with his in-law’s choice of George Parnham.
Q: In his grief, just about everything Rusty did — from creating a website in his children’s memory to the way he methodically cleaned out the bathtub and removed the bed the children were placed on after they died — seems like the actions of someone rather emotionally detached from the situation at hand. Did you feel this way about Rusty?
SOM: First, let me say that, it was Randy Yates — Rusty’s brother — who cleaned the bathtub. Relatives had begun to arrive for the funeral and some were staying at the house. Rusty says he himself was never able to set foot in that tub. He had it removed and smashed to pieces with a sledgehammer.
Rusty Yates is a career NASA engineer. His job is safety systems for the space shuttle program. It is fair to say he is methodical.
Given the merciless blame and judgment aimed his way, one can only hope that Rusty was emotionally detached. Sadly, however, I have no doubt that a Dad’s grief at the loss of all five of his children could only be monumental. Obviously, that grief can only be magnified by the zero-empathy he’s accorded.
At such a distance I cannot judge the hearts of either Christopher Vaughn or Andrea Yates. I cannot know what The Truth is regarding either the depth of their guilt or innocence. What I do know is that there is a staggering gulf in empathy accorded each sex. What I know is that women are presumed innocent while men are presumed guilty.
It is ubiquitous misandry like this, at saturation levels, shouted aloud from the most official and respected sources of news and opinion, that forces my hand. I could just give up. I could sit by while my sex is utterly denigrated. I could watch passively as misandry and feminism conspire to turn men into second-class humans. But I choose instead to fight back. And I fight back the only way I know how. I tell the other side of the story.
(Tim Goldich is in the process of publishing a series of books on the subject of gender issues as seen from both the female and the male perspectives. His first book, Loving Men, Respecting Women: The Future of Gender Politics, Love and Respect in the Past, Love and Respect in the Present, and Love and Respect in the Future will be released in the near future.)