Thursday, 17 July 2008

Anne takes flack for husband's plot - why is her crime worse than his?

The story of John Darwin, who faked his own death by canoe accident only to reappear five years later is back in the news this week. Or, more precisely, his wife is. Anne Darwin, who was in on the plot to defraud several insurance providers all along, has been front page news for the past week owing to her court appearances in which she claims she was coerced into the idea by her husband. Headlines like 'Anne 'conned' sons' (The Daily Mirror, 15.07.08), 'Anne Darwin used 'guts and nerve' to fake husband's death' (The Sun, 15.07.08) have villainised her involvement. I'm not sure I really buy her defence - the fact that she upped sticks to meet him in Panama where they planned to remain after cashing in £250,000 worth of insurance policies would suggest that this isn’t as clear cut as all that. Who knows? What I do know is that the media coverage of this case – since Anne’s involvement was revealed – has largely ignored John Darwin, who it must be recognised is the main perpetrator of this crime. Somehow it is more acceptable to the public that a man would commit a fraudulent act such as this – fake his own death, put his family through misery – than it is for a woman. Anne’s status as wife and mother ensure that her crime is inexplicably more abominable than her husband’s, even though she was allegedly manipulated into going along with his scheme.

The press did the same – albeit in very different circumstances to Kate McCann after her daughter Madeleine disappeared while on holiday in July 2007. Despite both herself and her husband Gerry being officially recognised by Portuguese police as suspects in the case, it was Kate alone who bore the brunt of the media criticism. She was condemned for her ‘cold’ and ‘unemotional’ demeanour and vilified for leaving her children alone in the villa. Regardless of each of these women’s acts, the point is they were accompanied in them by their husbands, who largely escaped scrutiny (or at least the amount of scrutiny their wives were subjected to). Why is it that when a man and a woman commit the same crime, the woman’s committing of it is deemed less socially acceptable, more shocking and despicable? Yes, the woman’s status as mother is an important factor – and much has been made of Anne’s betrayal of her sons, who for almost six years were fooled into thinking their father was dead – but what about the father? The truth is, there still exists that ideal blueprint of ‘woman’ in the social consciousness: soft, gentle, motherly and ultimately weak and overly emotional. That a woman could be capable of an act that entails violence, deceit, malice or any other trait that is considered more ‘male’ is shocking and looked upon as unnatural. When a man and a woman stand accused of something side by side, they should be judged equally. Being a woman shouldn’t make you more guilty and being a man should not afford you leniency. It seems that women criminals provoke more of a reaction and sell more papers…but the bottom line is: the crimes we are talking about (those that harm a human being) are intrinsically unnatural. Someone’s gender makes this no more or no less true.