Toddler Beaten To Death For “Acting Like a Girl”: How Gender Stereotypes Killed a Young Child
A child’s death is always shocking, and a child killed by a caregiver is even more horrible. But when the physical abuse is caused by an adult for no other reason than because the toddler was “acting like a girl,” there are simply no words.
I read about the story of Roy Jones, the 17-month old boy beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend, with the shock and anger that any person has when a child is murdered. But those feelings were heightened when the cause of the boyfriend’s rage was revealed as simple inability to deal with the child not being “boyish” enough for him.
Pedro Jones, 20, has been arrested on manslaughter charges.
Jones told reporters outside Southampton Town Justice Court that he didn’t mean to do it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s my baby. I loved him to death.”
The agony spilled into the parking lot.
“You’ll get some jailhouse justice, you pig!” shouted one person.
State police say Jones beat the life out of 17-month-old Roy Jones.
“He’s a beautiful baby boy that didn’t deserve what happened to him,” his cousin, Rainbow Hill, said.
According to court documents, Jones, who was not related to the boy, punched him over and over with closed fists and grabbed him by the neck.
Documents say he confessed to the crime, telling troopers, “I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl. I never struck that kid that hard before. A one-time mistake, and I am going to do 20 years.”
I can’t help but wonder what was so “girly” about the toddler’s actions. Was he getting upset easily? Crying too much? Anyone who has dealt with a toddler or preschooler knows that they have very little control over their emotions, that they get angry, upset, hurt or frustrated at the drop of a hat, especially due to their inability to express their wants and needs verbally due to still learning and grasping the language.
Are tears “girly?” Overall, no, and especially not in a child below the age of five. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping parents from attempting to force their children into perceived gender roles, in some cases leading to disastrous results for the child.
Trying to define children by their gender is nothing new, of course.Michael Rowe at Huffington Post writes about projects and therapies that existed at one point to “orient” little boys into proper “masculine” roles, even at an extremely young age.
A May 2010 article in the Miami News by Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp reported on Rekers’ 1974 “Feminine Boy Project” at UCLA. The article highlighted the story of a 4-year-old-year old “effeminate boy” named Kraig was subjected by his parents to Rekers’ aversion therapy.
Part of the therapy involved putting Kraig in “play-observation room” with his mother, who had instructions to avert her eyes from her child when he played with “girly” toys. An essay by Stephanie Wilkinson published in Brain, Child magazine in 2001 recounts that, during one of the sessions, Kraig became so distraught and hysterical at what must have seemed to the 4-year-old like the withdrawal of his mother’s love, that he had to be carried out of the room by the staff. At home, the “treatment” continued, with Kraig being rewarded for “masculine” behavior and spanked by his father for “feminine” behavior.
After two years of treatment, apparently “cured” of his effeminacy, Kraig was held up by the psychologist as proof that his treatment worked until, at 18, shamed and scarred by his diagnosis and treatment, Kraig attempted suicide.
Yet as Rowe points out, the urge to fit children into tightly defined gender roles at a younger and younger age appear to be increasing as mass media is both caricaturing the masculine and feminine, and selling it to the public, and especially younger and younger consumers. It is those consumers who grow up, and who force their own children into the same molds, in this case even murdering a toddler who allegedly didn’t fit.
In the end, the story does have one definite take away. Regardless of whether or not a child is capable of acting “girly” or masculine, especially at such a young age, we know for sure that hitting a child never, ever makes someone a man. We can only hope that no other children die in the pursuit of a parent’s ideal of the perfect child.