Gendered Politics in the Modern South
The Susan Smith Case and the Rise of a New Sexism
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Making the Modern South
Title Page, Copyright
To quote Hillary Clinton, this one definitely took a village. First of all, thank you to Bryant Simon, my graduate advisor, for fielding countless dumb questions, giving sage advice, reading a million drafts, writing many tedious letters, and being a Tar Heel. Thanks as well to the other members of my dissertation ...
Just after eight o’clock on the night of October 25, 1994, the McCloud family of Union County, South Carolina, heard a loud noise outside their lakeside home. Startled, Shirley McCloud opened the door to discover a white woman in her early twenties sobbing on the front porch. The young woman, Susan ...
1. Susan Smith and the “Mommy Myth”
On Tuesday, October 25, 1994, twenty-three-year- old Susan Vaughan Smith awakened early to get ready for her job at a local mill. Although she formerly worked as a weaver at Executive Knits, a textile mill, Susan Smith had made the rare move from mill floor to office: in the fall of 1994, she was the administrative ...
2. “A Hard Week to Be Black in Union”
When Susan Smith confessed to the murder of her young sons after a nine-day, nationwide kidnapping investigation, the public was outraged. NBC’s Bob Dotson, who was stationed in Union during the manhunt, the confession, and the ...
3. The “Modern-Day Medea”
Maternal infanticide, or more specifically “filicide” (the murder of one’s own children), so thoroughly violates our cultural common sense about motherhood that it is one of the most confounding crimes in American culture. The words ...
4. Personal Responsibility
The titillating angle of the “boyfriend motive” helped Americans make sense of Susan Smith as the kind of mother who could commit a heinous crime. This plot twist kept her in the headlines, but as more details leaked to the press during the ...
5. Union’s Family Values
As Susan Smith’s image transformed rapidly in the media, the one trait that loosely tied each new “Susan” together was dishonesty: she lied about the carjacking, her maternal instincts, her marriage, her affairs, her ...
6. “In a Lake of Fire”
The night before jury selection was set to begin in the Susan Smith trial, reporter Bob Dotson for NBC’s Evening News asked, in a voiceover backed by church bells: “In a town with 130 churches, people tend to be forgiving—but who can forget?” The video ...
7. From “Monster” to “Mentally Ill”
For two and a half hours, the jury of nine men and three women argued over how to properly punish Susan Smith. The facts of the crime were undisputed; instead, they went over the haunting traumas ...
EPILOGUE: The New “New Momism”
Because this is a book about representations of women, rather than women themselves, I have found myself in the ironic position of feeling like a part of the system that actually silences these marginal figures. Susan Smith never gave an interview after ...