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The Betty Broderick Story is not unusual, and could have happened to any woman, especially in a patriarchy like ours that won’t support the woman.
I recently binge watched a Netflix series Dirty John which was inspired by a very popular podcast of the same name. The term comes from a real life case of a woman, Debra Newell, who fell in love with and married a con artist called John Meehan.
The first season of the series covers the story of how she and her family escaped from the clutches of the man described as “a ticking time bomb capable of unpredictable violence.” The series will explore true stories of love gone wrong, or as we desis call it Dangerous Ishq.
The second season, The Betty Broderick Story, really hit me in the gut. This story could have been about any of the countless homemakers that we encounter on a daily basis, it could also be me!
A 42 year old mother of three shot and killed her ex-husband and his much younger new wife in their bedroom during the early hours of the morning. What prompted her to take such an extreme step?
Betty and Daniel Broderick met as students in New York, fell in love and got married. Daniel had big dreams and Betty supported them fully as his wife. In fact, it was her earnings that kept the house running as he completed med school and then moved to completing a law degree.
Dan moved the family to sunny California, and pretty soon was a famous attorney in San Diego. They were living the dream, the perfect couple with three kids, a nice family house, rich friends and designer clothes. Then, as they say here, “kisi ki nazar lag gayi!” Dan hired a new assistant and Betty grew suspicious. When asked, Daniel kept denying that he was having an affair.
I do not need to elaborate what happened next. Dan moved out of the family home, and this set the foundation for what is known as one of the most bitter divorce cases of the 1980s.
If ever there was to be a course called Gaslighting101, Daniel Broderick would be Expert #1. With his law expertise and social standing, he went on to make life hell for Betty.
As I read more and more about this story, I couldn’t help but feel a kinship with her. She was so immersed in being the perfect mum, the perfect wife, the perfect hostess, that this unexpected turn threw her completely off-balance. The one person she thought that she would grow old with wanted nothing to do with her.
She felt betrayed, she felt cheated, and she felt abandoned. The woman who took pride in managing events to the smallest detail and once being a very active mom in her children’s school activities, took the sudden decision to drop off the kids to her husband’s house one by one, while he wasn’t at home.
I can only imagine the extreme mental exhaustion that must’ve caused that behavior. But her husband took this opportunity to seize custody of the kids. Time and again he would discredit her and question her sanity in public, with his colleagues, even in front of his kids.
Her entire purpose of existence was taken away by him, why then wouldn’t she get angry? She came to be known as, ‘the scorned woman’ among their friends.
Daniel slowly but surely chipped away at her being. He would ‘punish’ her by holding off on alimony payments and would deny her meeting with the kids. But she kept fighting, and I truly applaud her strength. When no attorney would take her child custody case, she represented herself in court. I imagine that if she was in the social media age, all she would have to do is create a hashtag and woke netizens would’ve destroyed Daniel. I reckon, if she was a woman of recent times, she wouldn’t have things get so far either.
Betty Broderick, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole because she showed no remorse for the deed she had done. But was it really a crime?
During a conversation with a friend Betty says, “If Daniel would have behaved this way with one of his business associates he would have gotten sued for breach of contract. Why am I being treated any different?”
Betty questioned the status quo, and paid for it dearly. Was she so wrong in demanding what she deserved? She was driven to act upon something that one can only imagine about. Can you imagine the amount of rage she must have felt? An entire life that she built taken away by the one person she loved most. Her attempts to move on weren’t encouraged or even acknowledged. She just wanted “the fighting to end” as quoted by a friend.
The tragic story of the Brodericks is a classic example of adults making decisions fueled purely by rage and ego.
In the final episode, there is a scene when Betty is shown thinking how she could’ve done things differently; pivotal moments that could have changed the entire story had she made a different choice.
“The 1980s were 40 years ago!” you say. But have things really changed?
I was reminded of Neelum, from Dil Dhadakne Do, when she confesses, “Kahan Jaati Main?”
I was reminded of the late night call by a friend crying on the phone, “I want to leave but can’t because they’ll take my child away from me.”
Another weepy call, “I am at home sick and he is out at a friend’s party.”
A confession, “He doesn’t like me staying over at my parents’ place.”
A denial, “It was just harmless flirting!”
A hope, “I am enough.”
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