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Mad enough to kill? It’s better if you’re a woman

Monday, August 16, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

In a departure for us (illustrating our flexibility), we are writing about when it is good to be a woman as opposed to not so much (see for example, here and here and here). Those posts all refer to times it’s tough to be a woman. But women who kill in the throes of passion, have an edge.  Nice to know, eh?

It isn’t likely a woman who kills (say, a cheating spouse) will get away with it. But, she is more likely to get a shorter sentence than a man convicted under similar circumstances. This research was originally published in the Journal of Social Psychology. While male participants were more likely to opt for the harsher punishment (second-degree murder)—both male and female participants gave heterosexual female defendants significantly shorter length sentences than either heterosexual men or gay men or lesbian women.  Heterosexual women were also seen as “less guilty” and as having been “more provoked”.

While this sort of juror decision-making doesn’t really make sense with the evidence—that is, you should not be punished more just because you are a man—it is what it is. Beliefs about gender (e.g., men shouldn’t hurt women) seem to favor the female heterosexual defendant and a provocation defense could be a good strategy. So would we say “sometimes it’s easy to be a woman”? Maybe not that far. How about “here’s a time when it’s better if you’re a woman”.

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