Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied an execution date for female inmate, Michelle Byrom, to allow the Court time to consider additional appellate arguments.
It is very unusual to hear about women being executed. Of all arrests, 1 in 10 are female; 1 in 50 are sentenced to death and 1 in 100 are actually executed. Since the mid 70s, only 13 women have received the ultimate penalty.
While race issues surrounding the death penalty are constantly used to argue that capital punishment is unfairly meted out, gender equality and the death penalty are not a hotly discussed topic. Feminists do not stand outside our prisons protesting that women are treated differently than men when it comes to lethal injection. However, the issue still shows us that juries are biased and view men and women differently, even if they commit the same crime.
Sociologists typically cite two reasons for women not being given the death penalty. First, the death penalty is usually given to those who commit other felonies in addition to murder, such as robbery and rape. Women are just not into those crimes as much as men. Second, juries express concern for what has been termed “the fragile female psyche.” They perceive that women, who largely kill people they know, are emotionally distressed and commit these crimes out of passion. That, in their view, is more excusable. Interestingly, murders that juries cannot forgive are mothers who kill their children or women who hire someone to kill others for financial gain. Those two crimes, in some ways, depict un-motherly, non-feminine traits and therefore jurors treat these women as they do men.
While I am a strong proponent of gender equality for women, my dislike of the death penalty trumps the cause. I don’t want to see more women put to death because it will not make the death penalty any more or less palatable. For me, the ultimate in equality would be the abolition of capital punishment altogether so we do not even have to have this discussion.