I strongly recommend Dahlia Lithwick’s article on the pending execution of Teresa Lewis, which covers some of the same issues of paternalism and the law I alluded to yesterday. I don’t believe that Lewis should be executed — but that’s because I oppose the death penalty. If she is to be spared, certainly her gender should be irrelevant, although there are other factors (such as her cognitive abilities) that might be. If the death penalty is defensible, it should apply to women who commit crimes that similarly situated men would be executed for. (And you respond that the death penalty is applied so arbitrarily that it’s impossible to make comparisons about “similarly situated” individuals at all — good point! — see my general position on the death penalty.)
An even better example of this was Karla Faye Tucker, as opposition to her execution actually became a cause celebre among right-wing death penalty supporters. Admittedly, there was also the pretext that her conversion to Christianity was the real reason to oppose her execution, but as Cal Thomas (to his credit) pointed out, it’s inconceivable that Pat Robertson et al. would have publicly campaigned to save a born-again African American man from the needle. The kind of paternalism this represents — even if it might benefit individual women in particular circumstances — is both indefensible and very bad for women in the long run.
As I said, my solution is to level up to a higher standard of human rights rather than level down to a lower one. But as long as the death penalty is given, it’s impossible to argue that women should be exempt from it. And if people argue for these exemptions, it’s good reason to believe that the punishment itself cannot be defended.
…see also this excellent post from Monica Potts.