This article examines the gender disparity in capital punishment, as far fewer women than men are tried for capital crimes and executed for them. In the Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia, the court recognized gender and racial disparities in the use of capital punishments. The author notes that from 1973 to 2002, 1.2% of those executed were women, and women make up 1.4% of people on death row, though women account for 12% of homicides (pages 180 and 184).
The author provides different theories to explain why more men are executed than women, including the chivalry theory and the "evil woman theory" (which posit that in our paternalistic society, women are treated more leniently than men but that women who run afoul of gender norms are punished more severely). The author also cites statutory bias, that there are biases inherent in the law. She applies this bias to an understanding of the North Carolina death penalty laws and finds that "it becomes obvious that North Carolina’s statute tends to discriminate in favor of women" (page 185). The availability of mitigating factors and absence of aggravating factors (such factors as being involved in multiple murders or committing a murder in prison) also mean that women are less likely to be sentenced to death.
The author examines the use of the death penalty in North Carolina where, as in many states, a jury must decide that mitigating factors do not outweigh aggravating factors to sentence someone to death. She profiles the four women on death row in North Carolina and compares them to men who have been executed or who are on death row in the state. She finds that the women have not been subject to discriminatory use of aggravating factors and that in fact men are punished more severely for lesser crimes. The author also finds that mitigating factors tend to work in favor of women rather than in favor of men. A woman is generally spared the death penalty unless she violates society's conceptions of women's roles in an egregious way. The author calls for a more gender-neutral application of the death penalty.