Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2002 / 18 Mar-Cheshvan 5763

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Battered Women's Syndrome: Science or sham? | As Domestic Violence Awareness Month nears its end, organizations like the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison are calling loudly for the mass pardoning of "battered" women who have been convicted of first-degree murder.

PC feminists should instead take a real stand against gender violence and abandon the Battered Woman Syndrome -- a legal defense used to exonerate women who kill abusive men in the absence of imminent danger.

BWS claims that battered women are psychologically traumatized and therefore not responsible for their violent actions. Thus, a battered woman is not held responsible for murdering her abuser in his sleep, as in the much cited court case State of North Carolina v. Judy Ann Laws Norman or in the movie The Burning Bed. BWS sidesteps the long established principle that only a clear and imminent danger to life can justify murder, especially the premeditated variety.

Controversy swirls over whether BWS even exists or is a creation of feminist politics. Whatever is true, BWS is a legal defense available to women and de facto denied to men. Both women and men should be held equally accountable for their acts of violence. The courts should not bar anyone from a valid legal defense -- but is BWS valid?

BWS is more than a demand for compassion. As a woman who was severely battered, empathy is my first reaction. But compassion toward a murderer does not justify her act. BWS is being politically used to make cause celebres out of women who make the most reprehensible choice possible -- the cold-blooded killing of another human being.

Consider the case of the self-confessed serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute recently executed by the state of Florida for murdering seven men. Wuornos initially claimed that the men, all killed within a year's span, were customers against whom she was defending herself. She later recanted and told the judge: "I am guilty as can be. I want the world to know I killed these men -- as cold as ice. I've hated human beings for a long time." Wuornos' motive was also robbery.

Seven human beings who were never convicted of a crime -- indeed, who were accused of one only by a murderess, thief and liar -- received private death sentences. They were dismissed by a media which would have eagerly examined every detail of the victims had they been female.

By contrast, Wuornos has been the subject of movies, a documentary, a play, and an opera sympathetic to the murderess and dismissive or hostile to her victims. The play, entitled Self-Defense (or The Death of Some Salesmen), presents the murderess as a martyr. She is a symbolic reminder that men abuse women. Lest anyone miss that message, the policeman who arrests Jolene Palmer (the Wuornos character) states his motives, "White, middle-aged men are at risk!"

The opera, entitled Wuornos, is a self-consciously political justification of murdering men. Pointing a finger of blame at Wuornos' allegedly abusive father and distant grandfather, the opera advertises itself as "the rage of one woman" speaking "for centuries of pain." Wuornos is described as "a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the love of her life -- another woman." This refers to the fact that Wuornos had been persuaded to confess her guilt by her lesbian lover.

Such presentations hit hard upon the tragic childhood of Wuornos. But the goal does not seem to be compassion or understanding of the human condition. After all, no compassion or understanding is extended to the dead men or their families. The message is clear: the men deserved to die.

In her essay, "Sexual Violence Against Women and a Woman's Right to Self-Defense: The Case of Aileen Carol Wuornos," the renowned radical feminist Phyllis Chesler provides "statistics" and theory to support this message.

Without citing sources, Chesler explains, "According to contemporary studies, 90 percent of all violent crimes are still committed by men. ... When those women who commit 10 percent of all violent crimes do kill, nearly half kill male intimates who have abused them or their children, and they invariably do so in self-defense." [Emphasis added]

Chesler's statistics do not seem to apply to spousal killing. The Department of Justice's "Murder in Families" study found "among black marital partners ... 47 percent of the black spouse victims were husbands and 53 percent were wives. Among white victims ... 38 percent of the victims were husbands and 62 percent were wives." It is also difficult to understand how Chesler knows that battered women invariably murder in self-defense, not in anger or for revenge.

I keep returning to the least discussed aspect of BWS. The men who deserved a trial before being executed: Were they, in fact, guilty?

Wuornos did not endorse the opera that eulogizes the murder of men, although she was asked repeatedly to do so. Before she died, Wuornos expressed great remorse for the pain she had caused the families of her victims. What does it say about PC feminists when a serial killer who hates mankind shows more decencythan they can manage?

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Wendy McElroy is the editor of She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada. Comment by clicking here.


10/17/02: I demand a civil society that respects the individual and acknowledges the existence of honest disagreement between human beings of good will
10/09/02: Abortion debate is about to be ratcheted up yet again
10/02/02: 'Restorative justice' offers battered women more options
09/25/02: Why is prez promising to embrace UN radical social engineering programs?
09/18/02: Dirty dealings kill men's panel
09/11/02: Taking back your power
09/05/02: Calm down, Hootie!
08/21/02: Will Congress empower a group of radical feminists to oversee money slated for Afghan women?
08/14/02: Empower the U.N. with power to sculpt American laws and institutions into the image of gender feminism!?
08/01/02: Practicing 'intellectual virtue'
07/24/02: All male, bad. All female, good: Your tax dollars at work
07/11/02: Put Up or Shut Up
07/03/02: NOW they've done it, again!
06/19/02: A dark cloud shades U.N. Women's Treaty
06/10/02: This Father's Day, send justice
05/31/02: When good women do nothing
05/28/02: Feminists claiming motherhood as liberal cause
05/20/02: Wounds in health care system are self-inflicted: Or, why "my son the lawyer" makes more sense
05/10/02: Are parents boycotting public schools?
05/03/02: Women can't be gun-shy about defense
04/25/02: The Bill of Intellectual Rights
04/19/02: World Bank or World Government?: The World Bank is blackmailing impoverished nations
04/12/02: Victims From Birth: Engineering Defects in Helpless Children Crosses the Line
04/05/02: The professor made me cry, now I will make him pay!
03/31/02: Doctors and teens --- parents be on guard
03/22/02: I was born, now I'm suing you!
03/15/02: The 21st Century is knocking at the barricaded door of feminism
03/08/02: Fun and games at the Ms mag Bulletin Board
03/01/02: Andrea Yates, NOW, and Feminist Jurisprudence
02/22/02: Lady, Your Slip is Showing
02/14/02: 'Abusing' Valentine's Day
02/11/02: Is NOW Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?
02/01/02: Are 'fathers' rights' a factor in male suicide?
01/25/02: Is the U.N. Running Brothels in Bosnia?
01/18/02: 'Freedom' at another's (moral) expense
01/11/02: Feminists hit Ground Zero with WTC funds grab
01/04/02: Males winning "diversity discrimination" cases is good?
12/21/01: Good will toward men
12/14/01: "Boss Tweed" feminism
12/07/01: Call me 'anti-woman'

© 2001, Wendy McElroy