Note – The True Man & The Battered Woman: Prospects for Gender Neutral Narratives in Self-Defense Doctrines

Katelyn E. Keegan

Volume 65, Issue 1, 259-283

The recent rise of controversial Stand Your Ground laws has sparked discussions on self-defense law. Comparing the new Stand Your Ground laws with another self- defense doctrine—Battered Women’s Syndrome—it becomes apparent that the law solidifies gender stereotypes by assessing when an individual is justified in using deadly force against an aggressor. “True men” are empowered to use deadly force in public without a duty to retreat, while a battered woman often must provide expert testimony on her psychological condition to prove the reasonableness of her use of deadly force in light of her severe helplessness. At their extremes, both of these doctrines are detrimental to the criminal law and potentially encourage dangerous policy and undesirable public conduct.This Note argues that legal reforms should moderate these extremes and create a more gender-neutral process for proving self-defense claims no matter the theory. While the psychology of juror decisionmaking and the public’s familiarity with the classic narratives likely limit prospects for reform, change is necessary to modernize and equalize self-defense law. Ideally, a new legal framework of individualization for proving self-defense claims can find the middle ground between the empowerment doctrine of true men and the helplessness ideology behind Battered Women’s Syndrome, and will allow the jury to listen to each defendant’s narrative regardless of whether it falls under the traditional paradigm.

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