Real Men Advance, Real Women Retreat: Stand Your Ground, Battered Women’s Syndrome, and Violence as Male Privilege

BY MARY ANNE FRANKS, 68 U. Miami L. Rev. 1099 (2014).

Introduction: Republican politicians and candidates made headlines during the 2012 election season for making unsympathetic, offensive, and inaccurate comments about rape. From Todd Akin’s infamous assertion that women rarely get pregnant as a result of “legitimate” rape because “the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down” to Paul Ryan calling rape “a method of conception,” Republicans were widely criticized for trivializing and defending sexual assault. The flurry of ill-advised public statements prompted observant commentators to note that Republican antipathy to rape victims has been characteristic of the party long before 2012.An example that has recently come to light is Maine Representative Lawrence Lockman’s statement from 1990 that if abortion is legal, it’s only fair to allow men to rape women: “If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death.” The last two decades of Republican policies on birth control, sex education, and abortion strongly suggest that the party’s faithful regard rape as either uncommon or not very serious.

It is all the more interesting to observe, then, how rape has recently figured in the rhetoric of rightwing Republican figures when the topic is not reproductive rights or sexual health, but “self-defense.” In a 2012 editorial, for example, Florida father-and-son politicians Don and Matt Gaetz attacked critics of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” self- defense laws as “anti-woman.” The paradigmatic scenario they invoked against the critics of expanding self-defense laws was none other than a vulnerable woman facing down a rapist: “Consider an elderly woman in a dimly lit parking lot or a college girl walking to her dorm at night. If either was attacked, her duty was to turn her back and try to flee, probably be overcome and raped or killed. Prior to “Stand Your Ground,” that victim didn’t have the choice to defend herself, to meet force with force. Calls to repeal “Stand Your Ground” are anti-woman. Imposing a duty-to-flee places the safety of the rapist above a woman’s own life.”

The Gaetzes’ statements could have been written by Marion Hammer, whose lobbying efforts as the former president of the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) led to Florida becoming the first state to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005.Like the Gaetzes, Hammer illustrated the need for Stand Your Ground by using rape as the paradigmatic self-defense scenario: “The duty to retreat had been imposed by the system and essentially if someone had tried to drag a woman into an alley to rape her, the women [sic]—even though she might be licensed to carry concealed and ready to protect herself, the law would not allow her to do it. It required her to try to get away and run and be chased down by the perpetrator before she could then use force to protect herself.” According to this reasoning, people who do not support Stand Your Ground laws are in favor of rape.

A similar sentiment could be observed in NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013, in which he singled out “young women” for the following message: “the one thing a violent rapist deserves to face is a good woman with a gun.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also jumped on the right-wing rape bandwagon, expressing outrage at the “Left” for failing to acknowledge the supposed need for women to carry concealed weapons to protect themselves against rape (this included criticizing an actual rape victim, Zerlina Maxwell, for rejecting the supposed wisdom of armed responses to rape—the response from many of the show’s fans included, with no apparent sense of irony, to say nothing of decency, threats to rape her.)

It is not just Republican politicians, NRA leaders, and right-wing pundits who hasten to give the impression that expansive definitions of self-defense are written with vulnerable women in mind. Writing about the legal evolution of the castle doctrine, according to which “true men” are not obliged to retreat when protecting hearth and home, legal scholars such as Jeannie Suk and Joshua Dressler suggest that laws like Stand Your Ground treat battered women as the exemplars of self-defense. As Suk puts it, the modern doctrine “bears the unmistakable traces of the subordinated woman, now an indelible presence in the self-defense terrain and in public understandings of crime. . . . the modern Castle Doc- trine leverages the subordinated woman into a general model of self- defense rooted in the imperative to protect the home and family from attack.” For Republican politicians, gun lobbyists, and pundits, the poster child for Stand Your Ground is the helpless rape victim; for Suk and other legal scholars, it is the battered woman. But do Stand Your Ground laws and other forms of escalated self-defense rhetoric actually benefit women?

This Article will show that not only are Stand Your Ground laws not written for the benefit of women, they actually reinforce and exacerbate existing gender divides in self-defense law that disproportionately harm women. . . . Full Article.

Recommended Citation: Mary Anne Franks, Real Men Advance, Real Women Retreat: Stand Your Ground, Battered Women’s Syndrome, and Violence as Male Privilege, 68 U. Miami L. Rev. 1099 (2014).

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