Sexism and the Jury Box

So what's the threshold where people start to get nervous about female power?

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(Gary Green/AP/Orlando Sentinel)
George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges relating to the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman, accused of wrongfully shooting teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, will be judged by a jury consisting of six, all women. Does it matter?

The makeup of the jury became news, although news agencies don't seem to know what to make of it. The potential bias question in the trial is about race, not gender, with Zimmerman accused of racially profiling the African-American Martin and shooting the unarmed teenager because he was suspiciously in a white neighborhood. Does the gender divide (or in this case, unity) of the jury matter? And if not, why is it newsworthy?

As The Atlantic speculates:

...a single-gender jury allows armchair trial lawyers to speculate on how gender might influence the verdict. Will women sympathize with someone who claimed to be in fear for his life? Two of the female jurors themselves own guns for self-defense. Will they sympathize with the tragic loss of a teenage son? Five of the jurors are mothers. These questions evoke the larger and largely unspoken issue at the heart of any jury selection - do women decide cases differently?

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Those are legitimate questions, but the bigger question is, why are those distinctions more important when the jurors are female instead of male? Would a father of a teenager be more sympathetic to the prosecution than a man with no children? Would a man see his role as protector, and thus identify with a defendant who claims he felt he and the neighborhood were threatened?

In the Zimmerman case, as is true for elections and the workplace, women are still treated as a minority, a special interest group presumed to act according to their special circumstances. We talk about the so-called "women's vote," even though women are more than half the population and the strong majority of voters. Companies may be cognizant of hiring women, but it's rare (except in historically female-dominated fields) to have a majority of women in the office. Instead, women are treated as some sort of minority that needs to be represented, but should not be permitted to dominate. In the statistical minority, men are somehow deemed the control group.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

So what's the threshold where people start to get nervous about female power? In the U.S. Senate, where only a fifth of members are women, the gender breakdown is already making people uncomfortable (and the female members in both parties have been impressively aggressive in bringing attention to the sexual assaults in the military, making some people even more uncomfortable). In boardrooms, the threshold appears to be even lower, with only a small percentage of corporate executive offices held by women. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto pathetically bemoans the " war on men" and what he calls "the effort to criminalize male sexuality." (How? By making rape and sexual assault illegal?) For the latter, Taranto points to the case of an Air Force officer accused of sexual assault by a woman Taranto says was equally at fault because she "flirted" with him.

Taranto and his ilk are brazenly misogynistic in their judgments. One wonders what would happen if they, too, were judged by an all-female panel.