When Women Kill Newborns: The Rhetoric of Vulnerability Chapter uri icon


  • Neonaticide, the act of killing a newborn, is a global problem. This chapter presents two pairs of vignettes as a way to explore jurisprudence regarding women who commit acts of violence and to argue for the application of a rhetoric of vulnerability as informed by the pre-Socratic concept of kairos, or right-timing and due measure. The case study approach illustrates the debate about whether women and men should be viewed with equality (sameness) or difference (specificity). In the context of neonaticide, some theorists urge that women who kill must be viewed the same as men (as having agency and responsibility) in order for women to claim their humanity and citizenship. Other theorists urge that women who kill newborns should be viewed different from men (as victims lacking agency) in order to qualify for a lesser offense such as manslaughter, which is the approach taken by England and over twenty other countries that have enacted Infanticide Acts (providing for the lesser offense of manslaughter when a woman is charged with killing her child)? This theoretical debate about sameness versus difference spans various disciplines from law to psychology to sociology, but has practical legal implications not only in criminal law, but in family law and the workplace.

author list (cited authors)

  • Ayres, S.

complete list of authors

  • Ayres, Susan

editor list (cited editors)

  • Cole, K.

Book Title

  • Feminist Challenges or Feminist Rhetorics? Locations, Scholarship, Discourse

publication date

  • January 2014