Criminology emerged as a discipline in the 1800s, but for centuries since its focus has been almost entirely on men; research conducted and theorised by men, with a focus on men, as offenders and as victims. Female criminality was invisible, and women were often side-lined as exceptions to the norm. Lombroso’s early works, labelling women as less developed and more primitive than men, was used to rationalise why women couldn’t commit crimes: they didn’t have the know how! Later, other controversial theorists like Pollack and Thomas would argue the opposite; women were actually too smart to get caught; cold, calculating and immoral – being naturally manipulative, often driven by sexual desire or prostitution.
These theories were resilient and persistent, despite their sexism, misogyny and general lack of supporting evidence. But how much do we really understand about women as criminals: research on female offending has expanded recently, but remains in the shadow of the male offender. This talk considers how women who committed crime were judged to have breached two sets of law: criminal law, set down by the courts, and the law of nature, set down by expected gender roles. We’ll consider to what extent the cases of Charlotte Bryant and Martha Brown met those judgements, and juxtapose them with contemporary cases of Deviant Women today.
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