Mad, Bad or Sad? The Historical Persecution of Women and the Birth of Female Criminality

27 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2017  

Amy Gainford

The University of Leeds, School of Law

Date Written: December 9, 2017

Abstract

Throughout history the notion of the ‘female criminal’ has been something of a taboo, an almost morbid curiosity to male dominated societies. As such through misogynist crusades they have attempted to eradicate the world of any women who did not meet the criteria that society dictates. Women who were outspoken and passionate were condemned. Numerous methods were employed to keep women in their place. From the early persecution of witch-hunts in the 15th-17th century to the medicalization of their melancholy in the Victorian era, women were suppressed. Early criminologists ‘discovered’ the biological elements of female criminality and contemporary Criminal Justice System and the mainstream media perpetuated this image. In doing so the disdain from the general public towards criminal women has grown. Often the combination of public hatred and the media’s macabre portrayal creates something of a modern day witch-hunt against these women. Perhaps this is because events of the past ‘demonstrate’ women behaving badly or because of misogyny so deeply ingrained within out society that we cannot escape it. These beliefs that women are fundamentally, biologically evil have seeped into mainstream societal systems that aim to serve the people but instead persecute an entire sub-section of society.

Keywords: misogyny, criminal justice, witchcraft, hysteria, Lombroso, feminism, gender, history, deviance, sexuality

Suggested Citation

Gainford, Amy, Mad, Bad or Sad? The Historical Persecution of Women and the Birth of Female Criminality (December 9, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3085196 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3085196

Amy Gainford (Contact Author)

The University of Leeds, School of Law ( email )

Leeds, LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

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