Women and Violence

In the discussion that followed my post on Charlie Manson’s cult (sorry, I still can’t add links to my posts, but you can find it easily in the list of the most popular posts in the right-hand panel), people concentrated on the death penalty issue. This is understandable since it is a complex and divisive subject. I wanted, however, to draw everybody’s attention to the fact that the female murderers are treated far less severely than the man who was not even present when the murders in question were committed and whose only crime consisted of telling the women to kill.

In her book The Dead End Feminism, Elisabeth Badinter discusses how difficult it is to conduct any research that demonstrates that women are as capable of violence as men. It disturbs our narrative of women as vicims and damsels in distress who never inflict violence but always suffer from it. Badinter mentions the research on female Nazis who committed unspeakale crimes during the Holocaust. She also discusses the contribution of women to the Rwandan genocide. Such research, says Badinter, is always ignored in the academic community of the Western Europe and the US. This was surprising to me since the post-war literature of Ukraine and Russia is filled with the images of depraved female SS-members. I had no idea that people still needed to be convinced that the Holocaust was not created by men alone.

33 thoughts on “Women and Violence”

  1. *the post-war literature of Ukraine and Russia is filled with the images of depraved female SS-members*

    Why such difference in approach in your opinion? After all, former USSR is horribly patriarchial too.

    My guess is that the huge damage suffered by USSR’s peoples, the horrors committed by Nazis on its’ soil, deservably led to Nazis portrayal as the epitome of evil and in it the taboo of women as incapable of violence was broken. Besides, USSR, unlike USA, had a culture of working, independent women, who participated in “Let’s give Five-Year Plan in Four!” ethos.

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    1. I appreciate the sarcasm, but there is truth in that statement. The women involved are clearly dangerous, but they can (obviously) be controlled. Manson, as the (dubious) intelligence behind the acts is far more dangerous. It’s not the hit men in the mob that are dangerous – it’s the godfather. Society can’t simply allow him to walk away because he didn’t physically commit the acts – he is a far bigger danger to the society than the nitwits that followed him.

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      1. I am in no way suggeating that Manson should have been set free. However, his guilt is less serious, in my opinion. In his book, Bugliosi tells how the entire trial was only possible because of the evidence provided by one of the women n the cult wo was also told by Manson to go kill. And she simpky refused. And nothing bad happened to her as a result. If one person could say no, they all could.

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  2. I am always amazed at how many people miss the fact that if we truly want equality then we have to admit that women are just as capable of violence as men. Maybe we even have to admit that they are already doing their part. 😦

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  3. Society can’t simply allow him to walk away because he didn’t physically commit the acts – he is a far bigger danger to the society than the nitwits that followed him.(Patrick)

    If only we figured that one out with Homolka.

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    1. Bernando/Homolka are a unique case. I don’t honestly believe either of them were the follower/leader. They are both seriously damaged individuals, and a great testament to point (I think) Clarissa is trying to make – Women are as capable of heinous acts as men are, and ought to be treated as such.

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      1. I agree with your interpretation of the Bernardo- Homolka case. I read as much as I could somach about it and I believe she is just as guilty as he is.

        And yes, that is exactly the point I want to make. There s nothing inherently more violent and predatory in men than in women. The kind of feminism that positons there is isnt my kind of feminism at all.

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      2. @Patrick

        I dont think its as unique as we might believe. The truth is the really brilliant nutjobs dont get caught. I imagine there are all kinds of women who figured out certain men are patsies and will do whatever they want. Considering how many murders go unsolved tells me that the possibilities are endless. 😦

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  4. The death penalty is a bad example, though, to use to make this argument. For the approximately 22,000 homicides in US every year, only about 150 people are sentenced to death.

    In cases with multiple defendants it’s unlikely to get a death sentence for all. Also, for the “women aren’t violent” and the “we shouldn’t send women to the death house / to war” biases to work, you have to be the “right kind” of woman. Easier to get the death penalty if you’re a lesbian, etc. http://www.aclu.org/blog/capital-punishment-womens-rights/women-death-row

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    1. And the fact that she was disabled too, “with an IQ in the mentally retarded range,” says something about the “right” kind of person to get off the death penalty.
      People would assume that it would get you off the death penalty if you were clearly mentally disabled, but so many people are uncomfortable and creeped out by visibly disabled people, whether they admit it or not. So it doesn’t surprise me that so many (44 in the US since 1984) people with mental disabilities have been given the death penalty.

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  5. There are *lots* of mentally disabled people on death row. They are the ones who were accomplices without realizing what was really going to go down, who are less clever / seem less attractive to lawyers / judges / juries, and so on.

    There are physical issues, too. Remember how “crazy” Manson looked. In LA we had someone who was sentenced to death in part because he had a glass eye, on the side of his face the jury saw (they saw him in profile due to the seating arrangements). Not realizing it was a glass eye, they felt he lacked expressiveness in his eye, so he seemed less human and more remorseless to them.

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    1. The point is that the death penalty, even if you “believe in it,” doesn’t serve justice because structurally, it can’t. The reason more people aren’t put to death is precisely because of the safeguards which are in place to try to justify it by making it as “fair” as possible. You could have across the board, swift hangings for anyone even remotely involved in certain kinds of crimes, as in the past, but this didn’t end up being considered just by observers and so on. And there are countries now which execute even more people than the US does. It is interesting to read about how that does and doesn’t affect the rate of violent crime.

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      1. @Mict

        The point of the death penalty(in my mind) is to get rid of the sickness of certain individuals. Not only does that help society, it actually saves them from a life of sickness and misery. The type of life that is infested with homicidal and anti social thoughts cant be a very loving, thoughtful and productive existence , right?

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        1. Let’s not pretend killing is “for criminals’ own good” since [made up “explanations”]. It’s for your own good and for society’s own good. Own it. Why are you afraid of it? If those criminals wanted to die, they would commit suicide any day. They don’t, which is all anybody needs to know to decide whether they want to live or not. (Since I don’t think such people would be prevented from suicide due to religious reasons).

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  6. We in the UK don’t have the death penalty, so I’m going to leave that as a side issue for now. 😉 The notion that women are naturally less violent etc, does unfortunately hold some sway though; I find it particularly unfortunate because it obscures the unnaturally* high levels of crime committed by men, and in doing so makes it harder to look for solutions.

    What’s interesting to me is that here, women are more likely to get a severe sentence, and the severity increases out of step with the way severity of sentence increases for men convicted of serious crimes.
    The (ridiculous) notion that women ‘don’t have it in them’ to commit serious crimes such as rape, child abuse & murder actually works as a disadvantage in the UK court system, because if they are shown to have committed such crimes, they are considered to be doubly perverse; once for the commission of the crime and twice for being female and committing such a crime. It’s almost like they are being additionally punished for not being ‘proper’ woman.

    * I use unnaturally here for want of a better word; I’m talking about the notion that acts of serious violent male conduct are higher in our society than would be expected, based on observation of frequency in other species. Anyone have a better word choice?

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    1. FD, that sounds as if the believe that women are frail and fragile little creatures that need to be protected at all costs is not kicking in the way it is in the states.

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      1. Yes, I’m not sure that the frail bit is entirely part of the UK social myth. What definitely is part of the myth is the idea that women are the ‘better half’ of the species.
        Problem with fixing this one is that on the broad statistical level, women do ‘behave’ better. With the broad degree of empirical ‘evidence’ in daily life and crime statistics supporting the myth it’s easy for most people to fall into the trap of thinking that ‘innate criminality’ in men is a fact.

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    2. FD

      You cant be serious. Youre actually trying to say that women get a raw deal because they arent equally prosecuted or viewed for their violence. Come on………..

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      1. I’m not sure what you think I’m talking about; let me clarify. I’m saying that women in the UK are generally likely to receive a higher sentence compared to men who commit the same crime.
        And yes, that is a raw deal by my estimation.
        The situation in the US that Clarissa describes, where the same toxic gender binary notions are having a reverse impact on sentencing is equally a raw deal, except towards men, not women.
        It raises interesting questions as to exactly where the ‘correct’ level of sentencing is, but what is clear to me at least, is that gender should be irrelevant in sentencing, and the moment, it isn’t.

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        1. Sounds odd to me that women are getting the raw deal in the UK. Wasn’t there something over there going on last year or so where people were pushing to actually close down women’s prisons under the idea that women aren’t that bad?

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          1. I think you might be referring to a 2007 government report which reported serious systemic problems with the women’s prison network – they’re overcrowded, underfunded, antique, unhealthy and generally not fit for purpose. The Daily Fail and ilk reported that the recommendation was to close all women’s prisons, however what the report actually said was that new, modern style, fit for purpose centres should be built and the old ones re-purposed or sold off. Obviously, it never happened – that would be expensive. GS4 got a contract to build new men’s prisons instead.

            Every now and then we get some radical suggesting women shouldn’t be in prison, but then we also get the occasional suggestion that no-one should be in prison. People suggesting such things are very much the lone voice in the wilderness in UK society, and as for politically, it would be a career-ender.

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  7. Not sure re vocabulary at this moment. Also not sure about US statistics re this although I have read qualitative research. But yes, that’s the thing: since women are not supposed to be “naturally” violent, violence is perceived as being extra monstrous.

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    1. If I understand you correct (and I may not be so feel free to correct me) you’re saying in the States women are perceived as extra monstrous? If that’s the case then why is it that women are often given lighter sentences for the same crimes compared to men (and if you add race the gap gets even worse)? And also I don’t see many people (especially women) complaining about this when they are assumed to be incapable of this stuff.

      I’m not sure how much tv you folks watch but here in the States one of the most popular generes on tv is the crime drama (Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc…). Most of the time when there is a crime the perp is male, even to the point that when there is no male specific evidence like semen the detectives start off with calling the perp “he”. The vast majority of the time the perp is a man but on the occasion that it is a woman there is still the “oh my god its a woman” shock moment. Often followed by the sympathy moment where they give her the benefit of the doubt and try to pull up something to prove it really was a man.

      Last week I saw an episode of a show called “Rizzoli & Isles” (which is a pretty good show) in which the case was about a young girl who had been kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed. Later on in the episode it was discovered that while a man was involved it was his wife that was luring the girls in for the kidnapping. Would you believe that as soon as this became known to the detectives one of them immediately started with the “but you have to think about her as a victim too”. So basically they spent about 40min trying to figure out who kidnapped this girl (and kidnapped, assaulted, and killed another) knowing it was a man but as soon as it turned out a woman was involved they went straight to denial. And sure enough they ended up playing it out as that woman was basically his devoted slave.

      Gender equality is going to be a hard road as long as people insist on picking and choosing their moments of equality. We’re supposed to believe that a woman is just as capable of being a cop as a man but then refuse to believe that a woman is just as capable of being a killer as a man?

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  8. Funny you mention the Manson thing and that disparity. That’s not the only place it happens.

    Think about cases where a woman hires someone to kill her husband. That very same “Manson told them to do it so he needs to get a bigger punishment” suddenly becomes “those men were the ones that actually did it so they should get the bigger punishment”. And speaking of the whole “women don’t do stuff like that” I wonder if people hiring others to commit violence against their spouses (aka violence by proxy) counts as DV (as far as the numbers of cases are concerned.

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    1. Or take the appalling case of Mary Winkler. If a man had shot his sleeping wife in the back and abandoned her to die, would he have been simply released? Never.

      This is shocking to me because it infantilizes women. Being recognized as an equal human being is impossible without accepting equal responsibility. This has been feminism’s stumbling block: rights yes, but the attendant responsibilities, nah, thanks. Discussing this, though, does not make one popular in the feminist community. 😦

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      1. You need a like button for this comment.

        (And sadly its not just limited to gender. Unless someone wants to tell me that Mark David Chapman would have been denied parole 6 times in 30 years if he had kill an average joe instead of John Lennon.)

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  9. I haven’t read Badinter’s latest book (I know her study on mother love) but I’m not sure what she’s getting at re: the Nazis and women. Any serious scholar of Germany history is aware that women were involved in genocide, and a few of them held leadership positions. Exactly *how* complicit women were is the subject of debate. In the late 1980s the so-called Historikerinnenstreit revolved around this question. But to say these questions are “ignored” in the relevant academic communities is a major distortion. My Ph.D. is in modern German history, so I think my knowledge trumps Badinter’s on this question.

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