Dead woman walking : executed women in England & Wales, 1900-1955
During the last two decades the subject of women who kill has been met with increasing interest from feminist theorists and activists. More recently this interest has been fuelled by high-profile cases in which battered women who have killed their abusers have been released from prison following a reduction of their sentences from murder to manslaughter. As a result of feminist challenges to these women's life-sentences such cases are gradually having an impact on the criminal justice system in general and law in particular. Such cases, however - as well as cases involving other types of murder by women - have a longer history than those which have been addressed and analysed by second wave feminists. Thus, in the first 55 years of this century 15 women met their deaths on the scaffold without the opportunity of telling their story through modern feminist discourses. This thesis offers a systematic and critical analysis of the lives, trials and punishment of the women who have been executed in England and Wales during the 20th century. It has two main aims. First, by utilising a feminist theoretical framework it demonstrates how discourses around women's conduct and behaviour, specifically in the areas of motherhood, domesticity, respectability and sexuality, influenced the outcome of court proceedings. Second, it provides an alternative 'truth' about executed women and their crimes. This alternative 'truth' can now be articulated because of the development of feminist theory and methodology and their accompanying discourses which challenge what has so far been regarded uncritically as the dominant truth, for example in sensationalised newspaper reports and 'true' crime magazines. In providing a gendered analysis of capital punishment this thesis therefore both 'unsilences' the stories of executed women, and challenges the normally 'seamless' truth about what is 'known' about violent women, and thus draws attention to the underlying contradictions which usually remain hidden beneath the surface of the apparent homogeneity of ungendered analyses.