FEMINIST CRIMINOLOGY: MADONNA WHORE DUALITY IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM




INTRODUCTION


Feminist Criminology began to emerge due to the androcentric study (focused mostly on men) of crime till the late 1960’s. Criminology lacked a focus on gender and especially women until various feminist critiques noticed this pattern. Feminist criminology studies crime in terms of gender and intends to study certain factors like female victimization & sexism in the court system. Mainstream criminology ignored the relevance of both female victims and female criminals. Feminist criminology focusses on female offenders, female victims and women in the criminal justice system and bridges the gap prevalent in research. The Madonna- whore duality refers to when women are either seen as good or bad, based on certain actions, which then is further used to justify actions done on them or by them. This creates an arbitrary bias during rape and murder trials especially.


MADONNA- WHORE DUALITY


Before beginning to understand the role of Madonna-whore duality in the criminal justice system, we begin with understanding the duality. The Madonna- whore duality is based on the idea that there are two categories of women – the good and the bad. It is popularly called Madonna-whore Dichotomy (MWD). The Madonna or Virgin Mary is the type of woman who is pure and chaste. On the other hand, the whore is someone who is seen as a promiscuous woman with loose morals. The term Madonna whore complex was coined by Freud as a complex that inhibit men. Ideal feminine behaviour includes being docile and not deeply interested in sexual activities. They were described by Freud as gentle creatures who are controlled by their reproductive functions all their lives.


Women engaged or involved with the criminal justice system as lawyers, policewomen, criminals & Victims have been sufferer of MWD. Feminist theories suggest that MWD reinforces patriarchal ideas. MWD often leads to objectification and derogation of women involved in the criminal justice system. The binary can be easily connected with viewing women as weaker than men. The women who do not conform to the idea of the ‘ideal, innocent women’ are thus viewed as the women with loose morals. Female lawyers and policewomen are viewed as unmanly. Strong women who are involved in the criminal justice system as lawyers or police officers are represented negatively as emotionally unstable as they aren’t ‘good’ women.


WOMEN OFFENDERS


Women charged for heinous offences are also labelled in the categories of good, bad or mad and this perception affects the way the criminal case is perceived within the system and outside. The first example is the female killer who is sympathised with and still perceived as the victim. The battered woman syndrome occurs when women who have been physically abused by their partners are seen as having lost the mental capacity to account for their actions. It is used as a legal defence for women who kill their partners who have abused them for long. American Psychologist, Lenore walker developed the Battered woman syndrome concept (BWS).The concept revolved around the theory that women who are victims of constant and repeated domestic violence suffer from anxiety, depression and a feeling of helplessness by which they are trapped and believe they can’t ever leave the abusive.This leads them to commit homicide. It was used as a legal defence in certain cases in United Kingdom. It’s even acceptable as a defence under different legal provisions in United States, New Zealand and Australia. The Kiranjit Ahluwalia case can be considered as a case where the offender Mrs. Ahluwalia was the victim of abuse for years and an example of BWS. Initially she was denied the defence of provocation and loss of control but after the actions of an organisation called Southhall sisters the case was again brought infront of court post which Kiranjit’s punishment was reduced to three and a half years. She was set free as she had already served the requisite term before the second trial.


The labelling of women as good and bad automatically leads to denial of agency. Women who kill and also display sexually deviant behaviour which cannot be considered ladylike and docile as per patriarchal standard are labelled as ‘Bad women’. Women who live their lives in the manner of their own choosing are subjected to various forms of slut-shaming and victim blaming. This in turn forces many women to alter their behaviour to fit societal norms which leads to a loss of agency.


The problem with the labelling is that as she is labelled as a wicked and immoral woman, the crime is taken a step further to showcase the woman in a negative light. This may lead to ridiculing women more than men for the same crime.


The representation of Female serial killers in the media has been more focused on their personal sexual lives and as monsters, as seen in the international case of Myra Hindley. The focus shifts from the crime to the sexual activity of the criminal. It is also shown as non-conforming to the ideal desires of a simple good woman.


The problem with this labelling of female criminals is that it leads to denial of agency. The crime committed by women is measured on the basis of their conformity to appropriate ‘ladylike’ behaviour. While it helps certain women who have been victims of violence get shorter sentences but in the long run it leads to reinforcement of societal standards. [1]


FEMALE VICTIM PLACED UNDER THE DUALITY


Not just are women employed in the criminal justice system suffering from the perception of the Virgin whore duality but rather victims also bear the brunt of the dichotomy heavily. Female victims are very often placed under categories of either good girl or bad girl.


Stereotypes based on the victim’s profession being viewed as immoral to the clothing of the victim being used as a justification for the crime.


The Mike Tyson Rape trial is a popular example where the woman was placed into a good girl-bad girl dichotomy. Victims who are at a bar or consume alcohol are seen as deserving the punishment. The Mike Tyson rape trial was one of the cases where the victim was put in the good woman- bad woman box. The assumption used even by Mr. Tyson’s Défense lawyer was that a woman who goes up to a man’s hotel room is in some form ‘asking for it’. The assumption that because she went upstairs to a hotel room with him, she somehow consented for physical activity marred the trial and peoples perception. It is unfortunate that even the victim herself in her trial testimony stated and I quote “I’m not like all the other women. I don’t know what you think I came up here for.” In reference to her choice of going up to Mr. Tysons room on being invited. Even now, Donald Trump used a similar assertion to claim that Mr. Tyson’s conviction was in some form unnecessary as women threw themselves at him.


Rape against a sex worker isn’t viewed in the same manner as the rape of a housewife or a woman with children. The sex worker is put in the category of a bad female who is not chaste or traditional. In the case of Rakesh B v. State of Karnataka, the judge granted anticipatory bail on the basis that it “is unbecoming of an Indian woman, and, that is not the way our women react when being ravished”. This in a way suggests that the woman was not correct morally and, hence the act was not rape. It set an ideal on the way an ‘Indian woman’ should react to being raped and that falling asleep post the act meant that the act was more likely consensual. Cases like this where it can be seen visibly that victims of sexual crime become victims to the good-bad girl binary. When the justice system starts to judge female victims on the basis of their actions outside the circumstances of crime, it leads to the existence of victim blaming. Further societal views of the manner in which women should act so as to avoid crime of sexual nature puts the burden on women. These forms of societal views on how women should act begin to perpetuate and impact lives & activities of women negatively.


All women are put in the good or Bad category wherever they go and this leads to them being objectified and this leads to their actions being viewed only according to the scale of ideal feminine behaviour. Women’s actions should not be measured against the scale of ideal feminine behaviour as this can be problematic for the criminal justice system.


References

[1] Frances Heidensohn. Women and Crime. Basingstoke: MacMillan Publishers Limited, 1985.


*The article has been written by Namah Bose, 2nd year at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law*

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