'The woman who kills is exactly what she is supposed not to be,' Beatrix Campbell declares in her foreword to Women Who Kill. Killing is reckoned unnatural in a woman, or lownright impossible: if she does kill, she isn't a woman. Unlike men. Ann Jones says, women usually confine themselves to killing their intimates, their husbands, lovers, children. (They are selective, not serial or mass murderers.) And the murders they commit, Beatrix Campbell protests, are 'not seen in the context of the domination and subordination in which the genders live together but instead it becomes a matter of the perpetrator's abnormal character.' What weight is to be given to circumstance, what to character, is always a ricky problem. Beatrix Campbell is less convincing when she says that Myra Hindley might have helped us to understand the conditions in which women are likely to participate in the sexual abuse of children, but was never given the chance 'because she was buried beneath a plethora of fantasies abouts transgressive femininity'. This strikes me as rather worse than obscurely expressed: it was the children who were buried.
LRB 12 September 1991 | PDF Download