English 40-4 - Fall, 2021

Introductory Topics in Literature

Topic: Criminal Women

Class Information

Instructor: Hanley Cardozo, Kristen
CRN: 32191
Time: TR 12:10-1:30
Location: REMOTE
GE Areas: Writing Experience


The female criminal presents a problem for concepts of gender as an inherent, stable category. Her continued existence poses a social problem that fiction encounters and attempts to answer in a wide variety of ways, from outright denying the gender of the female criminal to feminist texts that situate female criminality as a response to systemic injustice.

By examining fiction about criminal women from the late seventeenth century to the present, this class will look at some of the ways society has historically understood the notions of crime and womanhood. Women have long been figured in western culture as naturally gentle, inclined toward nurture and motherhood. Yet these positive qualities have always been tempered by stereotypes of envy, dishonesty, and inconstancy. The criminal woman, in her violence and her intrusion into the public sphere, breaks out of both positive and negative stereotypes: a figure at gender?s margins, fascinating because she cannot be easily contained.

In our own historical moment in which gender is contested in the form of anti-trans laws that seek to reiterate the inherence of gender roles, the criminal woman represents a different sort of gender outlaw, one whose study offers new ways to consider the production of law and gender alike. By studying the cultural imaginary around women who defy rules and stereotypes, we will consider the social construction of gender and crime, as well as the ways that gender and criminality are informed by race, class, and property rights.