Bad, Mad or Sad? Legal Language, Narratives, and Identity Constructions of Women Who Kill their Children in England and Wales


In this article I explore the ways in which legal language, discourses, and narratives construct new dominant identities for women who kill their children. These identities are those of the ‘bad’, ‘mad’, or ‘sad’ woman. Drawing upon and critiquing statutes, case law, and sentencing remarks from England and Wales, I explore how singular narrative identities emerge for the female defendants concerned. Using examples from selected cases, I highlight how the judiciary interpret legislation, use evidence, and draw upon gender stereotypes in carefully constructing macro-narratives which produce gendered identities for filicidal women, thus nullifying the challenge these women pose to appropriate femininity and the motherhood mandate. Each of the narrative identities discussed deny the agency of the female defendants that they are attached to, albeit in subtly different ways, by denying their ability to make any degree of choice in relation to their filicidal actions. Although such identity construction and agency denial may not always be damaging to these filicidal women per se, its pervasiveness within legal discourse reinforces and reproduces damaging gender stereotypes surrounding women and femininity.

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References found in this work

The 'Strange' Case of the Infanticide Doctrine.Arlie Loughnan - 2012 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 32 (4):685-711.
The Female Offender.Caesar Lombroso & William Ferrero - 1896 - International Journal of Ethics 6 (2):270-271.

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