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Women and Communications

In: Other Topics

Submitted By mklaus
Words 1769
Pages 8
Matt Klaus
Professor Firestone
Com 4030
4 March 2012
Feminist Criminology, Aileen Wuornos, and the Future of Third Wave Feminism Crime committed by women is on the rise, especially in the area of violent crimes such as murder (Balfour’ 739). This has produced a new form of feminist studies in an area called feminist criminology. What hasn’t been studied as extensively is the question of why women kill. I argue that by using the individuality concept of third wave feminism and doing more research in the field of feminist criminology, patterns of criminal behavior may be established which may prevent severe female crime such as murder. This paper seeks to explain how advancing the study of feminist criminology is good for the U.S. legal system and could have changed the outcome for Aileen Wuornos. In this paper I will discuss what third wave feminism is, then I will discuss what feminist criminology is and how it applies to the Aileen Wuornos case, and lastly I will show that with advanced studies into the field of feminist criminology, odds of severe crimes committed by women could decrease.
The third wave of feminism is not easily describable. However, it can be framed by saying that it is a movement that continues to advance the women’s rights agenda of the second wave (Zimmerman et al. 77). Unlike the second wave which was intended to give a voice to all women, the third wave tends to reflect more on the individual. By focusing on personal narratives, responsible choices, and by individual level political activism, the third wave gives us the idea that anyone, not just straight, privileged white woman can identify themselves as feminist and be accepted. (Zimmerman et al. 78) It is the idea that feminists do not need to rely on well-known leaders to promote change because all individuals are capable of encouraging it. Because of this individualistic approach to feminism, the different branches of feminism are nearly endless though it is important to remember that core principles exist and the third wave is not a ‘feminist free-for-all’, or the idea that ‘anything goes’. One of the principles of third wave feminism is responsible choice as we articulate. (Zimmerman et al. 78)
Piggy-backing off many branches of feminism including; liberal, radical, Marxist, socialist, postmodernism, and ecofeminism, a relatively new approach to feminism originated in the 1970’s (Burgess-Proctor 27) and has since emerged as a mature theoretical orientation (French 1). This form of study is called feminist criminology. Objecting to the exclusion of gender from criminological analysis and more specifically, the exclusion of women’s experiences in general theories of crime, feminists saw a need to critique how women offenders have been ignored, distorted, or stereotyped within traditional criminology (Burgess-Proctor 30).
In order to do this, feminist criminologists had to look at several aspects of the legal system. First, they had to identify the gap in crime rates. Second, they had to challenge the traditional explanations of female crime. Thirdly, they had to critique criminologists who imposed male models into female experience. And finally, they needed to offer insight as to how the justice system genders its subjects (Haney 648). According to Daly and Chesney-Lind, “One of the many challenges for feminism and feminist criminology in particular is the paradox of acknowledging diversity of women while claiming women’s unity and experiences of oppression and sexism” (Burgess-Proctor 34). By looking at several different cases, they found that women were treated differently in terms of offending, arrest, and sentencing outcomes. Typically, women committed different kinds of crimes than men. They were more apt to be involved in crimes dealing with prostitution, embezzlement, fraud, forgery and theft. In these types of cases, judges tended to be more lenient based on the belief that women could not commit crime and assuming that women were childlike and therefore not responsible for their crimes. In other cases, particularly those involving crimes that seemed to go against the idea of “female norms” or “conventional female expectations” such as murder, judges seemed to come down on the defendants harder. Lastly, they found that more harsh punishments tended to come down on girls within the juvenile system in an attempt to secure female obedience and compliance. (Haney 648-649)
Throughout history women have been accused, tried, and found guilty of murder. One woman stands out amongst them though in the fact that some deem her the world’s first female serial killer. Found guilty of premeditating the murders of seven men while working as a prostitute across the highways of Florida. Aileen Wuornos was the recipient of six death sentences and executed on October 9, 2002. Though some may refer to her as a “monster” it is important to remember that Aileen Wuornos was a woman and throughout her life, she dealt with some of the same experiences as other women in the criminal system. (Arrigo et al. 382-386).
Aileen Wuornos was raised by her grandparents of who she believed to be her real parents until age eleven. Her mother was unable to accept the responsibilities of parenthood and abandoned her at an early age, and her father, a petty criminal, hanged himself while serving a life sentence for kidnapping and brutally raping a seventeen year old girl. While in the care of her grandparents, she was beaten by her grandfather and was also a victim of his sexual abuse. (Arrigo et al. 382-386).
During her pre-adolescent years, Aileen did not socialize well with others. She commonly had loud and aggressive outbursts and was disruptive in the classroom. During her teen years she had frequent run-ins with the law and had a baby that she gave up for adoption. At twenty, she married a man very much her senior and was quickly divorced. Following her divorce, she was repeatedly arrested for incidents such as Assault and Battery, Disorderly Conduct, Driving Under the Influence, and two arrests for weapon offenses. On May 20, 1981, Aileen robbed a convenience store, was found guilty, and sentenced to three years in prison. Following her release, Aileen’s criminal behavior continued to escalate. She was arrested for forging two bad checks, was stopped in a stolen car, and according to Aileen, was prostituting some 25-30 times a day. This is also when she began committing her murders. (Arrigo et al. 382-386).
By using the old fashioned ideology that women were not capable of crime or that they were childlike and not responsible for their crimes, the legal system re-emphasized the idea that women were the weaker sex. Aileen Wuornos challenged this idea and proved that women were indeed capable of crimes, even those as serious as serial murder. Now that this foundation had been laid, feminist criminologists were forced to ask themselves, could more women capable of this same offense?
One way to look at this question is to use an approach that is called intersectionality. Intersectionality is described as looking through the lens of difference while at the same time acknowledging the instrumental role of power shaping in gender relations. In essence, it is important to look at components of social structure and social interaction concerning women to include race, class and sexuality (Burgess-Proctor 36).
By linking two or more of these components, feminist criminologists can gain a better understanding of what may cause women in different situations to commit crime. The intersectional approach offers feminist criminologists the opportunity to analyze crime in a manner that goes beyond models and statistical analyses (Burgess-Proctor 41). It also invites researchers to use empirical methods that can explore what it is like to “live as” a victim or offender in a particular social location (Burgess-Proctor 41). In other words, by looking at the intersections in Aileen Wuornos’ life, feminist criminologists can now begin the process of profiling female serial killers.
If feminist criminologists had been more advanced in their studies prior to her life within the system, things could have been done differently for Aileen Wuornos. They may have found patterns of behavior both in Aileen and the system that could’ve raised red flags. Perhaps if her sentencing would’ve been more severe with her previous crimes, she would’ve been incarcerated and therefore unable to commit her murders. Another consideration I propose is the idea that if feminist criminologists had a better understanding of intersectionality, they may have been able to offer psychological counseling and safer living conditions for her from the onset of her disruptions as a child in the school.
Though many people would probably disagree, I believe that Aileen Wuornos enhanced the feminist movement by committing her crimes. Burgess – Proctor argues that criminology stands to benefit from the integration of criminological perspectives (Burgess-Proctor 39). By committing her crimes and allowing her life to be scrutinized, the intersectional model can now be used as a tool in which feminist criminologists may be able to detect warning signs and devise deterring methods for women who find themselves coming up within the legal system. As Gillian Balfour’ states, the intellectual history of feminist criminology reveals how women’s voices are important for directing our analysis and strategies (Balfour’ 742). Aileen Wuornos’ voice is important and gives a personal narrative from the perspective of a third wave woman who was failed by “the system” before paying the ultimate punishment.

Works Cited
Arrigo, Bruce A, Griffin, Ayanna. “Serial Murder And The Case Of Aileen Wuornos: Attachment Theory, Psychopathy, And Predatory Aggression.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law 22 (2004): 375-393. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Balfour’, Gillian. “Re-imagining a Feminist Criminology.” Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice (2006): 735-752. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Burgess-Proctor, Amanda. “Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Crime: Future Directions for Feminist Criminology.” Sage (2006): 27-47. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
French, Marilyn. “Feminist Criminology and Integrated Theory: All men are Rapists and That’s All That They Are.” N.p. n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Haney, Lynne A. “Feminist State Theory: Applications to Jurisprudence, Criminology, And The Welfare State.” Annual Review of Sociology (2000): 641-666. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
Lynch, Michael J. “Class, race, gender and criminology: Structured choices and the life course.” Race, Gender, and Class in Criminology: the intersections. Eds. Dragon. Milovanovic and Martin. D. Schwartz New York: Garland, 1996. 3-28. Print
Zimmerman, Amber Lynn, M. Joan Mcdermont and Christina M Gould. "The Local Is Global: Third Wave Feminism, Peace, and Social Justice." Contemporary Justice Review 12.1 (March 2009): 77-90. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

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