“UK’s vilest women to move to the same town.” This is how the Sunday People announces the news that Maxine Carr, Karen Matthews and Tracy Connelly – “three of Britain’s most notorious female criminals” – are apparently “enjoying life” in the same “seaside resort”. I see a headline like this and I’m not sure how to respond. I have no wish to defend these women’s crimes (even though it appears that our ability to distinguish between them and the crimes committed by the men in their lives has vanished). Nonetheless it seems to me that the headline is sexist in a burn the witches! way. So we now have a chart for the “UK’s vilest women”? Who else is on it? Since there are, arguably, worse crimes committed by women in the UK, what are the real criteria being used here? Is the Daily Mail’s take on it – Monsters By The Sea – really in line with how the paper would describe men who had not been convicted of any violent crime themselves? And when the Mirror discusses “warped mum Karen Matthews” and speculates on each woman’s weight, is this not gendered in any way?
Perhaps I shouldn’t even go here. When women who are beyond the pale are subjected to sexism, the most sensible thing for any feminist to do is back away. We have a hard enough PR job on our hands without running the risk of seeming to sympathise with criminals “just because they’re women”. The same applies when we’re dealing with right-wing politicians. You can predict in advance what the response will be: if you’re so bothered about someone like Margaret Thatcher or Julia Gillard being a victim of misogyny, you can’t be all that concerned about the victims of her policies. It’s not a logical argument (you condemn both the misogyny and the policies) but the assumption will be that if you are capable of seeing any shred of humanity in such women – without which they would not be capable of experiencing dehumanisation – then you can’t possibly believe they’re all that bad. (more…)