Crises of Representation, or Why Don't Feminists Talk About Myra?

Belinda Morrissey

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    Representations of violent \vomen appear in many feminist discourses, ranging from the legal to the sociological to the philosophical, yet virtually none of these include discussions of figures such as convicted English; child murderer Myra I-Hindley.l Instead, she and women like her are subject to a response from most feminist critics which Helen Birch has described as a 'deafening silence'.2 In this paper l intend to investigate just why this should be the case and what this omission tells us about the construction of the violent woman within feminist theory, especially within feminist legal theory. I will proceed with reference to the two Australian cases of Catherine Birne and Valmae Beck. These cases are similar to that of Myra Hindley in that they both involve woman who, in company with their male parrtners, raped and murdered other younger women, and likewise suffer from a dearth of feminist representation and interest. I position these cases as 'limit cases' for Feminist legal theory, in particular, because they make evidence the exclusions and parameters in feminist constructions of violent female subjects. During both of these cases, feminist legal and cultural rheorists remained silent, while mainstream discourses' portrayals of Catherine Birnie and Valmae Beck veered between their condemnation as monsters and their depiction as masochistic victims under the control of their evil partners. This silence, although hardly unusual, as I shall demonstrate shortly, is nevertheless seemingly at odds,with the primary aims of feminist legal theory and analyses of cultural constructions of woman and female gender performance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)109-131
    Number of pages23
    JournalThe Australian Feminist Law Journal
    Issue numberJune
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2002


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