The Not-So Softer Sex

WHEN SHE WAS BAD: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence

Scary cover, scary book.

A compelling, frightening look at women, not as victims of violence, but as perpetrators of it.

Alarmed by the number of violent women who later claim their behavior was accidental or caused by abuse, Patricia Pearson, a crime journalist who has written for Harper’s and other magazines, decided to study current notions of female aggression and uncovered some stunning statistics. Family-violence scholars have discovered that severe abuse is committed as frequently by women as by men, and terrible abuse occurs even among lesbian couples.

Pearson is particularly disgusted with the FBI tenet that “There are no female serial killers.” She explores several studies which suggest that when multiple cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occur in one family, it is in fact frequently infanticide perpetrated by the mother. (For a detailed study of this subject, see Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan, The Death of Innocents, p. 1178.)

Pearson cites the tragic cases of nurses and caregivers like Jane Toppan and Dorothea Puente, who routinely poisoned their charges. Pearson, an avowed feminist, takes issue with feminist thinkers who rush to defend murderers like Betty Broderick, Jean Harris, and Aileen Wuornos by using the blanket defense of battered-women’s syndrome. The syndrome, Pearson holds, is a canard, and she points out that female killers typically say the killing was an attempt at suicide gone awry or, as in the case of Wuornos, that she’d been mortally afraid with seven different strangers and was compelled to kill (and rob) them all.

Pearson has the most contempt for Canadian killer Karla Holmolka Bernardo, who with her husband, Paul, tortured and murdered three young women, including her own sister. Karla testified that she had been beaten and forced by Paul to participate; Pearson provides some grisly forensic evidence that indicates it was actually Karla who killed the girls. This is gripping, controversial material that sheds light on violence and society, and how women can get away with murder.

WHEN SHE WAS BAD: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence by Patricia Pearson

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Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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