Hastings Journal on Gender and the Law


Hadar Aviram


For the last 150 years, conventional wisdom among criminologists saw crime as a predominantly male phenomenon. Recent socio-historical research has challenged this premise, showing a decline in the presence of women in the process as criminal defendants. Cultural studies have attributed this decline to a shift in perception of female deviance, from autonomy and enterprise to passivity and predetermination. This Article follows this transition in the cultural image of women and crime through the lens of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. The women in the stories are not clearly distinguished by their role in the criminal enterprise (perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses, victims), but rather by their conformity to stereotypically feminine narratives. An analysis of the stories reveals three categories of passive female characters: Captives in the hands of powerful men, protectors of their lovers and children, passive muses inspiring strife and crime. The fourth category, consisting of entrepreneurial free agents, is presented as an anomaly. The analysis supports the notion of a cultural transition from active to passive feminine characters, which was nonetheless under negotiation throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Article ends by discussing the implications of this cultural analysis for theory and policy.