chapter  4
25 Pages

Women and crime in Imperial Russia, 1834–1913: representing realities

WithStephen P. Frank

The construction of nineteenth-century “female criminality” within the context of a medicalized discourse on gender and agency has been widely discussed in an impressive body of literature on the development of modern criminology and social control, as has the critical role played by anxieties over moral and public disorder in this process. Much less known is how legal and medical professionals utilized judicial statistics to sustain their belief that the criminal woman represented not only a social and cultural deviant but also a moral, psychological or biological aberration.1 Statistical evidence, specialists argued, served to confirm that gender itself determined the nature and parameters of criminality while also explaining why women perpetrated so few crimes and such a narrow range of offences. Crime constituted a largely male domain in Imperial Russia, much as it did across Europe, not only in theory or ideology but also in the very production of documents like criminal statistics. As a result, with the exception of offences committed almost exclusively by women (abortion and infanticide) and crimes (murder of spouses or sexual offences) in which women deviated from their traditionally assumed roles as passive, religious, maternal and moral models, professional literature dating from the 1860s and after paid scant attention to female perpetrators, and virtually all who proffered written opinions leaned heavily upon judicial statistics to support, refine and perpetuate culturally constructed stereotypes concerning women’s involvement in the criminal process.2 Yet their analysis was seriously flawed by misinterpretation of these very sources.