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Gender politics and the gangster

As the celebrations of the gangster’s explosive, anti-rational male aggression in films such as Get Carter and Villain (Michael Tuchner, 1971) testify, the ‘classic’ British villain has been centrally defined by his contempt for women as well as his reactionary politics. The villain’s reputation for misogyny is, of course, far older than these films and is firmly rooted in biographical fact (Pearson, 1995:31-32, 37). Indeed, it is possible to go further and read this vehement opposition to the ‘feminine’ spheres of home life and ‘respectable’ society as the primary organising logic explaining the peculiar character of the underworld as an inherently homosocial subculture, in which male rituals, hierarchies and rivalries often seem to take precedence over gangland’s ostensible business of illegal money-making.2 The gang or ‘firm’ itself is likewise a homosocial space; in both cases, the intrusion of women-or, conversely, in Performance (Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, 1970), the entry of the gangster into a zone of sexual and gender ambiguity-is always a threat.