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Bad, mad or sad?: legal language, narratives, and identity constructions of women who kill their children in England and Wales

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/06/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number2
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)201-222
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date21/04/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this article I explore the ways in which legal language, discourses, and narratives construct new dominant identities for women who kill their children. These identities are those of the ‘bad’, ‘mad’, or ‘sad’ woman. Drawing upon and critiquing statutes, case law, and sentencing remarks from England and Wales, I explore how singular narrative identities emerge for the female defendants concerned. Using examples from selected cases, I highlight how the judiciary interpret legislation, use evidence, and draw upon gender stereotypes in carefully constructing macro-narratives which produce gendered identities for filicidal women, thus nullifying the challenge these women pose to appropriate femininity and the motherhood mandate. Each of the narrative identities discussed deny the agency of the female defendants that they are attached to, albeit in subtly different ways, by denying their ability to make any degree of choice in relation to their filicidal actions. Although such identity construction and agency denial may not always be damaging to these filicidal women per se, its pervasiveness within legal discourse reinforces and reproduces damaging gender stereotypes surrounding women and femininity.

Bibliographic note

The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11196-016-9480-y c The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com