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Mother, Monster, Mrs, I: A critical evaluation of gendered naming strategies in English sentencing remarks of women who kill

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/03/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number1
Number of pages32
Pages (from-to)21-52
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date29/08/17
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this article, we take a novel approach to analysing English sentencing remarks in cases of women who kill. We apply computational, quantitative, and qualitative methods from corpus linguistics to analyse recurrent patterns in a collection of English Crown Court sentencing remarks from 2012 to 2015, where a female defendant was convicted of a homicide offence. We detail the ways in which women who kill are referred to by judges in the sentencing remarks, providing frequency information on pronominal, nominative, and categorising naming strategies. In discussion of the various patterns of preference both across and within these categories (e.g. pronoun vs. nomination, title + surname vs. forename + surname), we remark upon the identities constructed through the references provided. In so doing, we: (1) quantify the extent to which members of the judiciary invoke patriarchal values and gender stereotypes within their sentencing remarks to construct female defendants, and (2) identify particular identities and narratives that emerge within sentencing remarks for women who kill. We find that judges refer to women who kill in a number of ways that systematically create dichotomous narratives of degraded victims or dehumanised monsters. We also identify marked absences in naming strategies, notably: physical identification normally associated with narrativization of women’s experiences; and the first person pronoun, reflecting omissions of women’s own voices and narratives of their lived experiences in the courtroom.

Bibliographic note

The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11196-017-9523-z