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When She Was Bad

Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence

Patricia Pearson
Book review copyright © 1997 by Robert F. Grantier

This aricle first appeared in Issue #28 (Nov-Dec 1997) of
EverymaN: A Men's Journal

When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, by Patricia Pearson, 1997, Random House of Canada. 288 pages, hardcover, Can. $29.95, ISBN 0-394-22430-2 (Canada) ISBN 0-670-85925-7 (US). (order on-line) Review by Robert F. Grantier.

Book cover
When She Was Bad
by Patricia Pearson
Order on-line

Reading this book, I felt relief, hope, exhilaration and a sense of vindication. I felt the author, Patricia Pearson was speaking the truth. I admired for her for her intelligence, her moral courage, and her efforts to dignify the human condition without vilifying either gender or polarizing attributes around men or women. Throughout my experience with this book I have maintained the impression that she has a love for people, for humanity, for the entire person whether male or female.

Pearson’s nearly 300 footnotes are instructive. She draws on research from the fields of psychology, anthropology, sociology, medicine, forensic science and law, as well as feminist and women’s literature, newspapers and magazines. She fleshes this out with personal interviews with men battered by women, female ex-convicts, and various law enforcement and social service workers. Further insight is gained through in-depth analysis of specific cases (the Homolka/Bernardo murders, the Dorothea Puente murders, and others).

There are chapters on female aggression toward newborns and infants, female perpetrators of family violence, multiple or serial murder by women (aptly sub-titled “Woman as Predator”), women as partners in violent crime, and women in prison. All explore and document historically, judicially and scientifically the clear, irrefutable evidence of female originated violence against men, women and children.

Pearson says, “Women commit the majority of child homicides in the U.S., a greater share of physical child abuse, an equal rate of sibling violence and assaults on the elderly, about a quarter of child sexual abuse, an overwhelming share of the killing of newborns, and a fair preponderance of spousal assaults. The question is, how do we come to percieve what girls and women do? Violence is still universally considered to be the province of the male. Violence is masculine. Men are the cause of it, and women and children are the ones who suffer.” (p. 7)

If you are a man or a woman who has begun the arduous voyage of emancipation from gender-based social and cultural oppression, you will have noticed this doctrine; that violence is the purview of men and, by extension, that (only) men are evil. The demonization of men is a central tenet of modern, mainstream feminist ideology and rhetoric. The effects of this assertion are enormously damaging, not only to men, but also to children, the family, and society at large. This courageous and vigorous book asserts, simply, that women have the same capacity for violence and evil as men, and that they enact this violence and evil as frequently and effectively as men.

There do seem to be differences in male and female violence in that women, at least in our culture, more often use indirect means. Pearson notes this, but leaves the theme open for further development. If she pursues this theme in future research and writing, I hope that she explores the entire field of false allegations of physical and sexual abuse. In addition, future investigation might well include the potent field of women’s role in abortion, both the feminist ideological adherence to the ‘pro-choice’ position, and also the centrality of women in deciding to kill the unborn. The stage upon which the theatre of violence is played out would be more inclusive if false allegations of abuse and abortion were included.

I can only hope that Patricia continues her brave and unswerving approach to discovering what actually constitutes our humanity. There are indications that she will. She closes with, “The consequences of our refusal to concede female contributions to violence are manifold. It affects our capacity to promote ourselves as autonomous and responsible beings. It affects our ability to develop a literature about ourselves that encompasses the full array of human emotions and experience. It demeans the right our victims have to be valued. And it radically impedes our ability to recognize dimensions of power that have nothing to do with formal structures of patriarchy. Perhaps above all, the denial of women’s aggression profoundly undermines our attempt as a culture to understand violence, to trace its causes and to quell them.” (p.243)

This book is recommended for any thinking person in our society. I believe that When She Was Bad is seminal in gender literature and will have far reaching influence as the men’s movement grows and strengthens. I have the highest regard for Patricia’s work and I hope she will continue with more of the same.

Bob Grantier is a recovering male in Nepean, Ontario. Reach him at (613) 225-4270

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