Tag Archives: Razor gang

The two faces of the femme fatale

Matilda Devine, criminal record number 659LB, 27 May 1925. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

Ann Savage from the 1945 film noir classic, Detour

The femme fatale is a staple character of crime fiction and film. Last weekend, I got a glimpse of the reality behind screen and literary presentations of female criminality at an exhibition into Australia’s famous female criminals, currently taking place at Geelong’s National Wool Museum.

You don’t have to have a PhD in cultural studies to realise that our fascination with women as deviants is deeply rooted in conceptions that stretch back to the Bible (Eve, anyone?), fairy and folk tales. The exhibition, Femme Fatale: The female criminal opens with a quote by Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso from 1893 that epitomises this worldview: “The born female is, so to speak, doubly exceptional, first as a women and then as a criminal. This is because criminals are an exception among civilised people and women are the exception among criminals… As a double exception, then, the criminal woman is a monster.”

The exhibition includes a pretty grim history of the illegal or backyard abortion industry, the women who often ran it and the police who profited from protecting it. This includes some amazing police crime scene photos (not for the faint hearted) of the premises in which back yard abortionists operated.… Read more