Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/December 1893/Criminal Woman

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



THE school of criminal anthropologists is making great strides in Italy. New works are continually pouring from the press which record the observations of students of this modern science, all of them striving to establish the data on which to base the phenomena of crime and degeneration. The world-famed name of Prof. Cesare Lombroso constantly appears on new works, which are fresh guides to science. La Donna Delinquente (Criminal Woman) is the title of his latest book, which is a joint work written together with one of his pupils, Prof. G. Ferrero. This book completes his previous admirable study entitled L'Uomo Delinquente (Criminal Man). This new study on abnormal woman is a very important work, which offered much greater difficulties in the way of research and observation than that on man. Indeed, Lombroso writes in his preface: "The chief results of our first investigations were in opposition to the usual premises; even individual and partial observations seemed to clash; so that if one wished to be logical one was obliged to hesitate as to definite conclusions. We were, however, faithful to the maxim that we have always pursued; we followed facts blindly, even when they appeared to contradict each other and seemed taking a false turning. And we were not wrong: in the end the facts which seemed most opposed, fitted into their places like the pieces of a mosaic and formed a uniform and perfect design, although at first it seemed as if we were groping in the dark and that it was difficult to collect them. When at last we reached the desired goal, we tasted the bitter delight of the hunter who seizes his prey after scouring rocks and precipices, and feels the joy of his success redoubled by the losses and fatigues his conquest has cost him."

In this quotation is given truly the keynote to the whole volume. It explains to the reader what difficulties the authors have had to surmount, in order to draw a precise and certain conclusion, and to determine the characteristics of female criminals, just as other similar works written by modern savants define those of male offenders. The work is divided into four principal parts: 1. Normal Woman. 2. Female Crime. 3. Pathological and Anthropometrical Anatomy of Female Criminals and Prostitutes. 4. Biology and Psychology of Female Delinquents and Prostitutes. The first part is full of observations on normal women, and is a contrast to the second, which treats of female criminals in all their different changes of organism and mental attitude. In the section devoted to normal women, Lombroso treats of the women of primitive nations and compares them with those of civilized peoples. The study is minute, subtle, and valuable. Nor does Lombroso hesitate even to make comparisons with female animals. This attitude, which might be called a want of respect, Lombroso explains in his preface, saying: "Those who, writing about women, are not content with the close logic of facts, but continue or rather counterfeit the traditions of the middle ages and use chivalry toward the gentle sex, will think that we have often been wanting in respect to them in our work. But if we have not respected our most cherished preconceived ideas, such as the idea of the 'reo nato' (born criminal), neither have we been afraid of the apparent contradictions which to ordinary eyes might have seemed deleterious to our work. How could we become followers of a conventional and unscientific untruth, which only acquired shape in order to lose it directly?"

And truly science can not feed on rhetoric, and Lombroso's books are not those of a poet or novelist, but those of a scientific man, who believes in his work and who devotes himself seriously to its exigencies, no matter whither its necessary conclusions land him. In his study on criminal woman he brings before us women in every condition of life; he makes a minute study of their good qualities and of their defects, analyzing both, and only speaking when he can draw conclusions from what he has observed and studied. Hence his work is a powerful contribution to that affirmation of modern theories on crime which are destined to change entirely the theories of penal law which have ruled up to the present time.

The first portion of Lombroso's work is divided into chapters which treat of the females of the zoölogical world; of the anatomy and biology of women; of the senses and mind of women; of their cruelty, pity, and maternity; of their love, ethics, vanity, and intelligence. These chapters are so many monographs and present normal woman from every point of view. She is described as always inferior to man, because hey faculties are less developed. Strange to say, according to Lombroso, she has less feeling than man. This seems a direct contradiction of all legends and traditions. And is it not woman, rather than man, who is the most ardent opponent to all useless suffering; is it not women who have been the chief promoters of anti-cruelty societies, no matter if this cruelty be practiced on human beings or on animals? But the contradiction is explained, according to Lombroso, by the greater excitability of women and their lesser inhibition. As soon as the primitive barbarities of sexual selection began to be mitigated, men chose as wives the prettiest and gentlest instead of the strongest women, so paying tribute to beauty and the moral qualities that are associated with it. Thus women were perfected in gentleness, grace, and pleasing manners, and withdrew from those qualities that required strength and cruelty. Other influences, not least among which is the longer duration of maternity, cause civilized women to become more compassionate; but in every woman there is an undercurrent of cruelty, which appears either when her nature is wicked or when her strongest feelings, such as those of mother or wife, are attacked. Hence Lombroso adduces that woman's attitude with regard to cruelty and pity is a contradictory one, which will by evolution give way in favor of gentleness and mercy. In the second part of his work Lombroso compares the crimes of female animals with the crimes of primitive and savage women; and in the third chapter he gives a brief history of prostitution, which he considers as one of the great factors in the promotion of crime. Under the heading, "Crimes of Primitive Women," the writer discusses adultery, abortion, infanticide, witchcraft, and poisoning, and concludes thus: "In general, women savages, like other women, commit fewer crimes than men, although their nature is rather worse than better; and the crimes for which they are punished are in great part conventional, such as those contained in tabu and witchcraft. What corresponds to crime among men is for savage women prostitution."

In the Pathological and Anthropometrical Anatomy of Female Criminals and Prostitutes, which forms the third part of the book, all the measurements which serve to establish those irregularities from which the criminal school draws its conclusions have been taken with the greatest care. According to Lombroso, they are for women the following: Height, the length of the arms when opened, and the length of the limbs are inferior in criminals weight being, in relation to their stature, greater in prostitutes and assassins than in ordinary women. The hands are longer and more developed in prostitutes, the foot shorter, the fingers less developed than the rest of the hand. The size and circumference of the skull in female thieves, and even more so in prostitutes, are small; vice versa, the facial diameter and especially the jaw are more developed than in normal specimens. The hair and iris are apt to be darker in criminals, and up to a certain point in prostitutes, in whom, however, fair and red hair are often lighter or darker than the normal color. White hair, which is rare in ordinary women, is twice as frequent in criminals; vice versa, with them baldness is rarer during youth and middle age than among ordinary women, while wrinkles are more frequent only when they are middle-aged. It has been difficult to gather these facts with certainty about prostitutes, who are nearly all painted and made up even when quite young; but from the data Lombroso had to go upon, precocious white hair and baldness would be a common defect, as it is in those who are born delinquents. Irregularities of countenance are to be met with in a greater degree in female assassins and poisoners than in infanticides. The real criminal type is rarer among female than male delinquents; it is found more frequently among prostitutes, and according to a still more precise study made by Tarnowsky, there are more female murderers than thieves, while prostitutes are the most numerous of all.

"In short," as our author writes, "female criminals have less typical faces, because they are less criminal than men, and women in every degeneration present fewer digressions than men, because women being organically conservative preserve the average type even in their moral aberrations; besides which, beauty being a supreme necessity for them, this overcomes all the attacks made by moral degeneracy. Still, it can not be denied that when wickedness is deep-rooted, then the general rule which stamps crime with a type, conquers every obstacle, at least in civilized races, and this is particularly the case with prostitutes, because the latter recall the type of primitive woman much more than female criminals."

The third part closes with a fine chapter on tattooing in women, the tendency to tattoo being, according to Lombroso, an infallible indication of criminal tendencies.

The fourth and last part of the work is entitled The Biology and Psychology of Female Criminals and Prostitutes. It is divided into twelve chapters that are crowded with the most minute and subtle researches. The first three treat of female criminals and prostitutes in general; the others make a separate study of women born with criminal tendencies and those who have become criminals through incidental causes, such as love; suicides; women born with a natural inclination to prostitution; women who have become prostitutes through circumstances; insane criminals; epileptic and hysterical delinquents. It is this portion of the work that has required the greatest circumspection. It is so easy here to fall into errors in drawing conclusions from such complicated and various data as presented themselves, and the more, because the variety of subjects examined is very large. Lombroso, in making a résumê of the second chapter, observes that fatness of the palm of the hand and irregularities in the pupil of the eye are greater in prostitutes than in female criminals, but are never so marked as in male criminals. The reflections in the pupil of the eye in prostitutes are, however, duller than in male criminals, this being accounted for by the direct action of syphilis on the nervous centers.

Few women are born with criminal tendencies, according to Lombroso; but when this is the case, criminality is more intense and depraved in them than in men. They prove themselves most cruel, and when compared with normal women they are found wanting in every attribute belonging to the latter. For example, among women born with criminal tendencies there is a total want of maternal affection, pity, and love; they are excessively erotic and revengeful, revenge among women naturally criminals being one of the chief motives for crime. By a curious contrast in this class a mawkish sentimentality, which is particularly apparent in their letters, takes the place of real and strong sentiment. For instance, Avelina wrote to her lover thus: "I am jealous of Nature, which seems to madden us by its beauty. Dearest one, don't you think that this beautiful weather is made for lovers and speaks of love?" Again: "How I wish the undertaking which would render us free and happy were over" (the murder of her husband); "I must succeed in it, as paradise is in view. The turning of the path is full of roses." Lombroso concludes thus: "Since these women are morally insane, and are wanting in all noble and deep sentiments, they exchange them for exaggerated sophistications, just as a coward boasts of a chimerical and absurd courage in his discourses."

Women born criminals are intelligent, and make up for their weakness and want of physical power to satisfy their natural depravity by having recourse to cunning in their fight against society. But as a whole the type of the woman born to be a criminal shows a great likeness to the type of men criminals, and in the rare case of complete criminality women surpass men in wickedness. Females who have become delinquents by accident—and the greater number of female criminals belong to this class—may be divided into two categories: the one represented by females born with only slight criminal tendencies, the other containing delinquents who differ very slightly from normal women, and who sometimes are nothing but ordinary women whose condition in life has been such as to develop that fund of immorality which is latent in every woman. Prof. Lombroso determines by indubitable data the much-debated question of the affinity between prostitution and criminality, concluding that the psychological and anatomical identity between criminals and born prostitutes could not be more complete; both being morally insane, by a mathematic axiom they become equal. In drawing his conclusions on women who have become prostitutes through circumstances Lombroso says that mentally these are more abnormal than women who have become criminals by choice, because, according to the theory of his school, prostitution and not criminality is the true degeneration of woman, innate female criminals being rare and monstrous exceptions. He says: "Chastity is the strongest feminine sentiment after maternity; it is a sentiment toward which the minds of women have worked for so many centuries in order to create and consolidate it: thus, if a woman, who though not wanting in chastity loses it easily, she must be more deeply abnormal than a woman who when exposed to great temptations forgets to respect other people's property. This fact is almost normal; the other being instead most abnormal. This is the reason that women who have become prostitutes by chance present many of the characteristics of those born with a natural tendency to prostitution; while female criminals who are almost normal have little in common with innate criminals, these last being a double exception from many points of view, and a sporadic monstrosity." The last chapters treat of insane, epileptic, and hysterical criminals.

This terrible but most necessary examination of criminal women occupies a large volume of six hundred and fifty pages. What remedy can be found? This is the subject of the second volume, which will soon appear, and in which Lombroso will speak of the different social importance of crime and prostitution, the two different forms of male and female crime. The present volume is largely illustrated by designs which serve as proofs of the data collected. It is most interesting to see the reproduction of the different types of female delinquents. As usual, Lombroso speaks with the true modesty of a scientific man.

"Not one line of this work," he writes, "justifies the many tyrannies of which women have been and are still the victims from the tabu, which forbids them to eat meat or to touch cocoanuts, up to that which prevents them learning or, still worse, carrying on a profession once they have learned it. These are cruel and overbearing practices by whose means we have certainly contributed to maintain and, what is worse, to increase the inferiority of woman, so as to be able to despoil her for our advantage, while hypocritically we were covering the docile victim with praises which we did not believe, and which were a preparation for fresh sacrifices rather than an ornament."

His love for his science he has again and again abundantly proved. It is deeply interesting to read the conclusion he himself draws from his labors a conclusion that "all who believe in woman and her future can but rejoice in."

Much suggestive work has recently been accomplished in the domain of chemistry, in the attempt to apply the principle of gravitation to account for the interactions of the molecules of the elements. "So far," says Prof. Reynolds, of the University of Dublin, "the fundamental hypothesis of 'Newtonian chemistry' has led to conclusions which are not at variance with the facts of the science, while it gives promise of help in obtaining a solution of the great problem of the nature of chemical action."