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When She Was Bad...: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence Hardcover – October 1, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Women commit the majority of child homicides in the United States; more than 80 percent of neonaticides; an equal or greater share of severe physical child abuse; an equal rate of spousal assault; about a quarter of child sexual molestations; and a large proportion of elder abuse... The rate at which infants are murdered by women in the U.S. is higher than the rate at which women are murdered by men." With carefully researched facts, fascinating case histories, and incisive argument, Patricia Pearson succeeds in demolishing the myth that women are not naturally violent. When She Was Bad considers two different issues: (1) how we see violent women--that we either excuse their behavior with a "syndrome defense" such as battered woman syndrome, or else see them as the passive partners of violent men; (2) how we see aggression itself--that we perceive it as physical and blatant, thus missing the ways in which women more commonly use verbal assaults and indirect strategies. Ultimately, Pearson argues, the failure of women to take responsibility for their violent behavior undermines the good that can come from aggressiveness, and sabotages the credibility of female police officers and soldiers.

From The New Yorker

She is a good reporter, and--no doubt in anticipation of conventional feminist objections--she has done the work necessary to back up even her most inflammatory ideas. If Pearson appears a tad gruesome in her eagerness for gender-neutral extermination, her larger crusade, for women's moral equality, is undoubtedly worthwhile.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670859257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670859252
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,439,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "boyne@hawaii.edu" on March 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Pearson, an award-winning journalist, presents contemporary social science research that belies the cultural myths of female powerlessness and innocence - blinders society must remove for women to be understood as inherently equal and human, with all the freedoms and responsibilities this entails. The continued myth of feminine mystique and innocence must give way to a recognition of common humanity, with all of our fatal flaws and saving graces. As a counseling psychologist, I welcome the honesty and mutual understanding of which this book and other efforts are social harbingers.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful bit of pop sociology that only a woman could write. If a man dare say what Pearson says here, the feminists would hang him by his word processor. But journalist Pearson, who has a super-fine feel for the politically correct, steers her way through the granite rocks by flatly stating that women are just as violent as men while slyly suggesting that if some people don't think that women have the same capacity for violence, maybe they are buying the "weaker sex" mythology and by extension continuing the subjugation. Let me tell you, this hits home with the Ms. crowd big time. Pearson paints a picture of women and violence that would give Charlie Manson pause, and you get the sense that she has the feminists soberly nodding their heads, "this is true, this is true." Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will, and bona fide feminist icon, even contributes a blurb for Pearson's book, allowing that there was "much to agree...and disagree with," but registers her approval with "...my tilt was definitely in her favor."
Mine too. I was actually surprised at the stats Pearson quotes showing the extent of feminine violence. Men too get beaten up (although let's be clear about this, not nearly as often). What I like best about the book is the hope that it is the beginning of an understanding that violence is a human sickness, not confined to one sex, and that psychological violence can be as brutal as physical. The violent evils that women are statistically more capable of-infanticide, crimes against the elderly, the murder of children, etc.-are starkly documented here. The real horror though, that women actually create the violent psychopaths through sexual choice, is a truth that even Pearson is not capable of addressing-yet. It's coming, though.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By dl25008@appstate.edu on September 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I found Pearson's book to be one of the most engaging arguments I have ever studied. She speaks of a human truth that has long been hidden under our society's ideals. Her argument is intelligent, insightful, inspiring, and complete; she has voiced what I have always felt to be true and yet never had the words to explain or the research to support. I applaud Patricia Pearson for a book that made me look at myself and the rest of society in an entirely refreshing new light!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Patricia Pearson has a gift for bringing to light the mystique of the female murderer. She is an intriguing writer and has brought insight into a very real and difficult topic. When kids in schools kill--everyone assumes that only boys do this kind of mayhem. No one cares that Brenda Spencer or Laurie Denn both shot elementary students up in 1979 and 1988 respectively, or that in 1995, in two separate incidents, two girls stabbed a classmate to death at school. Of course not, girls do not harm others. Pearson shows us in her work that we are masters of denial when it comes to women and violence.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By K Scheffler on February 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
An exceptionally well written book on a topic that gets too little attention. The author discusses the various manners in which women exhibit violent behaviour, and how society has come to view violent women differently than violent men. Violence is for the most part a learned trait, one that, while in most cases not as destructive as is the case with men, women are equally capable of resorting to. This book is definitely not an anti-woman tract, but is simply a statement of undeniable fact.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Aristotle's Beast on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a very good collection of facts to have on hand. It makes for good reading too. Pearson's main point is that crime won't be well understood until the myth of female innocence is depotentiated. Excellent chapters on female criminality including women who give birth and then kill, women who kill their children later, women who kill family members, nurses who kill, predatory women, women who batter their (male or female) mates, female serial killers, and so on. Excellent accounts of how women use their femininity to avoid prosecution, or to become the preferred perpetrator, who gets first shot at copping for a lesser charge.
There is a later edition of this book with the subtitle: How women get away with murder, or something close to that. I have no idea how different the two books are.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I just completed an honors level independent study using this text. Well written, excellent bibliography and impactful content.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hugo M. M. Rabson on October 9, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an MFT (marriage and family therapist) student and soon-to-be PhD candidate, I am trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible. This book filled a hole in my knowledge base. I have always wondered, "Why are women assumed to be innocent victims, incapable of violence unless driven to it by men?" The answer is that there's a dearth of research on the subject, partly because of preexisting social taboos and partly because of the psychiatric community's reluctance to challenge those taboos.
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