Women and Crime in the 18th Century and Their Status in Society in General - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1001 Words
Date:  2022-10-27


The role of women in perpetrating crime occupied a vital part of the criminal justice system in 18th century England. During this period, many women rose to prominence for their role in criminal activities in a society where criminals were charged harshly by both the public and the criminal justice system. In Daniel Defoe's novel, Moll Flanders is depicted as an individual who ventures into an unfamiliar territory. This depiction has also been manifested in works such as "Men and Cutpurses." In the two texts, women have been depicted as individuals whose gender identity motivates them to go against the grain by engaging in crime to survive in a patriarchal society.

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Being a woman greatly influenced her career as a criminal. As a child, Flanders did not get the care a child needs growing up because her mother was transported to Virginia after receiving a conviction for theft. The departure of her mother means that she was left to drive her destiny alone. However, what is telling about her life is the destitution that followed. As a young girl, Flanders lived difficult times in a foster home, and this devastated her life. She says " I had been left a poor desolate girl without friends, without clothes, without help or helper"(Defoe 2). The situation predisposed her into many affairs with men in the anticipation that such relationships would assist her to solve problems of inadequacy she had experienced as an orphan. In the relationships, Flanders is shown as an individual pursuing prosperity in men rather than love. Unusually, when the philandering failed to provide her with the money needed for survival, she assumes theft as a career. In context, gender can be said to have played a role in creating her predicament because she society created the impression that having a man in her life meant access to money and comfort. Thus, it is the unfavorable socioeconomic circumstances of women in the 18th century that motivated her into crime. As a woman in the time, it was uncommon.

In the context of the setting, choosing to live in crime was unusual because crime as associated with men and engaging in crime. It is unnatural in the sense that she reacted to a system that treated women to unfair justice process which saw her mother transported to the colonies. Notably, at the opening of the book, Flanders compares how England handles children of convicts with a neighboring country. She is disgusted at the system that does not protect children and blames it for her current predicament. Instead of accepting oppression, she decides to revolt against the regime by engaging in crime as a way of life.

Feminism and criminality relate to Flanders' story uniquely. As evidenced in the text, the charges preferred against an individual who has been suspected of the crime was based on gender-men and women were treated differently before the law and courts even after committing the same crime. For women, wrongdoing was treated not only according to the law but also on how society conceived womanhood to be at the time. As such, it was the extent to which the act of a woman contravened the cultural norms and not the nature of act done by the woman (Emsley 147) as seen in the case of Flander's mother. In other words, a woman's act was considered as both a moral and moral and criminal travesty. This created a double standards approach in the criminal justice system in that women were fundamentally treated differently from men. As a consequence, more women may have been convicted of a crime than what is experienced today. It is double standards that Flanders revolts against in the decision to pursue a career of crime.

Flanders' career as a criminal relates closely with the life other women in the works of Con Men and Cutpurses. An example in the highlighted text which refers to Flanders is the case of Mary Young, popularly known as Jenny Diver. Like Flanders, Diver hailed from a broken family background which predisposed her to a life of crime. She grew in foster homes where she experienced hardships but was lucky enough to be meet one gentlewoman who sent her to school. She learned sewing and resolved to go to London. Diver managed this by cheating one admirer into facilitating her travel to England. After a series of theft cases and transportation to Virginia, Diver was sentenced to death and executed (Moore 101-11). What is informative about the case of Diver is that, like Flanders, she did not hastate to use men to get what she wanted whenever an opportunity presented for her do so. It is a perfect case where socioeconomic conditions forced women to offer sexual favors for a chance to make ends meet, and her execution emphasizes the cruelty of society at the time towards women in general.


In conclusion, women in 18th century underwent challenging experiences but made every effort to overcome them although the society of the time widely condemned the decisions they took. In the case of Flanders, it is the struggle to eke out a livelihood that motivated her to marry many men with the hope that she would meet the right who offer the financial security she needed as a woman. Similarly, Diver struggles in the absence of parents to make a living. Both women had seen their womanhood as an opportunity to achieve financial independence. They both became notorious thieves. However, their predicaments result from the difficult socioeconomic conditions which made survival by fending for themselves an uphill task. The women's situation was even aggravated by a biased criminal justice system which interpreted their acts not only as a criminal but also as contravening to the established norms of society.

Works Cited

Defoe, Daniel. The fortunes and misfortunes of the famous Moll Flanders. JM Dent, 1895.

Emsley, Clive. Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900. Third Edition. London: Longman, 2005.

Moore, Lucy. Lucy Con Men and Cutpurses: Scenes from the Hogarthian Underworld. Penguin Press, 1999.

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Women and Crime in the 18th Century and Their Status in Society in General - Essay Sample. (2022, Oct 27). Retrieved from https://midtermguru.com/essays/women-and-crime-in-the-18th-century-and-their-status-in-society-in-general-essay-sample

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