Dangerous women and reasonable men : gender and eyewitness testimony at the turn of the twentieth century.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The application of the scientific method to questions of human behaviour and abilities in the late nineteenth century allowed for the validation or contestation of ideas about female intellectual and biological inferiority. The convergence of traditional common sense understandings and experimental findings as forms of evidence of women’s unreliability can be observed in texts on witness psychology. This discourse was multi-disciplinary and international, with psychologists, lawyers, jurists and criminologists in Western Europe and North America engaging with each others’ work. They produced articles in disciplinary and popular journals, as well as books and compilations; at times collaborating with one another and at others competing over intellectual territory and expert status. This thesis examines the ways in which gender difference was portrayed in areas pertaining to witness reliability – perception, recollection, and honesty. It examines the connection between women’s lesser position in society and their portrayal as inferiors in intellectuals’ conceptions of reliability. Academia was overwhelmingly male in the period under discussion – 1880 to 1920 – and this dominance, combined with patriarchal conceptions of women, privileged the male as ‘normal’, while portraying women as mentally deficient. The thesis also assesses the ways in which feminist movements enabled women to pursue academic careers, and how their research on gendered mentality eventually began to challenge the dominant narrative of female witness unreliability.