Last school holidays we went to Melbourne for a few days. One of the many great places we visited was the Old Melbourne Gaol*. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it was my favourite place of all the places we visited. Each cell is set up with information about a particular prisoner or prisoners, general information about the gaol or a re-enactment of conditions faced by prisoners. One of the displays had the following information about female prisoners:
Women criminals were treated quite differently from men. In the century dominated by Queen Victoria, loving wife (and grief stricken widow) of Prince Albert and devoted mother of nine children, women were expected to be nurturning, passive, submissive, self sacrificing, gentle and delicate. Men, on the other hand, were dominating, powerful, authoritative, strong and protective. It was deplorable but inevitable that men should commit crimes but when women did so they were thought unnatural – traitors to their sex.
So really, have things changed that much since Queen Victoria’s day in the way female criminals are seen by society? Are some parts of society more likely to fall victim to this type of thinking than others?
*Old Melbourne Gaol is a sandstone building. Inside the gaol there are three levels of cells, reached by steep iron staircases. Unfortunately there are no lifts inside so anyone not able to climb steep staircases cannot access the whole site and many of the doorways are narrow. You might fit a wheelchair in but a scooter may have difficulty fitting through.