Western societies so mared into the maddonna/whore dynamic have always had a problem with women criminals. It feels as though a woman can only be a criminal if she is charactorised as a complete monster, with no redeaming charactoristics. She is a direct conunterpart to the woman victim, who has to be totally “innocent,” blameless and pure as the driven snow. It is a cartoonish version not just of half of humanity, but of the whole of society, and bizzare that we cling so rigidly to such immature versions of women when all around us there is myriad proofs of the complexitiy, not just of women, but also of crime.
This attitude however can have real world harm. Much sexual abuse by women is not reported, because of taboo’s around sex and gender. We are yet, as a society, to find a comfortable middle ground where women can be “a bad person,” and take part in things which are totally definatively criminal, but also have occasional redeaming charactorists and behaviours, or be a victim of abusive people herself.
The latest criminal woman who has captured the public’s attention is Gishlaine Maxwell. Who Vicky Ward focuses on her Audible Original podcast Chasing Gishleaine. Ward knew Ghislaine from her social circles in New York, and when pregnant was sent on an “easy” assignment by Vanity Fair of interviewing Jeffrey Epstein, who started his career as a humble maths teacher, and ended up a multi-billionaire. In a very real way this assignment has never ended. So now with decades of experience Ward maps out her entanglement with the story of Jeffrey Epstein, a known sex offender who was still able to court the rich and the famous despite his jail time. And in case you haven’t been following the news at all, was found dead in his jail cell before his trial could commence. Consipracy theories swarmed all over this like maggots on a dead cat.
Hunting Ghislaine is similarily hosted by someone who has knowledge and experience of Ghislaine’s background, John Sweeny, who as a vetran British reporter has mixed in the same circles as Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine’s father, and the figuer, who both podcasts reveal, was essentially a truely aberant template for Ghislaine’s subsequent relationship with Epstein.
Both shows try to focus on who Ghislaine really is, and what and why she was motivated to help her long term best friend and unrequited love interest Epstein traffick children for sex with older, richer but not wiser powerful men. It never really feels like we’re able to really catch Ghislaine. Both shows are thorough, compliment each other, and are filled with journalisitic integrity. Through them we catch glimpses of at Ghislaine at upmarket New York social occassions. We get suposition from friends and acquaintences about her relationship with Epstein feeding of her subliminal need to please her brutish, bullying father (who also died in suspicious circumstances).
Both podcast are excellent, and add to each others story but we never really seam to get a grip on Ghislaine, she continually bobs and weaves out of view. At the heart of the matter, I don’t think Ghislaine really knows who she is, or why she committed these horrendous crimes, or if she even see’s her actions as crimnal. If the podcast anecdotes are true, and at three she had to remind her parents of her existance, adult Ghislaine, with all her money, and charm, was probably always carrying around her inner child, so empty of a sense of self and so absent of an understanding of the emotional lives of others, she was a perfect match for a ruthless narcissist like Epstein. Does this make Ghislaine a victim, possibly child Ghislaine was, and adult Ghislaine carried that child with her. However this does not absolve her of her actions, and here comes the kind of nuance which society has not yet got to grips with, the ability to understand the pain of the child, while simultaneously knowing the danger, and depravity of the adult.
If you are interested in more about women and crime you can listen to TCFs International Woman’s Day special epsiode where I discuss this complex subject with author CJ Cooper below.