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Unnatural women

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Women in the nineteenth century were frequently depicted as passive and feminine. Behaving in other ways transgressed social expectations, and could provide the source of a good story. Although often the victims of wrongdoing, some women nevertheless showed that they could control their own destinies. This might involve disguising themselves as men — it is easier to move in trousers than in a skirt. Women were also portrayed committing considerable violence, beyond that of reacting against the wrongs done to them.

Margarita Cisneros is depicted as rather vulnerable despite being a prolific murderess, whereas Sebastiana del Castillo was characterised as triumphant and masculine, brandishing a sword or a gun. English narratives frequently showed children, servants and the elderly as most vulnerable to harm from women. Violence was thought to be natural (to some extent) in men, but completely unnatural in women; it was particularly shocking when a woman, thought of as a nurturer of life, chose instead to destroy it.