Exploring Discourses of Femininity with Female Patients in a Medium Secure Unit

Prof Doc Thesis

Cooper, Kathryn Isabel 2011. Exploring Discourses of Femininity with Female Patients in a Medium Secure Unit. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsCooper, Kathryn Isabel
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Background: It is thought that women are responsible for a small minority of
recorded crime, especially violent offences. Popular explanations of female
crime reify social constructions of gender, and draw on discourses of femininity.
These powerful discourses dictate female behaviour, and imply that 'proper'
women cannot be violent as it is not in accordance with their gender role. Little is
known about the effect of these discourses on how women who have committed
a violent offence see themselves.
Aim: To explore how women in a medium secure unit talk about femininity.
Particular attention was paid to the consequences of their talk, such as how they
position themselves and other women, and the possibilities for action and
resistance from these positions.
Methods: Seven one-to-one semi-structured interviews were conducted with
women detained under the Mental Health Act (1983) in a medium secure unit.
Foucauldian Discourse Analysis was utilised to analyse the data.
Results: Four discourses were generated from the data; difficulties in existing as
women in a "man's world", motherhood as a natural role for women, the
importance of appearance in defining femininity, and crime as a challenge to
female identity. Participants talked about difficulties in achieving the feminine
ideal due to both being in the unit, and others' attitudes to their violent actions,
which included explanations of illness or masculinity. Consequently, they were
positioned as different to other women, and their actions pathologised. They
discussed possible implications of this such as hostility from others and
uncertainty about future opportunities in society after discharge from the unit.
Implications: Clinical psychologists are in a position to offer less pathologising
understandings of violent women's actions that do not rely on dominant
discourses of femininity, and to challenge these discourses which maintain social

Publication dates
Publication process dates
Deposited12 Jun 2014
Additional information

This thesis supplied via ROAR to UEL-registered users is protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights, and duplication of any part of the material is not permitted, except for your personal use for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study in electronic or print form. You must obtain permission from the copyright-holder for any other use. Electronic or print copies may not be offered, for sale or otherwise, to anyone. No quotation from the thesis may be published without proper acknowledgement.

Publisher's version
File Access Level
Registered users only
Permalink -


  • 106
    total views
  • 0
    total downloads
  • 1
    views this month
  • 0
    downloads this month

Export as