Female Vigilantism


What exactly do I mean by female vigilantism? In Vigilante Women in Contemporary American
Fiction, I explain,

“Female vigilantism is most often a recuperative act that addresses systematic flaws
in the American system of justice. Contemporary heroines commit illegal, extralegal,
and at times, deadly, acts in their quest for justice, including the destruction of
property, banditry, robbery, armed combat, and/or even murder. However, because the
women who commit these acts do so for ethical reasons and to establish or protect
their own right to full personhood, their actions assume a significance that manifests
as an equitable view of individuality” (4).

As you can see, I do not uphold the traditional “masculine” version of vigilantism,
which defines the vigilante as “a private individual who legally or illegally punishes
an alleged lawbreaker, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal punishment
to an alleged lawbreaker (OED, second edition, revised, 2005). In fact, I find fictional
female vigilantism to be much more exciting, because the disruptive actions of vigilante
heroines are part of a much wider struggle for women’s rights. The authors of such novels
are participants in a collective movement designed to achieve a more equitable place for
women. The current era of female vigilantism thus involves individualized lawbreaking for
the sake of a common goal.

What makes this topic even better is the way that women in stories of vigilante justice
move beyond prescribed social roles to take action, sometimes for their own protection,
sometimes for the protection of others, sometimes for a moral ideal. As I note in my book,

“Such stories are shocking because the laying aside of typical “womanly” behavior
reveals the “assumedness” of femininity. Within such acts, the heroines of these
fictions demonstrate their ability to act in a “masculine” manner when necessary,
thus exploding gender myths of what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine” conduct” (6).

Rock on, sister soldiers.

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