1939: Howard Long, New Hampshire’s most recent hanging 1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud and her lover

Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique

July 15th, 2009 Headsman

Our tour through the world’s condemned has made the company of many a woman, but our hobby is a noticeably gendered one: whether as common criminals, fallen royals, political prisoners, war criminals, or any other subset of the execution-prone, women who face the headsmen map differently in the public conscience than men.

If the distinctions are none other than those that structure every social transactions, the dramatic tableau of the scaffold raises the stakes, sharpens the gendering, be she whore or madonna, black widow or holy maid.

Often, condemned women excite more sympathy, even romantic longing; occasionally, a crime’s inversion of femininity redoubles their opprobrium. A few criminal categories — abortion, witchcraft — are, for lack of a better term, female-gendered by default.

Though this series hardly marks the last women for these pages, three very notable cases in very different situations offer a vantage point not only on female and male through history, but on one’s own response to the spectacle of the executed woman.

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