Wild, Wild, Women of the American West

Chapter Four of Anne Butler and Michael Lansing’s The American West: A Concise History discusses the semi-settled frontier and its inhabitants.  Included in this group are the male outlaws and their female counterparts referred to as “social deviants.”  As some men think, the control of women, in particular their wife, is a direct reflection of their manhood. Domination of women in all ways shows that men are the rulers of society, and who would dare contradict that?

The female outlaw of the nineteenth century American west broke the previous barriers of the idea of womanhood and emerged into a new category known as the “social deviant”  For the first time, some women were engaging in activity that was not completely servile or passive to their male counterparts. Women, such as Calamity Jane, participated in some of the same law breaking activities as male outlaws, sometimes to help the needy. However, these women were punished, oftentimes more harshly than men, because of their breaking not only the legal code, but the social code as well.

Martha Jane "Calamity Jane" Canary

Martha Jane Canary (better known as Calamity Jane), a female outlaw in the American west

In an inadvertent way, these women can be seen as early American feminists. They were not crying out and pleading for equality to men, but they were defying the belief that only men can carry out certain acts through their actions. And even in some cases proving the old saying, “whatever you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” Maybe they only carried out these actions because they needed to survive, or were playing Robin Hood and taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but they did not do anything different from the men performing the same misdeeds.  The female outlaw, or woman of easy virtue, of the American west should be revered, not only for refusing to bow down to “The Man” in times of intense punishment, but for setting a precedent for women to come.


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