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Original Sin, Eve, Vice, and the Female Experience

Writing by Caitlin Tambini. Artwork by Hannah Udall.

Since Pandora opened the box and Eve ate the apple, across religions, continents and

for hundreds of years, the burden of vice has been placed on women. This over policing of

women is based in antique misogyny, so it comes as no surprise. Yet it continues to hold

strong influence over modern institutions such as the disproportionate censorship of

women’s bodies on social media.

The Cambridge English Dictionary provides some examples of vice: ‘Greed, pride, envy, and

lust’, ‘illegal and immoral activities especially involving illegal sex, drugs, etc.’. Thus the

definition of vice involves something further than socially unacceptable activities, as there is

a deeper element of judgment involved; a characteristic is only a vice if it is judged so by

others, be they a legislative body or an individual.

The natural bedfellow of this attitude is the idea that women’s vice is acceptable only when

enacted for the benefit of men. Female-presenting nipples are twice as likely to get flagged on Facebook as male-presenting nipples, and yet it took three years for the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign to get the Sun - the most read newspaper in the UK - to stop printing

photos of topless women in their newspapers.

Greed, too, is frequently portrayed as a vice of women, with epithets such as ‘gold digger’ far

more frequently directed towards women than men. Women who are interested in relationships with rich men are seen as conniving and greedy, due to hackneyed and misogynistic stereotypes. The combination of capitalism and patriarchy has created pressure to have high economic aspirations, but the relentless pursuit of capital by any means is encouraged and perceived positively in men. In contrast, caring roles dominated by women are far less valued, both socially and financially.

Sex work is an example of vice based upon misogynistic judgements. Mary Magdalene, for example, was depicted as a reformed sex worker, who found penitence and reformation through Christianity. Sex work is work, and there are ongoing campaigns within the community to have this recognised more widely. Here again, however, we see the role of judgment and criminalisation in the popular image of vices: a career dominated by disenfranchised groups - trans and queer people, women, and people of colour - is one which holds a lot of stigma, and little regard for the safety of those involved. The role of judgment in perceptions of vice, coupled with the intensity of scrutiny placed upon women both historically and currently, accumulates in the feminisation of vice, particularly in the areas of sexuality and greed.

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