Detecting Women

Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film

By Philippa Gates

Subjects: Film Studies, Gender Studies, Women's Studies
Paperback : 9781438434049, 410 pages, April 2011
Hardcover : 9781438434056, 410 pages, April 2011

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Part I. The Crime Lab: Gender and the Detective Genre

1. Introduction: The Case

2. Detecting Criticism: Theorizing Gender and the Detective Genre

Part II. The Rise and Demise of the Classical Female Detective: 1929 to 1950

3. Movie Modernization: The Film Industry and Working Women in the Depression

4. Detecting as a Hobby: Amateur and Professional Detectives in the 1930s

5. Sob Sisters Don’t Cry: The Girl Reporter as Detective in the 1930s

6. In Name Only: The Transformation of the Female Detective in the 1940s

7. The Maritorious Melodrama: The Female Detective in 1940s Film Noir

Part III. From Crime-Fighter to Crime Scene Investigator: 1970 to Today

8. Femme Might Makes Right: The 1970s Blaxploitation Vigilante Crime-Fighter

9. Detecting the Bounds of the Law: The Female Lawyer Thriller of the 1980s

10. Detecting Identity: From Investigative Thrillers to Crime Scene Investigators

Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III

Selected Filmography
Works Cited

Ambitious and comprehensive history of the female detective in Hollywood film from 1929 to 2009.


Finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award in the Best Critical/Biographical Category presented by the Mystery Writers of America

In this extensive and authoritative study of over 300 films, Philippa Gates explores the "woman detective" figure from her pre-cinematic origins in nineteenth century detective fiction through her many incarnations throughout the history of Hollywood cinema. Through the lens of theories of gender, genre, and stardom and engaging with the critical concepts of performativity, masquerade, and feminism, Detecting Women analyzes constructions of the female investigator in the detective genre and focuses on the evolution of her representation from 1929 to today. While a popular assumption is that images of women have become increasingly positive over this period, Gates argues that the most progressive and feminist models of the female detective exist in mainstream film's more peripheral products such as 1930's B-picture and 1970's Blaxploitation films. Offering revisions and new insights into peripheral forms of mainstream film, Gates explores this space that allows a fantasy of resolution of social anxieties about crime and, more interestingly, gender, in the 20th and early 21st centuries. The author's innovative, engaging, and capacious approach to this important figure within feminist film history breaks new ground in the field of gender and film studies.

Philippa Gates is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario. She is the author of Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film, also published by SUNY Press, and coeditor (with Stacy Gillis) of The Devil Himself: Villainy in Detective Fiction and Film.


"An apt follow-up to Gates' Detecting Men … this book is breezy, informal, and yet immaculately researched. " — CHOICE

"Detecting Women is an extensive and authoritative, ambitious and comprehensive history of the female detective in Hollywood film from 1929 to 2009. Gates brings to light the sheer number of female detectives that have been overlooked in previous studies of the genre, especially those of the 1930s and 40s. Her innovative, engaging, and capacious approach to the female detective within feminist film history breaks new ground in the fields of gender and film studies. " — SirReadaLot. org

"This imaginative and entertaining study of the 'woman detective' film makes a huge contribution by giving extensive treatment to the female detectives in B movies and to the many investigating women characters in films not usually considered detective films. It will have great appeal for scholars, film buffs, and mystery fans. " — Linda Mizejewski, author of Hardboiled and High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture