The Mafia has always been an organization for “men of honor”, “men among men”, and masculinity as a whole. Over the last decade, however, more and more woman are taking active and violent roles in Mafia organizations than ever before. This seems to be most true in Italy, which many credit as being the birth place of the American Mafia.
Women have traditionally been thought of by the Mafia as important to the organization because they are the ones who will breed the next generation of Mafia members. For this, they are generally given a great deal of respect by the organization. For the most part, Mafia men kept their wives and girlfriends in the dark about specific criminal activities to protect the women against prosecution and to ensure that “girly gossip” didn’t lead to an accidental conviction of male members.
One study conducted by members of the Catholic University of Milan found that women are taking on more managerial type roles and more active roles in financial scams because these roles generally bring with them less encounters with violence. The study found that while women in the Mafia are just as willing to kill as their male counterparts, they are less likely to do so when the murder is “strictly business”. The head of Italy’s National Anti-Mafia Office attributes this finding to the fact that women find murder for profit more difficult to justify.
This study paints an image of women in the Mafia as professional business minded women instead of the thugs their male counterparts are often portrayed as, but news headlines paint a different picture. In 2002 it was reported that a violent gun fight in Italy broke out between two Mafia clans. What made this gun fight so interesting was that all of the shooters and all of the victims were women. It was reported that two cars, each full of women, drove recklessly through the streets of the town of Lauro, in the southern region of Italy just east of Naples, exchanging pistol and machine gun fire. Three women were killed and five more were injured. Among the dead were two grandmothers and a 16 year old grand-daughter of a member of one of the Mafia families. The shoot out was allegedly tied to a long running feud over control of extortion, drugs, and prostitution in the area.
It has been reported in the past that women have often stepped up in their respective Mafia organizations to replace their husbands who have been killed, injured, fallen ill, or imprisoned. These emergency replacements are only usually in power long enough for a male replacement to be appointed, but those women have stepped up to positions as high up in the Mafia hierarchy as boss of an entire Mafia family.
One woman, Maria Licciardi, rose to such prominence within Italian organized crime that the 50 year old woman had managed to carve out her own spot on Italy’s 30 Most Wanted Criminals list.
Mob Ladies: Women’s Roles in the Italian Mafia Are Growing. Deutsche Welle.
Three Die in “Female” Mafia Shoot-Out. BBC News World Edition.
Leela Jacinto. Italian Mafia Sees Rise of Girl Power. ABC News International.