Review: Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Borrowing from Roxanne Gay’s 2015 TED talk, I have often titled myself a ‘bad feminist’; I completely agree with the principles yet I end up accidentally contributing to patriarchal power structures whether that’s through singing along to degrading rap lyrics, hastily criticising confident female figures or enjoying films that almost entirely centralise around the male gaze. So, to be frank, when I finished reading Part I, titled Polly, (the first victim of ‘The Five’) yes, I was *regrettably* a tiny weeny bit disappointed that it omitted much discussion around the murders and murderer himself. 

Nonetheless, as I delved further into Part II: Annie, I finally had my eureka moment: this was not about Jack the Ripper and promoting his name. Instead, this was about exposing a society that failed to support its working-class population, most noticeably its female working-class population. This was about recognising the extent to which a vast range of renowned media outlets orchestrated an almost entirely false narrative about the lives of five female victims in a way that appeased pre-existing attitudes towards the poor. Yet most crucially, this was about revealing as much truth as possible about the previously fabricated lives of these five maltreated women.

It is safe to say that I suddenly felt slightly guilty for having been drawn in by the title’s inclusion of a fascinatingly notorious, cold-blooded murderer. How could I have disregarded the ‘the untold lives of the women’ in favour of ‘killed by Jack the Ripper’?

I can’t help thinking that, in a way, this contributes nicely to the agenda- subverting expectations and allowing these women to finally profit in some distantly miniscule way from the power they were stripped of at the hands of a serial killer. If there’s anything I have learnt it’s that sometimes must celebrate these small victories and I believe Rubenhold would agree. In fact, the writer makes it clear that she did not wish to be “complicit in [the victims’] diminishment” and enable us to see these victims as human beings rather than a sort of “sub-species”.

Consequently, from this book, I have reflected on my own feminist outlook. Although I realise this won’t have the same effect on everyone who reads it, I feel comforted knowing it has the potential to impact some of us, especially those, like myself, who still have much to learn.

Even at its most basic level, Rubenhold’s The Five enables every reader to reflect on a significant historical period and recognise that, although society has progressed, there is still a plethora of disturbing parallels to be drawn.

By Cassidy Waterhouse

insta: cassidysw

twitter: misswaterhouse1

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