chivalry thesis

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Assess the value of the chivalry thesis in understanding differences in crime (21 marks)
The Chivalry thesis argues that the most criminal justice agents ­ such as police officers,
magistrates and judges ­ are men, and men are socialised to act in a `chivalrous' way towards
women. For example; Pollak (1950) argues that men have a protective attitude towards women
and that `men hate to accuse women and thus send them to their punishment, police officers
dislike to arrest them, district attorneys to prosecute them and judges and juries to find them
guilty and so on' therefore the criminal justice system is a lot more lenient with women and so
their crimes are less likely to end up in the official statistics. This in turn gives an invalid picture
that exaggerates the extent of gender differences in rates of offending. The chivalry thesis has
been hotly debated. Evidence from some self-report studies ­ where individuals are asked about
what crimes they have committed ­ does suggest that female offenders are treated more
leniently. For example, Graham and Bowling (1995) research on a sample of 1721 14-26 year olds
found that although males were more likely to offend, the difference was smaller than that
recorded in the official statistics. They found that males were 2.33 times more likely to admit to
having committed an offence in the previous twelve months ­ whereas official statistics show that
males are more than four times likely to offend. Similarly Flood-Page et al (2000) found that, while
only one in 11 female self-reported offenders had been cautioned or prosecuted, the figure for
males was over one in seven self--reported offenders. Women are also more likely than men to
be cautioned rather than prosecuted
There is also considerable evidence against the chivalry thesis. For example, David Farrington and
Alison Morris'(1983) study of sentencing of 408 offences of theft in a magistrates court found that
women were not sentenced more leniently for comparable offences. Similarly Buckle and
Farrington (1984) observational study of shoplifting in a department store witnessed twice as
many males shoplifting as females ­ despite that the numbers of male and female offenders in the
official statistics are more or less equal. This small scale study thus suggests that women
shoplifters ,ay be more likely to be prosecuted than their male counterparts. If women appear to
be treated more leniently, it may simply be because their offences are less serious. For example
Box's (1981) review of British and American self-report studies concludes that women who
commit serious offences are not treated more favourable than men. Similarly, the lower rate of
prosecutions of females as compared with their self-reported offending may be because the
crimes they admit to are less serious and less likely to go on trial. Women offenders also seem
more likely to show remorse, and this may help to explain why they are more likely to receive a
caution instead of going to court.
Many feminists argue that, far from the criminal justice system being biased in favour of women,
as the chivalry thesis suggests, it is actually biased against them. As Heidensohn (1996) argues, the
courts treat females more harshly than males when they deviate from gender norms. E.g. Double
standards ­ courts punish girls but not boys for premature or promiscuous sexual activity.
`wayward' girls can end up in care without ever having committed an offence. Women who do not
conform to accepted standards of monogamous heterosexuality and motherhood are punished
more harshly. As Stewart (2006) found, magistrates' perceptions of female defendants' characters
are based on stereotypical gender roles. Carlen (1997) puts forward a similar view in relation to
custodial sentences. She argues that when women are jailed, it is less for `the seriousness of their
crimes and more according to the court's assessment for them as wives, mothers and daughters'.
Girls whose parents believe them to be beyond control are more likely to receive custodial

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Carlen found that Scottish judges were
much more likely to jail women whose children were in care than women who they saw as good
mothers. Feminists argue that these double standards exist because the criminal justice system is
patriarchal. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the system deals with rape cases. There
have been numerous cases of male judges, making sexist, victim-blaming remarks.…read more


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