Gender and Crime

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Gender and Offending
Talcott Parsons (1937) suggests that girls are socialised differently to boys as they have a clear role model to follow that
emphasises caring and support. They gain values which do not lead to crime.
Farrington and Painter (2004) found, from their longitudinal study, that female offenders were much more likely to have
had harsh or erratic parenting, and to have had little support or praise from their parents for their achievements in the
school and community.
Heidensohn (1996) says that
An examination of female criminality and unofficial deviance suggests that we need to move away from studying
infractions and look at conformity instead, because the most striking thing about female behaviour is how notably
conformist to social mores women are"
This is said in support of the point that females are less likely to commit crime because of the closer levels of supervision
that they are subjected to at home in childhood. This control carries on throughout life, with the role of women being more
constrained than that of males.
Heidensohn points to the wide range of informal sanctions to discourage women from straying from `proper' behaviour,
such as gossip, ill repute and the comments of male companions.
In order to commit a crime, a person needs to have the opportunity to do so. The narrower range of roles that women are
allowed to have limits their opportunities to commit crime, as they are more confined by their socialisation and social
control than men.
Adler (1975) suggests that the increasing rates of female crime are linked to their freedom from traditional forms of social
control and their acceptance into more `masculine' roles.
Denscombe (2001) puts forward the argument that changing female roles over the last ten years mean that females are
increasingly likely as males to engage in risktaking behaviour. His study of 15/16 year olds in the East Midlands found
that females were rapidly adopting what had traditionally been male attitudes, including `looking hard', `being in control'
and being someone who is able to cope with taking risks.
Westwood (1999) develops similar ideas when she argues that identities are constantly being reconstructed and
reframed. The concept of a fixed female identity had limited our understanding of crime, so we need to understand how
women are reconfiguring their identity in a more confident, forceful way, and the possible link to the growth of female
Heidensohn (2002) disputes this, citing evidence from a number of other studies which show that convicted offenders
tend to score highly on sociological tests of `femininity', indicating, according to her, that they have not taken on male
This is a postmodern critique put forward in response to a need for a Feminist version of criminology.
Carole Smart (1990) came up with the term Transgressive Criminology as a means of investigating beyond the
boundaries of existing criminology, looking at a wider variety of issues.
Smart suggested that criminology itself as a discipline was tied to male questions and concerns and that it could never
offer answers to feminist questions. Instead of trying to produce a feminist criminology, feminists should be asking `what
can criminology offer feminism?'
Normative masculinity, as suggested by Connell (1995) exists in society and is highly valued by most men. It refers to
the social approved ideas of what a `real male' is. According to Messerschmidt (1993), it `defines masculinity through
difference from and desire for women'. Normative masculinity is so prized that men struggle to live up to its expectations.
Messerschmidt suggests then that masculinity is not something natural, but rather a state that males only achieve as
`an accomplishment' which involves being constantly worked out.


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