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Outline and assess the sociological explanations for gender differences in patterns of crime.
The official crime statistics show that women commit less crime than men. Men are
convicted of 80% of serious crimes, and women only make up about 5.7% of the prison
population. There is also a difference in the types of crimes committed by men and women;
most women are imprisoned for non-violent crimes such as theft or handling of stolen
goods, which accounts for 57% of known female offenders in 2002. Men are more likely to
commit violent or sexual crimes crimes where they can demonstrate their power over
Frances Heidensohn (1989) has criticised the male dominance surrounding
criminology (she refers to this as `malestream' criminology) and suggested four reasons for
this. She argues that there is both a male dominance of offenders, and within sociology
itself. The majority of sociologists have always been male which, Heidensohn suggests, has
made sociology more malestream due to the ways in which male sociologists apply their
theories. Male sociologists study things which they can identify with and that interest them,
making it difficult to apply their theories to females.
It could be argued, however, that young women were simply not available to be
studied by male sociologists, due to the informal control exercised by their parents.
McRobbie (1994) found that many young women were not involved in subcultures because
of parental control. Instead, they stayed indoors with their friends, reading magazines and
gossiping, creating a `bedroom culture' of their own. Hagan (1987) studied child raising
patterns in Canada and found that daughters had far more informal control exercised over
them than sons.
Heidensohn (1985) identified three areas where women were socially controlled,
giving them fewer opportunities to commit crime. At home, women were still seen as the
primary carers of children and the household. In public, the use of derogatory language (such
as `slut') by male peers made young women limit their behaviour in order to avoid labelling.
In the workplace, the `glass ceiling' makes it difficult for women to reach the top jobs. Most
areas of employment feature a majority of male bosses and female subordinates.
Many feminists argue that it is not how they are socially controlled that makes them
less able to commit crime, but that there are core elements of the female role that limit
their ability and opportunity to do so. Female roles contain elements of kindness and
attractiveness, whereas male roles contain elements of toughness and aggression. It could
be argued that girls are lacking in the values associated with crime, as a result of
socialisation. This would explain why women are more likely to be arrested for crimes such as
shoplifting or prostitution, as they are related to the gender roles women adopt.
However, a number of sociologists suggest that gender roles are changing for
women. Adler (1975) argues that the increasing female crime rates are related to their new
found freedom from traditional gender roles, and their acceptance of more `masculine' roles.
Denscombe (2001) has developed this and argues that females are now more likely to
engage in `risk-taking' behaviour. This is due to the changing female roles over the last ten
years. He found that they had adopted the notions of `looking hard' and `being in control'.
Heidensohn, however, disagrees with this viewpoint. She cites evidence from a number of
other studies which show that convicted offenders tend to score highly on psychological
tests of femininity. This would suggest that women have not taken on more masculine
Although female crime is rising, the majority of crimes committed are still male. Bob
Connell (1995) argued that there were different `types' of masculinity. In particular, he
identified the concept of a hegemonic masculinity. Messerschmidt (1993) applied similar
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He argues that in order to accomplish it, males must work hard, and
have access to power and resources. If they cannot access these, they may resort to crime
in order to achieve normative masculinity.
Katz (1988) gives Connell's idea of masculinity a postmodern twist in his own work.
He argues that most criminology has failed to recognise and understand the role of pleasure
in committing crime.…read more