Crime and Deviance Theme 9 - Gender and Crime

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Gender and Crime


  • žWomen commit less crime than men - In 2011, 1.2m persons were convicted and sentenced at all courts. Of these 24% were female and 76% were male
  • žWomen tend to commit less serious crimes than men, as indicated in their lower prison numbers
  • žThe total prison population in 2011 stood at 85,374 offenders - of this women accounted for 5%.
  • žThere has been a long term increase in the underlying female crime rate, and in recent years a rapid increase in female violent crime
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Biological Theories

  • Biological Theories explain the higher rates of crime in terms of biological differences between males and females. The most obvious example of such a theory is that men have higher testosterone levels than women and thus have higher levels of aggression which is related to higher levels of violent crime
  • Some research has linked high testosterone levels to the higher rates of male offending and the more serious crimes of male offenders compared to women
  • Men, in general, are much more aggressive than women - a fact that has lead researchers to investigate possible links between levels of male hormones (particularly testosterone) and aggressive or criminal behavior.                                                                                                                                                                         


  • Biological differences between men and women cannot explain significant recent increases in female crime 
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Sex Role Theory (Bonds of Attachment)


  • Women are traditionally socialised into the expressive role, a role which is not usually associated with the qualities of a criminal (caring and nurturing)
  • Women tend to be more attached to society through their socialisation - learn to respect authority and the rules 
  • Women have less time to commit crime - working, looking after the children and cooking and cleaning (dual burden and triple shift)                                                                                                                                                                                                          


  • Talcott Parsons - boys are socialised into being more 'rough and tough' and have less respect for authority and the rules as a result (attitudes associated with criminal behaviour)
  • Masculinity requires men to demonstrate power and dominance
  • If legitimate opportunities to fulfil masculinity are blocked, then men turn to criminal behaviour, particularly violent crime, to express their masculinity


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Evaluations of Sex Role Theory


  • It helps to explain why crimes rates are higher amongst working class and underclass men - illegitimate opportunity structure prevents them from successfully fulfilling their masculinity, so they turn to crime                                                                                                                                                                            


  • However, Post-modernists would argue that it may be less relevant today because of the decline in traditional gender identities - many men no longer feel the need to be 'traditionally masculine' 
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Control Theory (Feminism)

Heidensohn agrees with Sex Role Theory that socialisation plays a part in why women commit less crime than men, but she builds on this theory by arguing that women have more social control, which is why they commit less crime:                                                                                                         

1. Control of women at home: traditional gender roles mean that women are more likely to be indoors (as housewives and mothes); domestic violence also helps to pacify women at home                                                                                                                                                 

2. Control of women in public: women are more scared of going out alone (fear of ****, feel like they need a man to protect them) therefore they are less likely to be on the streets committing crime. This also restricts women's freedom                                                                                                                                             

3. Control of women at work: male dominated control of and sexism in the workplace prevents womens' promotion - they're less likely to be in managerial roles where white collar crime takes place 

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Evaluations of Control Theory

  • Women aren't 'controlled' enough to stop them from committing crimes such shop-lifting - which is a crime more common amongst females than males 
  • It tends to be women from lower class and abusive backgrounds that have higher offending rates - the opposite of what the theory predicts 
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Chivalry Thesis (Interactionism)

  • The chivalry thesis is labelling theory applied to gender. The basic idea is that both the police and the courts are less likely to perceive women as criminals and treat women who are actually criminals more leniently
  • As a result, women come to be under-represented in the criminal statistics for two reasons – firstly, the police, who are mainly men, are less likely to stop and search women on the suspicion of crime and are also less likely fine and arrest women who they actually find engaged in criminal behaviour, which results in fewer women than men going through the criminal justice system
  • Even for those women subject to prosecution, the courts are still likely to treat them more leniently than men. The theory is that women are not generally perceived as 'real criminals' and as a result the courts are more-willing to adopt a 'medical model' of female crime, whereby women who commit crime are believed to be acting 'abnormally', somehow out of character with their ‘natural femininity’
  • The result of this is that where sentencing is concerned women are subjected to a form of ‘reverse sexism’ which can take two forms (both of which reduce the number of women in jail): firstly, women may simply be more likely to receive fines than jail sentences and secondly, female criminals are more likely to be seen as requiring psychological treatment rather than punishment; their criminality seen more as a symptom of mental illness and them ‘going a bit mad’ rather than their being ‘proper criminals’. 
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Evaluations of Chivalry Thesis

  • The chivalry thesis is dying out; more women are being arrested, going through the criminal justice system and being convicted (the rise of female crime)
  • Many feminists criticise the notion that the courts are lenient on women - female criminals are often seen as 'doubly deviant' whereby they are breaking the law and their gender norms. Also, women being seen as 'mad, not bad' is not lenient treatment as then women are given the label of being mentally ill, when often this is not the case
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The Rise in Female Crime: Postmodernism

  • The increase in female crime is part of the breakdown of traditional gender norms
  • There is no clear feminine identity anymore, which makes way for new ideas of feminity; such as ladettes and girl-gangs
  • This creates gender anomie, which allows for girls to construct masculinised, deviant identities
  • However, this could be interpreted as a moral panic, whereby society's reaction to the rise of female crime may be disproportionate to the actual extent of female crime 
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The Rise in Female Crime: Liberation Theory

  • Freda Adler - proposed that the emancipation of women and increased economic opportunities for women lead to an increase in female crime
  • As women attain social positions similar to men, and as the employment patterns of men and women become similar, so do their related crimes 
  • Adler claimed to have found a cross-national correlation between levels of women's economic freedoms and their crime levels                                                                                                                                                                                                     


  • The rise in crime is predominantly among younger offenders and who are not part of the white collar workforce - so it's not really 'liberated' women who are committing more crime
  • Her research is based on cross national studies - recorded crime statistics will vary in validity depending on the rates of recording and reporting
  • It's difficult to measure the 'levels of liberation' 
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The Rise in Female Crime: Marginalisation Theory

  • This is the opposite of the 'opportunity theory'
  • Greater participation in the labour force does no necessarily mean more equality for women or an improved economic situation for women
  • The bulk of female offenders, if employed at all, are concentrated in a 'pink collar ghetto' and their positions are characterised by poor pay and unrewarding, insecure work
  • Female crime, which is mainly petty property crime, constitutes a rational response to poverty and economic insecurity                                                                                                                                                                                                             


  • Helps to explain the rise in serious female crimes and imprisonment
  • However, it doesn't explain the rise in female deviance, such as anti-social behaviour and binge drinking 
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The Rise in Female Crime: End of Chivalry Thesis

  • The rise in female offenders may be due to the fact that the police are not as lenient on women as they once were
  • This could be linked to the increase of female police officers, who should have no problem arresting women (by the chivalry thesis' own arguments)                                                                                                                                             


  • Statistics show that leniency on women still occurs in criminal activity
  • In the US in 2012, women were still less likely to be given a icket when stopped for a range of motering offences
  • Statistics from 2007 show that in the US women sentenced to jail receive 2 years less than men for the same offence 
  • In the UK, from 2010, judges have been told to be 'more lenient on female offenders' because of the greater disadvantages they face compared to men: such as losing their children or suffering from mental health problems 
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