TOPIC 7: Gender issues and offending

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Gender differences in crime

  • Men more likely to be convicted of serious crimes
  • Women more likely to be involved in theft/fraud/handling stolen goods/shoplifting
  • Women commit relatively few crimes - far less ikely to be arrested (8% of total UK prison population)
  • Female crime largely ignored
  • Females less likely to break the law
  • Police and courts treat women more favourably - chivalry effect: able to use femininity/cultural capital
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Why is crime male-dominated?

  • Heidensoln (1989):
    • Male dominance of offenders = majority of offenders are male, appropriate to study them
    • Male domination of sociology = sociological topics reflect male view/interests
    • VIcarious identification = men study what interests them --> often lives of marginal/exciting
    • Sociological theorising = male sociologists constructed theories without thinking about how they could be applied to females, 'gender blind' traditional theories
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Why are women less likely to commit crime? - 1

Biological explanations

  • Belief that women are innately different from men - natural desire to be caring/nurturing
  • 'Normal' women less likely to commit crime
  • Dalton (1964) = hormonal/menstrual factors can influence minority of women to commit crime in certain circumstances

Sex role theory

  • Socialisation:
    • Girls socialised differently to boys --> values girls hold do not lead to crime
    • Parsons = mothers are clear role model for girls, emphasises caring and support
    • Farrington and Painter (2004) = female offenders more like to have had harsh/erratic parenting --> little support/praise from parents
  • Social control:
    • Heidenson = male-dominated patriarchal societies control women more effectively
    • 'Very pervasive value system' = women must carry out domestic responsibilities
    • Daughters given less freedom
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Why are women less likely to commit crime? - 2

  • Marginalisation:
    • Narrow range of roles women allowed to have = limits opportunities to commit crime
    • E.g. caring for elderly relatives/children
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The changing role of women

  • Freda Adler (1975) = women's liberation resulting in increasing levels of female criminality
  • Rejects idea that female crime can be explained in biological terms
  • Passive men with normal testosterone levels = less aggressive than women
  • Women taking on male roles in criminal world
  • Criminal women = 'least likely to be affected by feminism'


  • Changing female role over last 10 years = females as likely as males to engage in risk-taking behaviour
  • Rapidly adopting male attitudes


  • Identities constantly being reconstructed/reframed
  • Women reconfiguring identity in more confident/forceful way


  • Women not taking on male roles = offenders score highly on psychological tests of 'femininity'
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Stephen Jones: the influence of men

  • Tested extent to which female offending was of own choosing or if influenced by men
  • Interviewed women who had been found guilty of offence - charged jointly with male --> asked them how much co-defendant influenced them
  • Ps given letter inviting them to interview --> 50 women agreed
  • Conducted in private, tape-recorded --> semi-structured nature
  • Engaged in more general conversation about relationship with co-defendants after questions asked
  • Controlled environment --> high internal validity
  • Privacy maintained
  • Answers may have been influenced by questions asked/presence of tape-recorder --> social desirability
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Transgressive criminology

  • Crosses over boundary of traditional criminology
  • Feminists studied issues like:
    • Women's behaviour in response to threat of crime
    • Domestic violence
    • How women are treated by law
  • All males located within general structures that encourage formation of hegemonic masculinities - imbalance of social power creates assumption of superiority among men
  • Crisis of masculinity = caused by loss of traditional male dominance in labour market
  • Domestic violence/violent crime committed to provide means to accomplish masculinity
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Explaining male crime - 1

Normative masculinity:

  • Refers to socially approved idea of what 'real male' is
  • Messerschmidt = defines masculinity through difference from/desire for women
  • So prized = men struggle to live up to expectations

Accomplished masculinity:

  • Masculinity = not natural, state that males only achieve as 'accomplishment' - involves being constantly worked at
  • Messerschmidt = businessmen express power over women through control in workplace, men with no power at work express masculinity through violence at home
  • Katz = criminology failed to understand role of pleasure in committing crime - search for pleasure placed within context of masculinity, stresses importane of status/control/success
  • Doing evil motivated by quest for 'moral self-transcendence' in face of boredom = different crimes provide different thrills
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Explaining male crime - 2

Why is it difficult to construct a male identity in contemporary society?

  • Most youths in state of drift - unsure of who they are/place in society
  • Period of boredom and crisis - committing offences provides break from boredom

Why are young working class males most likely to be violent?

  • Huge changes in economy - decline in manual work/increase in white-collar employment
  • Significant proportion of male working-class population excluded from possibilities of regular employment
  • Wilson (1996) = resulted in development of urban underclass, manifest range of violent/anti-social behaviours
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Feminist perspectives

Liberal feminism:

  • Based on idea that bringing women onto agenda/demonstrating how women ignored in research --> greated understanding of female deviance
  • New theories developed to cover females as well as males

Radical feminism:

  • Argue that only way to understand crime is to see it through female perspective
  • Research should be based on assumption that all men prepared to commit crimes against women if given chance
  • Women should consturct own unique approaches to explaining crime and deviance --> should incorporate threat from men

Socialist feminism:

  • Stresses that position of men/women can only be understood by locating males/females within context of societies divided by sexism/capitalism
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Feminist perspectives - 2

Postmodern feminism:

  • Smart (1990), Cain (1986) = produced very important work - argue that very concerns of criminology actually reflection of male concerns
  • Women should be looking beyond these to study how harm comes to women in widest sense possible
  • Feminist criminology should not accept (male) boundaries of criminology --> should look at way women are harmed by whole range of processes
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