Gender and Crime

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 25-01-13 18:56

Functionalism and sex role theory

Functionalists believed gender differences in patterns of offending were due to the different ways girls and boys are socialised.

Boys tend to be socialised to be tough, aggressive and risk-taking, traits that could encourage criminal behaviour. Girls, on the other hand, are socialised to be passive, caring and obedient, traits not typical of criminal behaviour.

Parsons argued that traditional gender roles mean girls have an accessible role model at home. Boys do not because their father is performing the instrumental role outside the home. This means boys are primarily socialised by their mother and reject feminine behaviour by being tough, leading to anti-social, delinquent behaviour.

Cohen argued that the lack of a male role model may lead boys to seek their masculinity in an all-male street gang, where their status is earned through deviant behaviour (see also status frustration topic 3).

The New Right has more recently developed this theory to explain deviance by males from female-headed lone parent families.

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Evaluation of Sex Role Theory

It is useful as an early attempt to explain gender differences in offenders. However, feminists criticise sex role theory for assuming women are biologically suited to the expressive role. They argue this is learned through socialisation, rather than being natural. 

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Heidensohn argued women conform because they are at all times controlled by men in a patriarchal society. This occurs at home because women’s childcare responsibilities mean they spend most time at home so do not get the opportunity to commit crime.

Women are also controlled through domestic violence and the financial power of men which also restricts women’s ability to do things outside of the home.

Daughters are less likely than sons to be allowed out late, so often are restricted to a ‘bedroom culture’ of socialising with friends at home rather than outside, restricting their ability to commit crime.

Women are controlled at work through sexual harassment from male bosses, and because they are less likely to achieve high status positions, so are unable to commit corporate crime.

They are restricted in public for fear of attack by men, so avoid going out alone; again, this limits criminal opportunities. 

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Most serious crimes committed by women are carried out by working class women. Carlen draws on control theory to explain why some working class women commit crime. She argues that people act rationally and are controlled by the offer of a deal: the rewards for conformity. Carlen argues women turn to crime when the benefits of the crime outweigh the rewards of conformity to these deals.

They fail to achieve the class deal (material rewards through work) because they often experienced poverty in childhood and are unlikely to get qualifications needed to get good jobs and a decent standard of living.

They fail to achieve the gender deal(material rewards for conforming to the patriarchal ideal of the traditional gender role) because of physical or sexual abuse by fathers or partners. Failure to achieve these deals mean the rewards of crime outweigh the advantages of conformity. Therefore, they have nothing to lose by committing crime.

However, both Carlen and Hiedensohn can be criticised for being too deterministic and assuming women are simply accept patriarchal control.

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Adler: the liberation thesis

Adler is a feminist who recognises that as women are liberated from patriarchal control their lives will become more equal to men’s and the crimes they commit will be similar to those of men.

Changing laws and attributes have given women more opportunities in education and work, leading to greater equality.

Therefore, more women have senior positions at work, allowing them to commit corporate crime. Furthermore, there has been an increase of women carrying out violent crimes (usually a male crime) having adopted typical masculine traits of ’looking hard’ or being in control’.

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Evaluation of Adler

Adler’s theory is useful because it identifies a link between a changing position of women in society and changing patterns of female offending. However, Adler has been criticised:

• Firstly, working class women are most likely to commit crime – particularly violent crime – but they are less likely (compared with middle class) to benefit from female liberation (i.e. less likely to go to university/develop a career)

• Many female crimes are linked to prostitution, an action which does not reflect liberation from patriarchy

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Messerschmidt: masculinity and crime (why men comm

Messerschmidt argued masculinity is a social construction men are constantly working to achieve. The dominant image of masculinity is hegemonic masculinity, shaped by work in the paid labour market and the subordination of women.

Many men lack the resources to achieve this, so settle for subordinate masculinity, using crime as a resource to achieve their masculinity.

For example, white middle class youths succeed at school, but have to accept the authority of teachers; therefore commit petty deviance to achieve their masculinity. White working class youths fail at school, so develop their masculinity through being tough and opposing authority (e.g. the lads).

Black lower class youths underachieve at school, and may turn to gang crime or violence to achieve their masculinity. White middle class men may turn to corporate crime to assert their masculinity

However, Messerschmidt cannot explain why some men turn to crime, but not others. He over-uses masculinity for all crimes, from vandalism to gang violence to financial fraud. 

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Winlow: postmodernism, masculinity and crime

Winlow recognised changes in employment in a postmodern society. These have had a significant impact on working class males.

Traditional working class jobs, such as coal mining, have disappeared. These gave men a clear masculine identity as a tough provider for the family.

Therefore, some working class men have looked for work in the developing night-time economy of clubs, pubs and bars. In particular, the role of bouncer provides a clear tough, hard masculine identity.

This role requires bodily capital because their physical image is used to earn money. The role of the bouncer is a legitimate one, but opens up opportunities for crime in the form of protection rackets, drug dealing etc. This is useful because it recognises how changes in society have changed the nature of crimes committed by working class men.

However, this is too deterministic as not all men have a powerful physical image. And those that do will not necessarily commit crime.

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Gender and the criminal justice system

Chivalry refers to treating people with respect, courtesy and sympathy. The chivalry thesis argues that female offenders are treated more leniently than male offenders. For example, women are more likely than men to be cautioned than charged and are less likely to receive a custodial sentence. 

For example, according to the Ministry of Justice, 49% of females recorded as offending received a caution in 2007, whereas for males the figure was 30%.

This suggests that official crime statistics lack validity, because they do not reflect the true picture of crime.

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Evidence to challenge the chivalry theory

Box argues that women’s treatment might appear to be more lenient but this is simply because women commit less serious offences, therefore they are less likely to appear in court. Women are also more likely to express remorse for their actions, which may explain why they receive a caution rather than a charge. However, for more serious comparable offences, Box found little evidence of leniency towards women.

Feminists argue women are treated as double deviants because they have broken the law and gone against the norms of a woman. For example, girls are punished for promiscuous sexual behaviour but boys are not.

Those deemed to be bad mothers are treated more harshly, whereas bad fathers are not.

Female victims of **** cases often have their character examined, passing blame onto them for the crime against them. All this evidence suggests the criminal justice system is patriarchal, controlled by male judges and lawyers. Therefore, women are treated more harshly than men.

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