Gender patterns in crime
Four out of five convicted offenders are male. Among offenders, a higher proportion of females are convicted of property offecnes (except burglary), while a higher proportion of males are convicted of violent or sexual offences. Males are more likely to commit serious crimes.
Do women really commit less crime?
Some sociologists argue that the official statistics underestimate the amount of female offending.
- Female crimes are less likely to be reported; e.g. women's shoplifting is less likely to be reported than mens violence.
- Even when women's crimes are reported, they are less likely to be prosecuted.
The chivalry thesis
The idea that women are less likely to be prosecuted for their offences is known as the chivalry thesis:
- This argues that the criminal justice (CJS) is more lenient to women, because its agents - police officers, judges, juries etc - are men, who are socialised to act 'chivalrously' towards women.
- Pollak (1950) argue that men have a protective attitude towards women, so they are unwiling to arrest, charge, prosecute or convict them. Their crimes are less likely to end up in the official statistcis, giving an invalid picture that under- represents female crime.
Evidence for chivalry thesis
Self-report studies suggest that female offenders are treated more leniently.
- Compared with men, women are also more likely to be cautioned rather than prosecuted.
- Hoods (1992) study of over 3,000 defendants found that women were about one third less likely to be jailed in similar cases.
Evidence against the chivalry thesis
- Farrington and Morris' (1983) study of a magistrates' court found women were not sentenced more leniently for comparable offences.
- Buckle and Farringtons's (1984) study of shoplifting witnessed twice as many males shoplifting, despite the fact that numbers of male and female offenders in the official statistics are roughly equal.
Bias against women
Feminists argue that the CJS treats women more harshly, especially when they deviate from gender norms of monogamous hetrosexuality and motherhood.
- Carlen (1997) found Scottish courts were much more likely to jail women whose children were in care than women whom they saw as good mothers.
Explaining female crime
Overall, women in general do seem to have a lower rate of offending than men. How then can we explain the behaviour of those women who do offend? Sociologists have put forward three explanations: sex role theory, control theory and the liberation thesis.
Functionalist sex role theory
Parsons' (1955) functionalist explanation focuses on gender socialisation and role models in the nuclear family to explain gender differences in crime.
- Women perform the expressive role at home. This gives girls an adult role model, but boys reject feminine models of behaviour that express tenderness, gentelness and emotion.
- Men take the instrumental role, performed largely outside the home. This also makes socialisation more difficult for boys.
Evaluation - Walklate (2003) criticises Parsons for assuming that because…