Criminology’s Gender Blindness

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02/02/18 Free Law Essays Reference this

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  • ‘Our knowledge is still in its infancy. In comparison with the massive documentation on all aspects of male delinquency and criminality, the amount of work carried out on the area of women and crime is extremely limited’
  • Criminology and the sociology of deviance ‘must become more than the study of men and crime’

Smart, Carol (1976) Women, Crime and Criminology. London: R&KP.

  • Feminism had significant impact on criminology.
  • Men are the dominant group in society and they make and enforce the rules to the detriment of women.
  • No one feminist explanation of crime – a collection of different theoretical perspectives.
  • Suffragettes in 1860s to 1913
  • 1928 women got the vote (those aged over 21).
  • Still did not have equality with men.
  • Late 1960’s Women’s Liberation Movement.
  • The failure to theorise or to engage in the empirical study of female offending.
  • The neglect of female victimisation and, particularly, male violence against women.
  • The over-concentration on the impact of the criminal justice system on male offenders.
  • Failure to address these issues arose partly from:
    • the relatively low number of female offenders
    • the nature of the crimes committed
    • tendency for female offenders not to re-offend
    • patriarchy
  • Carol Smart’s Women, Crime and Criminology (1977)
  • Turning point in the neglect of women in criminology.
  • Highlighted the failure of criminology to recognise women while identifying sexual stereotypes imposed on females in those studies which did consider female offending.
  • Moderate: gradual change in the balance of economic, political and social power
  • Women and men are subject to different opportunities, both legitimate and criminal
  • Inequality due to unequal opportunities: equality can be gained by legislation, and ensuring the equality of legal rights
  • Criminology will be enhanced by more female researchers and greater focus on women.
  • Increase women’s representation in the CJS and in academic criminology.
  • Much female crime is underpinned by rational considerations e.g stealing to feed the family.
  • Central concept: patriarchy – the system by which men systematically benefit from the oppression of women
  • Key institutions of oppression of women: the family; the male control of reproduction and sexuality; pornography; sexual crime and domestic violence.
  • ‘Malestream’ criminology and the gendered administration of the law represent oppress women.
  • Violence displayed by men against women is a systematic attempt to maintain women’s social subordination, it should be seen as an issue of power.
  • Patriarchy and capitalism to blame for women’s oppression
  • Differential socialisation might explain low levels of female criminality.
    • Boys are encouraged to be aggressive, ambitious and outward going. Is crime a ‘normal’ display of masculinity?
    • Girls subject to greater degree of control within the family. They are also pressurised by the education system and the media to conform to their ‘gender roles’ or suffer sanctions.
    • Women offenders disproportionately experience poverty / class inequality / racial disadvantage.
    • Lombroso and Ferrero (1885) earliest study of female criminals.
    • Found few ‘born’ females – true female criminals were rare.
    • Natural passivity of women deprived them of the initiative to break the law.
    • Evolved less than men due to inactive nature of their lives.
    • Thomas 1907
    • Influenced by Lombroso and Ferrero.
    • An intense need to give and feel love that led women into crime – prostitution.
    • Otto Pollak (1950) – hidden or ‘masked’ nature of female criminality.
    • Argued – female crime greatly under estimated women as criminal as men but types of crime they commit and their social roles protect them from detection.
    • As they are the ones who prepare meals – they have opportunity to poison husbands!
    • The problem of generalisability – extent to which theories of male criminality can be applied to female criminality.
    • Gender ratio – why do women commit far less crime than men?
    • Biological explanations – emotions, reliability, maturity and deviancy all seen to rest on hormonal and reproductive systems.
    • Dalton (1961) hormonal changes in pregnancy, menstruation and female offending.
    • Hormonal imbalances as a defence in cases of infanticide – post natal depression .
    • Reinforces the belief that women are driven by biology.
    • Psychology
    • Bowlby’s maternal deprivation theory.
    • Importance of early mother-child relationship.
    • Mother should be at home looking after child.
    • ‘Common sense’ explanation of adolescent offending.
    • Crimes committed against women by men:
    • Rape – women have anonymity in court. Incidence of rape still greater than officially recorded.
    • Domestic violence – now considered far more serious than it once was. Still remains vastly under reported.
    • Separate studies of women and their experiences of crime have led to:
    • Different explanations of female criminality and conformity.
    • Gendered explanations of male criminality.
    • Different female ‘experience’ of crime, victimisation and the CJS.
    • Downes and Rock (1998) – feminist perspective contributed to theoretical criminology.
    • ‘Female emancipation leads to crime’ debate. Adler (1975) increase in female crime since late 60’s and 70’s.
    • Box and Hale (1983) historical overlap, male violent crime has continued to rise faster than female rates.
    • Invalidation of the ‘leniency hypothesis’ Pollak (1950).
    • Are women treated more leniently by the CJS for reasons of chivalry?
    • Farrington and Morris (1983) court leniency toward women was an outcome of lesser criminal records.
    • Carlen (1983) Scottish Sheriffs justified imprisonment more readily for female offenders – having ‘failed’ as mothers
    • Downes and Rock (1998:285-6) rather than being treated leniently by courts ‘women – by comparison with men- are under protected and over controlled’.
    • A criminological truism to say that women offend at a much lower rate than men
    • Across all crime –
      • 76.1% of offenders were male
      • 3.2 male offenders to every 1 female offender
      • 1/3rd of men have a criminal conviction by age of 35, 8% of women have
      • Women tend to be convicted of less serious offences
      • The ‘gender gap’ is narrowing slightly
        • 1950s: 7 male offenders for each female offender
        • Now: 3.2 male offenders for each female offender
        • Economic rationality. Women offenders predominantly involved in property crime and motivated by economic concerns.
        • Fear and impact of deviant stigma. Process of criminalisation produces a greater sense of ‘spolied identity’ among female offenders.
        • The experience of double deviance and double jeopardy. Damned for being criminal and ‘behaving unlike a woman’. Double jeopardy -excessive intervention by the CJS & informal sanctions.
        • Gender is not a natural fact , but rather a complex, social, historical and cultural product.
        • Gender impacts upon the operation of society in fundamental ways.
        • Gender is not symmetrical. It is based on an organising principle of men’s superiority.
        • Systems of knowledge reflect men’s views.
        • Women should be at the centre of intellectual inquiry.
        • Tendency to reject the ‘generalisability approach’.
        • Focus upon gender bias and oppression of females. Less concerned with explaining the causes of crime per se

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          • Brought into question previous ‘malestream’ theories of law-breaking / criminalisation.
          • Mounted a significant challenge to the ‘female emancipation leads to crime’ debate.
          • Challenging and undermining the hypothesis that women are treated more leniently than men by the CJS.
          • Led to the development of gender based theory – ideas of maleness.
          • The raising to greater prominence of the female victim. Female victiminology has had great impact on policy.

          Movement away from positivistic methodologies

          2004 Figures Female Judges

          • 15.8% of court judges are female
          • Only 7% of High Court judges are female
          • 59% of law graduates are female
          •  In 1998-1999, 20.1% of all appointments to courts were women
          •  By 2002-2003, that figure had risen to 22.4%
          •  In Canada, a quarter of judges in federal courts are women


          • Women make up 25% of overall police force in England and Wales/
          • Home Office wants this increasing to 35% over the next few years .
          • First female Chief Constable in 2005
          • Figures from the Attorney General’s Office show 6.1% of reported rapes result in a conviction and that 34% of all rape cases prosecuted result in convictions. 2008.
          • One incident of DV is reported every minute.
          • In December 2005 59 percent of cases resulted in a conviction, compared to 53 percent in 2004 with a 68 percent conviction rate in the Crown Court where more serious offences are heard.

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