Sociology Gender And Crime Essay

Assess the sociological explanations for differences in the patterns of offending between males and females

Most crime appears to be committed by males. Frances Heidensohn (1996) argues gender differences are the most significant feature of recorded crime; for example official statistics show four out of five convicted offenders are male in England and Wales. Among offenders there are significant gender differences, for example official statistics show a higher proportion of men are convicted of sexual offences and males are more likely to be repeat offenders.

Some sociologists argue official statistics underestimate the amount of female crime. Typically female crimes such as shop lifting are less likely to be reported. For example property crime is less likely to be noticed or reported than the violent or sexual crimes committed by men. Similarly prostitution, committed by more women is more likely to go unreported. Even when women’s crimes are reported they’re less likely to be prosecuted or be let off lightly.

Another argument is called the “chivalry thesis”. The thesis argues that most criminal justice agents are men who are socialised to act in a chivalrous way towards women. Otto Pollak (1950) argues men have a protective attitude towards women. The criminal justice system is thus more lenient with women and thus their crimes are less likely to end up in official statistics. This in turn gives an invalid picture that exaggerates the extent of gender differences in crime. Evidence from self report studies show female offenders are treated more leniently. Women are also more likely to be cautioned than prosecuted and Roger Hood (1992) found women were a third less likely to be jailed than men for similar offences.

However there is evidence against the chivalry thesis. David Farrington (1983) found women were not sentenced more leniently for theft than males. Abigail Buckle (1984) observational study of shoplifting in a department store found men shoplifting twice as much as women despite offenders in official statistics being equal. If women appear to be treated more leniently it is because their offences are less serious. Steven Box (1981) found self report studies conclude women who commit serious offences are unlikely to be treated more leniently than men. The lower rate of prosecutions may be due to offending not serious enough to go to trial. Women offenders are also more likely to show remorse thus they’re more likely to be cautioned than go to court.

Many feminists argue that the criminal justice system is biased against them. Heidensohn argues courts treat women more harshly than men when they deviate from gender norms. For example double standards; courts punish girls more for promiscuous sexual activity. Women who do not conform to accepted standards of monogamous heterosexuality and motherhood are punished more harshly. Stewart (2006) found magistrates perceptions of female defendant’s characters were based on stereotypical gender roles. Pat Carlen (2007) puts forward a similar view in relation to custodial sentences. She argues when women are jailed it’s less for the seriousness of their crime but more of the courts assessment of them as wives, mothers and daughters. Girls whose parents believe them to be beyond control are more likely to receive custodial sentences than females who live more conventional lives. Carlen found Scottish judges were more likely to jail women whose children were in care than women who saw them as good mothers. Feminists argue these double standards exist because the criminal justice system is patriarchal. For example Carol Smart (1989) found judges making sexist, victim blaming remarks in rape cases. Similarly Sandra Walklate (1998) argues in rape cases it’s not the defendant on trial but the victim since she has to prove her respectability in order to have her evidence accepted. Adler (1987) argues women who are deemed to lack respectability, such as single parents, are less likely to have their testimonies believed by court.

The first explanations of female crime were biological rather than sociological. Lombroso and Ferrero (1893) argued criminality is innate, but there are very few born female criminals. Recent psychological explanations have also argued biological factors such as higher testosterone in males can account for violent offending gender differences. However sociologists take the view that social rather than biological factors are the cause of gender differences in offending.

Early sociological explanations of gender differences in crime focus on differences in socialisation of men and women. For example boys are encouraged to be tough meaning they’re more likely to partake in criminal violence. Functionalist Talcott Parsons (1955) traces differences in crime and deviance to the gender roles in the conventional nuclear family. Men take the instrumental breadwinner role outside the home; women perform the expressive role in the home. While it gives girls access to an adult role model it means boys reject feminine models of behaviour that express tenderness and emotion. Boys distance themselves from such role models by engaging in compensatory compulsory masculinity through aggression, which slips into acts of delinquency. Because men have less of a socialising role than women in the conventional nuclear family, socialisation can be more difficult for boys than girls. Albert K. Cohen (1955) argues this lack of an adult male role model means boys are likely to turn to street gangs as a source of masculine identity. In these sub cultural group’s status is earned by delinquency. Similarly new right theorists argue the absence of a male role model in matrifocal lone parent families leads to boys turning to criminal street gangs as a source of status and identity. Sandra Walklate (2003) criticises sex role theory for its biological assumptions. Walklate argues Parsons assumes that because women have biological capacity to bear children they’re best suited for the expressive role. Thus although the theory tries to explain gender differences in crime in terms of behaviour learned through socialisation it is ultimately based on biological assumptions about sex differences.

Recently feminists have put forward alternative explanations for women’s lower rates of crime and deviance. Feminists locate their explanations in the patriarchal nature of society and women’s subordinate position in it. The two main feminist approaches are control theory and liberation thesis.

Frances Heidensohn (1985) argues the striking feature of women’s behaviour is conformity; they commit fewer crimes than men. She argues this is because patriarchal society imposes greater control over women and it reduces their opportunities to offend. Control in the home revolves around women’s domestic role, with its constant round of housework and childcare that imposes restrictions on their time and movement and confines them to the house for long periods, reducing opportunities to offend. Women who try and reject their domestic role find their partners impose it by force, through domestic violence. Dobash and Dobash (1979) show many violent attacks result from men’s dissatisfaction with their wives domestic duties. Men exercise control through their financial power by denying women funds for leisure, increasing their time in the home. Daughters are also subject to patriarchal control. Girls are less likely to be allowed to stay out late. Thus they develop a bedroom culture; socialising at home with friends rather than in public spaces. Girls are required to do more housework than boys thus have less opportunity to engage in deviant behaviour on the streets.

Women are controlled in public by the threat of male violence against them, especially sexual violence. For example Islington Crime survey found 54% of women avoided going out after dark in fear of attack, as opposed to 14% of men. Heidensohn notes sensationalist media reporting of rape adds to women’s fear. Distorted media portrayals of the typical rapist as a stranger who carries out random attacks causes women to stay indoors. Women are also controlled in public from fear of not being defined as respectable. Dress, ways of speaking ect defined as inappropriate can give a woman a reputation. For example women avoid going to pubs for fear of being labelled sexually loose. Sur Lees (1993) notes in school boys maintain control by sexualised verbal abuse if girls fail to conform to gender role expectations.

Women’s behaviour at work is controlled by male supervisors and managers. Sexual violence is widespread and keeps women in their place. Furthermore women’s subordination reduces their opportunities to engage in criminal activity. For example the glass ceiling prevents many women from rising to senior positions where there’s greater opportunity to commit fraud. In general these patriarchal restrictions on women’s lives mean they have fewer opportunities to commit crime. However Heidensohn also recognises patriarchy can push women into crime. For example women are more likely to be poor and may turn to theft to gain a decent standard of living.

Pat Carlen (1988) used unstructured interviews to study 15-46 year old working class women who were convicted of crimes. Although Carlen recognises there are some middle class female offenders she argues most convicted serious female criminals are working class. Carlen uses a version of Travis Hirschi’s (1969) control theory to explain female crime. Hirshi argues humans act rationally and are controlled by being offered a deal; rewards in return for conforming to social norms. People will turn to crime if they don’t believe the rewards will be forthcoming and if the rewards of crime appear greater than the risk. Carlen argues working class women are generally led to conform through the promise of two types of rewards or deals. The class deal; women who work will be offered material rewards with a decent standard of living and leisure opportunities. The gender deal; patriarchal ideology promises women material and emotional rewards from family life by conforming to the norms of a conventional domestic gender role. If these rewards are not available or not worth the effort crime becomes more likely. Carlen argues this was the case of women in her study. In terms of the class deal the women failed to find a legitimate way of earning a decent living and it left them feeling powerless, oppressed and victims of injustice. Many of the women in the study were in poverty, humiliated in claiming benefits and had problems keeping in employment. As they gained no rewards from the class deal they felt they had nothing to lose by using crime to escape from poverty. In terms of the gender deal for conforming to patriarchal family norms most women either didn’t have the opportunity to make the deal or saw few rewards and many disadvantages in family life. Some were abused physically or sexually by fathers or partners, many spent time in care breaking family and friendship bonds and they found themselves poor or homeless. Many women reached the conclusion crime were the only route to a decent standard of living. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Carlen concludes that for these women poverty and being brought up in care or an oppressive family life were the two main causes of their criminality. Drug and alcohol addiction and desire for excitement were contributory factors, but they stemmed from being brought up in poverty. Being criminalised and jailed made the class deal less available and crime more attractive.

Heidensohn and Carlen’s approaches to female crime are based on a combination of feminism and control theory. Heidensohn shows the many patriarchal controls that help prevent women from deviating. Carlen shows how the failure of patriarchal society to deliver the promised deals to some women removes the controls that prevent them from offending. However both control theory and feminism can be accused of seeing women’s behaviour as determined by external forces such as patriarchal controls or gender deals. Critics argue this underplays the importance of free will and choice in offending. Furthermore Carlen’s sample was small and may be unrepresentative, consisting as it did largely of working class and serious offenders.

If patriarchal society exercises control over women to prevent them from deviating, then it would seem logical to assume that if society becomes less patriarchal and more equal, women’s crime rates will become similar to men’s. This is the liberation thesis argued by Freda Adler (1975). Adler argues that as women become liberated from patriarchy, their crimes will become as frequent and as serious as men. Women’s liberation has led to a new type of female criminal and a rise in the female crime rate. Adler argues that changes in the structure of society have led to changes in women’s offending behaviour. As patriarchal controls and discrimination have lessened, and opportunities in education become more equal women have adopted traditional male roles in legitimate activity e.g. work and illegitimate activity e.g. crime. As a result women no longer commit traditional female crime such as prostitution. They now commit male offences such as violence. This is because of women’s greater confidence and assertiveness and the fact they have more opportunities in the legitimate structure. For example there are more women in senior positions at work and gives them the opportunity to commit white collar offences such as fraud. There is evidence to support this view, for example overall female offending and female share of offending has increased. Adler argues the pattern of crime has shifted; she cites studies showing women participating in traditionally male crimes such as armed robbery. Martin Denscombe (2001) found increase in girl gangs with members gaining status by delinquency.

However critics reject Adler’s thesis on several grounds. The female crime rate began rising in the 50s, before the women’s liberation movement which emerged in the late 60s. Most female criminals were working class; the group least likely to be influences by women’s liberation, which has benefitted middle class women more. Chesney-Lind (1997) found in the USA poor and marginalised women are more likely to be than liberated women to be criminals. Chesney-Lind found evidence of women branching into male offences such as drugs, however this is because of their link with prostitution; an unliberated female offence. There is little evidence the illegitimate opportunity structure of professional crime has opened up to women. Laidler and Hunt (2001) found female gang members in USA were expected to conform to conventional gender roles, the same as non deviant girls. However Adler’s thesis does draw our attention to investigating the relationship between changes in women’s position and changes in patterns of female offending. However it can be argued she over estimates the extent to which women have become liberated and the extent to which they’re now able to engage in serious crime.

Feminists argue that although “malestream” non feminist theories of crime have only focused on males, these theories have assumed they were explaining all crime rather than solely male crime. Maureen Cain (1989) argues men have not been subject to the criminological gaze, but that most criminals are men. Thus until recently sociologists have not asked what t is about being male that leads men to offend.

However, influenced by recent feminist and post modernist ideas, sociologists have begun to take an interest in why men are more likely to commit crime. Their attention has focused on the concept of masculinity. James Messerschmidt (1993) argues masculinity is a social construct and men have to constantly work at constructing and presenting it to others. In doing so some men have more resources than others to draw upon. Messerschmidt argues that different masculinities coexist within society but that one of this hegemonic masculinity is the dominant, prestigious form that most men wish to accomplish. However some men have subordinated masculinities. These include gay men who have no desire to accomplish hegemonic masculinity, and well as lower class and some ethnic minority men, who lack the resources to do so. Messerschmidt sees crime and deviance as resources that different men may use for accomplishing masculinity. For example class and ethnic differences among youths lead to different forms or rule breaking to demonstrate masculinity. White middle class youths have to subordinate themselves to teachers in order to achieve middle class status, leading to accommodating masculinity in school. Outside school their masculinity takes an oppositional form, for example through vandalism. White working class youths have less chance of educational success so their masculinity is oppositional both in and out of school. It is constructed around sexist attitudes, being tough and opposing teacher’s authority. Black lower working class youths may have few expectations of a reasonable job and may use gang membership and violence to express their masculinity, or turn to serious property crime to achieve material success. Messerschmidt acknowledges that middle class men may also use crime. The difference lies in the type of crime, while middle class males commit white collar and corporate crime to accomplish hegemonic masculinity, poorer groups may use street robbery to achieve subordinated masculinity.

Sever criticisms have been made of Messerschmidt. He is in danger of a circular argument; masculinity explains male crimes e.g. violence because they are crimes committed by males, who have violent characteristics. He also doesn’t explain why not all men use crime to accomplish masculinity. He over works the concept of masculinity to explain virtually all male crime.

Recently globalisation has led to a shift from modern industrial society to a late modern or post modern de-industrialised society. This has led to the loss of many traditional manual labour jobs through which working class men could express masculinity by physical labour and providing for their families. Coincidently job opportunities in industry have declined with expansion in the service sector including the night time economy such as pubs and clubs. For some working class men this has provided legal employment and lucrative criminal opportunities as a means of expressing masculinity. Simon Winlow (2001) studied bouncers in Sunderland, and area of deindustrialisation and unemployment. Working as bouncers provided young men with paid work and the opportunity for illegal business ventures, for example in drugs, as well as the opportunity to express their masculinity through violence. Winlow draws on Cloward and Ohlin’s distinction between conflict and criminal subcultures. He notes in modern society there has always been violent, conflict subculture in Sunderland where hard men earned status through ability to use violence. However the absence of a professional criminal subculture meant little opportunity for a career in organised crime.

Under postmodern conditions, by contrast, an organised professional criminal subculture has emerged as a result of the new illicit business opportunities found in the night time economy. In this subculture the ability to use violence becomes not just a way of displaying masculinity but a commodity with which to earn a living. To maintain their reputation and employability the men must use their bodily capital. For example bouncers seek to increase physical assets by body building. Winlow notes this isn’t just a matter of using violence to win fights but maintain sign language of their bodies so as to discourage competitors from challenging them. Thus signs of masculinity become an important commodity in their own right. This reflects the idea that in post modern society, signs take on a reality of their own independent of the thing they supposedly represent. Winlow’s study is important because it shows how the expression of masculinity changes with the move from a modern industrial society to a postmodern de-industrialised one. At the same time this change opens up new criminal opportunities for men who are able to use violence to express masculinity by creating the conditions for the growth of an organised criminal subculture.

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Filed under SociologyTagged with bias, chivalry thesis, class, crime, deviance, female crime, feminism, functionalist, gender, gender patterns, human-rights, justice, liberation thesis, male crime, masculinity, messerschmidt, patriarchy, politics, prostitution, religion, research, society, women

Using material from Item B and elsewhere, assess sociological explanaTons of gender diFerences in the pa±erns of crime (30 marks)Item B According to crime staTsTcs, men are more likely than women to commit crime. However, thisstaTsTcal diFerence may be due to the way in which the criminal jusTce system deals with men and women. In some cases, the nature of female crimes means that they are less likely to be recorded. Men and women seem to commit diFerent types of crime. ²hose commi±ed by women are seen as more serious if they go against expected gender norms. ³or men, crime can be seen as an expression of masculinity and a way of gaining social status ²here have been numerous diFerent explanaTons for gender diFerences in crime including the chivalry thesis, sex role theory, control theory, and the liberaTon thesis. However, the o´cial crime staTsTcs are largely quesToned by sociologists because it has been argued that they only show the criminal jusTce system’s view that men are more likely to commit thecrimes and therefore they look more for male criminals rather than female ones. ²he chivalry thesis argue that these o´cial staTsTcs are unrepresentaTve due to the fact that most of the criminal jusTce agents – such as police o´cers, judges or magistrates – are men and they are more likely to treat women in a chivalrous way and therefore be more likely to convict men than women.²he main idea of the chivalry thesis is this prospect that men are socialised to act in a way more chivalrous – or gentlemanly – toward women so they end up convicTng men more than women. O±oPollak (1950) argued that women’s crimes are less likely to end up in o´cial staTsTcs due to the fact that “men don’t like to accuse or punish women” so the criminal jusTce system is more lenient toward them. ²he chivalry thesis can be supported by the work of Graham and Bowling who used self-report studies and found that men sTll commit more crimes than women although the gap is now smaller. ²hey also found that women are more likely to be cauToned whereas men are more likely to be arrested. However, criTcism include staTng that is was based on analysis that had very li±le evidence and many unsupported assumpTons.

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