Male dominance in society is reflected in a
male dominance of mainstream theories of
Heidensohn - why women are
ignored in the study of crime
Sociology was dominated by men, who tended to
accept stereotypical ideas about females
Those who did try to study it
struggled to find useful examples
Male sociologists were attracted by the apparent
glamour of some male deviance, of gangs, drug
taking etc, and would have had difficulty in
gaining access to female groups and subcultures
even had they been interested.
All these early theories of crime can be
undermined by asking how they would
account for females.
How Much Female Crime?
Official Statistics = show that men
commit five times as many crimes as
Some believe that women are better at concealing
evidence of crimes they have committed.
Self Report Studies tend to show that men do commit more
crimes, but that the ratio is considerably smaller - more like 1:2
male crimes for every female one, rather than 5:1.
Box suggests that for serious
offences the 5:1 ratio suggested by
official statistics is accurate.
Treatment by the Criminal Justice System
It is possible that the low numbers of women in the
official figures may be the result of different treatment
by the police and courts.
It has been suggested that there is a "chivalry factor" which
leads to leniency towards women; the police may be more likely
to caution than to charge, the courts to acquit or impose lesser
There is often the assumption that females
involved in crime are likely to have been "led
on" by a male companion.
Why do Women Commit Less Crime than Men?
Heidensohn suggests a set of factors
relating to differential social control,
explains why women conform more.
Females are socialised differently; the roles which girls learn stress
caring, softness and attractiveness and are less likely to lead to
potentially deviant behaviour than male roles which approve
aggression and toughness.
The crimes which women commit do seem to be related to female
gender roles; shop lifting to the role of mother and provider and
prostitution to the role of sex servant.
Heidensohn argues that women, being
subject to greater social control, have
fewer opportunities for crime.
They are less likely to be in
occupations where white
collar crime is possible, and
many public spaces have
greater danger and difficulty
for women than for men.
Lees has shown how what teenage girls
can do is constrained by the negative
labels they can acquire among peers by
transgressing even in small ways.
Why do some Women Commit Crime?
Carlen carried out research with female offenders. Her respondents
had rejected or not entered into the "gender deal". Patriarchal
ideology promises women a satisfying life through bringing up
children and supporting a husband - being a good wife and mother.
Carlen's women had rejected there roles, sometimes because of
very negative experiences of family life as children. In doing so
they escaped a powerful area of social control, raising the
possibility of offending.
A new focus on female offending
and the experiences of women in
the criminal justice system.
The application of existing theories,
criticisms of them, and the development
of new theories, to explain female
A new focus on the various types of
victimisation suffered by women,
particularly from male physical and
sexual violence, including rape and
A challenge to the popular
misconception that women enjoy
"chivalry" from the criminal justice
system, and are treated more
leniently than men.
An important new focus on gender and gender identity
issues in explaining deviance, and the adaptation of
existing theories to refocus them on gender rather than
simply offending - feminist have raised questions in control
theory, for example, concerning how men and women
experience different levels of control, and in labelling
theory concerning why female offending carries higher
levels of stigmatisation than male offending.