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The Impact of Feminism on Criminology. Understanding Criminology Dan Ellingworth Tuesday, December 09, 2008. Lecture Outline. The dimensions of feminism The critique of ‘malestream’ criminology The development of criminological theory The impact of feminism on:- Criminological theory

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the impact of feminism on criminology

The Impact of Feminism on Criminology

Understanding Criminology

Dan Ellingworth

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

lecture outline
Lecture Outline
  • The dimensions of feminism
  • The critique of ‘malestream’ criminology
  • The development of criminological theory
  • The impact of feminism on:-
    • Criminological theory
    • Criminal Justice Practice
strands of feminist thought
Strands of feminist thought
  • Liberal Feminism
  • Marxist / Socialist Feminism
  • Radical Feminism

Shared Concerns

  • Gender inequalities in society
  • Distinction between sex and gender
  • Gendered division of labour: paid and unpaid
liberal feminism
Liberal Feminism
  • 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 un-equal opportunities: equality can be gained by legislation, and ensuring the equality of legal rights
  • Adler: “female emancipation” thesis
  • Aim: to increase women’s representation in the CJS and in academic criminology
radical feminism
Radical feminism
  • 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
  • Criminology may represent an institution of oppression of women
    • Carol Smart questions the implicit assumption of criminology that women’s experience as in reference to men’s
marxist socialist feminism
Marxist / Socialist feminism
  • Patriarchy and capitalism to blame for women’s oppression
  • Women’s provide represents
    • An unpaid source of domestic labour
    • The source of the next workforce
    • Both benefit men, but most importantly capitalists
    • solution – revolution, or evolution to socialism
  • Pat Carlen:
    • women offenders are disproportionately experience poverty / class inequality / racial disadvantage
    • gender and patriarchy are not sufficient
    • “Dual systems” theory
shared concerns regarding criminology
Shared Concerns regarding Criminology
  • Criminology’s gender blindness

“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”

Carol Smart (1977)

Women, Crime and Criminology

shared concerns regarding criminology1
Shared Concerns regarding Criminology
  • The ‘Generalisability’ Problem
    • Can theories that explain male deviance also be used to explain female deviance?
  • Widening the net
    • Considering areas not previously considered to be within the realm of criminology
  • Political Campaigns
women as offenders
Women as Offenders
  • 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

Ratio of male to female offenders found guilty:

selected offences

Source: Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System 2004/05

explanations for gender gap
Explanations for ‘gender gap’
  • Biological: women are naturally less criminal than men (Lombroso)
  • Masked Crime: women’s routine activities allow them greater opportunities for concealing crime (Pollak)
  • Control: girls and young women are subject to more control than boys and young men
  • Gender and Strain: women’s maternal roles lessen the impact of economic status deprivation
  • Chivalry: Police and Courts deal with women more leniently: evidence patchy
malestream theories of female criminality
“Malestream” Theories of Female Criminality
  • Lombroso
    • Criminals were “atavistic throwbacks” i.e. “under-evolved”
    • Women criminals were seen as being like men: without women’s ‘usual passivity’
  • William I Thomas “The Unadjusted Girl” (1923)
    • Female crime can be explained by increased sexual freedom
  • Otto Pollak “The Criminality of Women” (1950)
    • Women’s crime under-reported
      • Male Chivalry
      • Women’s inherent ability to (sexually) deceive
feminist critique of malestream criminology
Feminist critique of “Malestream” Criminology
  • Women’s Offending seen as
    • Essentialist: gender differences in offending must result from basic differences between sexes
    • Biological / Sexualised
      • The explanations for female criminality remain wedded to biological positivism
    • Doubly Deviant
  • Women’s Victimisation ignored
questions posed for criminological theory
Questions posed for Criminological theory
  • Why is there a gender-gap in offending patterns?
  • Why does it seem to be reducing?
  • Do women experience different levels of criminogenic conditions, or do they react to them differently?
robert agnew general strain theory
Robert Agnew & General Strain Theory
  • Limitations of classic Strain Theory
    • Fail to explain gender differences in offending
    • An assumption that women feel less economic strain
  • Agnew’s
    • Gendered differences in sources of strain and adaptations
    • Women: relationships and purpose of life
    • Men: finance, work and status
agnew gst
Agnew & GST
  • Why are men more delinquent?
    • Do men experience more strain? No
    • Do they experience different strains? Possibly: may be becoming more similar
    • Do men react differently to strain? Probably
john hagan power control theory

“Free-floating” patriarchal

Ideologies of control

John Hagan: Power-Control Theory

Different Work Patterns

For Mothers and Fathers

Different Levels of Gender

authority in workplace and

power in the home

Different Parenting styles

For boys and girls

Gendered Patterns of Risk

amongst boys and girls

Different Patterns of


Changes over time have seen these gender distinctions reduce

economic marginalization
Economic Marginalization?
  • Argument:
    • Economic Marginalization is a important causal determinant of crime
    • Women have become increasingly economically marginalized – the “feminization of poverty”
      • Higher number of female headed single parent households
      • Reduction in welfare provision
    • Result - The gender gap in offending is narrowing

Prevalence of violent crime victimisation,

by gender and age (BCS 2000)

Little evidence from the British Crime Survey that women are more likely to suffer personal crime

BUT, this is a relatively narrow definition of personal crime

gendered crime
“Gendered Crime”
  • More recent focus has fallen on the limitations of a focus on “conventional crime”
  • Part of critical criminology’s impact:
    • Reluctance to accept definitions of crime
    • Critical of police and CJS practice (and existing criminology)
    • Sceptical of recorded statistics (esp. police recorded figures)
  • Female criminals considered “doubly deviant”
    • Norms of criminal behaviour
    • Gendered norms of behaviour
  • Specific needs of female prisoners ignored
  • High levels of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault
  • Inadequate police and criminal justice response to women’s victimisation
  • Fear of Crime consistently higher for women
  • Other forms of victimisation only lower because of women’s avoidance behaviour
  • Criminology remains primarily a study of men
the impact of feminism on criminological theory
The Impact of Feminism on Criminological Theory
  • Awareness of a gender angle in offending, victimisation, and the practice of the criminal justice system
  • Emphasising the victim in criminology
  • Make the ‘hidden’ visible
    • the family as a location of crime
    • rape and sexual assault
  • Feminist Research
the impact of feminism on criminal justice policy
The Impact of Feminism on Criminal Justice Policy
  • Provision of services
  • Improved policing attitudes (limited?)
  • Consideration of Female Incarceration
  • Research
  • Awareness-raising