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Gender & Crime Tackling  questions

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'Women continue to be under-represented in the crime statistics because the agencies of control are less likely to see women as criminals.' 

Evaluate this statement.

Tackling the question

Female criminology is an issue which has been neglected for many years by sociologists and criminologists. It is only recently that female-crime studies have found their way into A-level sociology textbooks. The essay title itself uses the term 'under-represented' to describe the position of women in the official crime statistics. This indicates that the essay requires an exploration of the official crime statistics in the first instance. The question points to the possibility of a relationship between this under-represented figure and the agencies of social control. Thus, you will have to provide an explanation of what agencies of social control actually are and their role in creating statistics. You will then have to explore the evidence which supports or refutes this relationship, and present alternative explanations.


Guidance Notes

I begin by describing the typical offender according to the crime statistics and have used a Home Office report to contradict them. I question the reliability of the official crime statistics from the start.



According to the official statistics, crime is a predominantly male, working-class phenomenon. However, a Home Office report shows that the gap between the sexes is not as wide as the statistics indicate. This essay will explore why females tend not to become crime statistics even though they commit crimes.


Guidance Notes

Pollak was writing in the 1950s.

but his work is still important for this essay because he introduced the 'chivalry thesis'. His claims about women poisoning their relatives, sexually abusing their children, hiding their period pain and faking orgasms make Pollak a hard man to forget.


Answer (continued)

The early work of Pollak claims that the official crime statistics for women are highly misleading and hide the true extent of female crime, much of which, he says, goes unreported. Pollak suggested that women's domestic role of housewife/mother give them the opportunity to hide crimes such as poisoning their relatives, and sexually abusing their children. He also argued that women are naturally devious and as a result are more adept at concealing their crimes. Pollak attributed this to biology. As proof of their inherent dishonesty, he cited their concealment of menstrual pain both from men and from society, as well as their ability to fake orgasms. In addition, Pollak argued that the police, magistrates, courts and judges are more likely to be lenient towards women once their crimes have been reported. Pollak referred to this as the 'chivalry thesis'. This suggests that because women are seen as subordinate, caring and weak they are thought to be incapable of malicious crime. According to this position, the reason female crime is under-represented in the official crime statistics is the inbuilt sexism in the legal process.


Guidance Notes

Although I criticise Pollak in this paragraph, you will notice that I quickly move on to evidence supporting the idea that agencies of social control are lenient towards women. It is easy to criticise the police and the courts for being biased towards women, but I think that many people are. For example, when I asked my students who was worse, Fred or Rosemary West, the majority said Rosemary, because she is a woman and didn't act in the way we expect women to act.

Answer (continued)

Although Pollak can be criticised for being biologically deterministic and sexist in his own attitudes and beliefs, there are a number of studies which support aspects of Pollak's work. Campbell's work on female juvenile delinquency demonstrates that the official statistics, which put the ratio of male to female crime at approximately 6:1, are inaccurate. Her self-report study shows that the ratio of male to female juvenile crime was almost equal. Campbell claims that the disparity between the official crime statistics and the true rate of female juvenile crime arises because the police hold stereotypical images of women as law-abiding. Farrington and Kidd carried out an experiment in which they left letters (stamped but unposted) containing money in public places. Those who picked up the letters were observed and a note was made on whether they kept the letters or posted them. This experiment showed that women were just as likely to steal as men.


Guidance Notes

Note how in this paragraph the essay takes a change in direction. The chivalry thesis comes under attack. I use examples of the rape trial to show that the courts are not always lenient towards women. Make sure you look out for other instances where women have been treated badly in court, and you can then substitute your own evidence in place of my suggestions.

Answer (continued)

In support of the chivalry thesis, Farrington, this time working with Morris, found that women who were summoned to the magistrate's court were more likely than men to be let off with a fine or a caution. However, the work of Dobash and Dobash can be applied to offer a critique of the chivalry thesis. They found that when the woman is the victim of crime, such as rape or domestic violence, the courts are often harsh on her. Lees argues that in many instances the female rape victim is intimidated by the defence and made to feel as though she is on trial. Recently, the case of Julia Mason has been highlighted by women-fighting-for-justice groups after she experienced a six-day cross-examination in court by her attacker, who was defending himself. The notion that law-enforcement agencies are not chivalrous when the woman is the victim is further supported by Miller, who found that when instances of domestic violence were reported to the police, they were often reluctant to deal with the situation, viewing it as a domestic disturbance. Furthermore, Miller found that when the police did make an arrest, they were more likely to charge the violent male with disturbing the peace than with offences against the person.

            Adler also challenges the chivalry thesis as an explanation of women's under-representation in the crime statistics. She believes that women are becoming more criminal owing to women's liberation. Adler looked at the changes in female crime in a number of different countries and found that it is on the increase. She claims that the reason for this change is that women are increasingly taking on men's roles, for example, becoming more involved in the labour market. Parallel to this development, women are increasingly involved in illegal activities. For Adler, this explains the recent rise in the official crime statistics for women.


Guidance Notes

You may like to apply a criticism which is based on the methodological approach of a writer. This is an easy way to pick up an evaluation mark or two and just goes to show you how important theory and method is as a part of your course. Once you know it, you can apply criticisms about validity, reliability and representativeness to almost every essay you do.


Answer (continued)

However, Adler has been criticised on methodological grounds. Her comparative cross-cultural study takes no account of cultural differences or the differences in legislation which govern each society. Above all, Adler has used the official statistics of some societies, which are not valid or reliable.

           Another explanation for the reason women are under-represented in the crime statistics is that quite simply women do not commit as much crime as men. Carlen applies social control theory to explain why women are less criminal than males. She argues that working-class women make a 'class deal' and a 'gender deal'. Under the class deal women receive material rewards, which stem from gainful employment. Under the gender deal women receive both emotional and material rewards, which come from their partner's income and love. Both these types of reward result in the behaviour of women being controlled. Carlen argues that if these rewards are not on offer, for whatever reason, women are more likely to commit crime.


Guidance Notes

This paragraph introduces control theory as an explanation of why women commit less crime than men. Look back over the essay. Which theory do you think offers the best explanation of female criminality?


Answer (continued)

Heidensohn also believes that control theory explains why women commit fewer crimes than men. The housewife/mother role means that women have less opportunity for particular sorts of crime. This may be the reason that, although shoplifting is more common among young males than any other social group, it is the top crime for women. In their domestic role, this is one of the few crimes which women have the chance to commit. In addition, Heidensohn argues that females are controlled by the patriarchal society in which they live. For example, daughters tend to be given less freedom at night than sons, although it is more likely to be young men who are assaulted on the street. This factor also limits females' opportunity to commit crime. Heidensohn also claims that the self-image of women restricts their deviant behaviour because of the risk of being perceived as less than feminine. An aggressive woman, for example, is often referred to as a 'butch lesbian' if she challenges dominant male behaviour.


Guidance Notes

The essay concludes with an attack on the official crime statistics. This can be used in most essays on crime and deviance.


Answer (continued)

In conclusion, it is difficult to measure the true extent of female crime because the official statistics for all crimes, regardless of the perpetrator, are notoriously unreliable and can also be challenged on grounds of validity. Furthermore, as Smart argues, sociology and criminology are subjects which are dominated by men, and male sociologists tend to study male behaviour. Until this balance is redressed the extent of female criminality will continue to be something of a mystery.

General Comments

The gender and crime debate is quite flexible in that, like many other essays, the information can be adapted and applied to a number of essay topics. For example, a lot of the information in this particular answer could be used to answer a question on crime statistics. Similarly, some of the information could be used to criticise the suggestion that crime is a working-class and male phenomenon.

     Recently female crime has been under the spotlight, with the Rosemary West case and the Louise Woodward case. There have also been a number of television documentaries about the prevalence of female crime, for example Panorama's Violent Women. Keep your eye on current affairs so you can illustrate your work with up-to-date examples. The examiners credit this type of application as it shows that the student can make the link between theory and events in the real world.



Related questions

1 'The notion that women do not commit crime is a myth.' Discuss.

2 Assess the claim that crime is a working-class and a male phenomenon.

3 Examine the view that women commit less crime than men.

Last updated  2008/09/28 09:24:33 BSTHits  3149