continue to be under-represented in the crime statistics because the
agencies of control are less likely to see women as criminals.'
Tackling the question
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.
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
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
was writing in the 1950s.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
essay concludes with an attack on the official crime statistics. This
can be used in most essays on crime and deviance.
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.
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
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.
'The notion that women do not commit crime is a myth.' Discuss.
Assess the claim that crime is a working-class and a male phenomenon.
the view that women commit
less crime than men.