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Assess Young’s argument that the role and experience of women in the police can be characterised by ‘structural marginalisation’ Essay

Throughout the history of policing, women have remained the subordinate gender within the police unit. Policing in the UK and indeed Ireland has always been associated within a male context. In England and Wales in 1981 only 8. 6% of officers in the police force were female, rising to 13. 2% by 1993 (Heishmann et al, 2000:237). Rising figures show that the infiltration of women into the police force is lessening the gap between males and females as enforcers of the law. Nonetheless, there is still a wide rift in ratios of male entry to female entry.

The business and police worlds are male dominated. The policing structure has been designed by a man, and in a non-critical sense, designed for men in particular. Because of an unequal past, society has allowed for the formation of a division of labour. There remains a high level of male representation within the police force and women are definitely the minority. Senior positions are nearly entirely occupied by men and women do not have an equal opportunity to gain seniority. Low levels of entry into the police can be attributed to society and its view of what policing entails.

Policing is seen as macho, an exercise of power and prestige and women do not fit into this interpretation ‘the opportunities for women are constrained by hierarchies of dominance in which the masculine view prioritises and polarises’ (Young M, 1991:191). Young describes the power and influence of rank and position as ‘prestige structure’ (Young, 1991:191). In this essay I will attempt to define ‘structural marginalisation’ in terms of the police force and appraise to what extent it occurs within the institution of policing toward women.

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I will evaluate the role of women in the police force and examine how they are viewed by their peers and by the public. I will draw on several studies carried out on policewomen and their status and tasks given to them as police officers. Structural marginalisation occurs within an organisation whereby a minority group are cut off from the larger group and classed or differentiated in a category on their own. They are seen as the inferior group and are not allowed the same authority or prestige as their ‘superior’ colleagues.

In relation to policing, women are the underclass in the hegemonic sense while male police officers are the ruling elite. According to Young, the organisational structure within the policing sphere is reason for the subordination of women in the force. This structural marginalisation can be seen in terms of a male culture within the police structure. Physical strength and force measure the ‘cult of masculinity’ (Young, 1991:192). Policemen feel hostility toward policewomen and they try to maintain their social control over them by labelling them as a stereotypical woman- weak, soft, vulnerable and highly emotional.

The organisational structure is ‘gender specific’, and rules and male cultural beliefs become practice and policy and a contributor to occupational culture (Westmarland L, 2001:18). They refuse to see women in the police as ‘real police’, doing ‘real police’ work. Women are external within the police organisation and lie outside the structure (Young, 1991:193). In order for women to enter into this male dominated culture they must assume to characteristics of a man. Recruitment of women into the police force has been slow in the past due to a number of factors. The first is the public image of police work.

Publicly the police are seen in a strictly male sense, women simply do not fit into the stereotypical police officer role (Heishmann et al, 2000:238). There is in this sense a contrast between what is seen as a male dominated public sphere versus a female domestic sphere (Young, 1991:194). The policing system in the British Isles was established in 1822 by Sir Robert Peel and was known as the royal Irish constabulary. Women began to serve in the RIC after world war 1, although they were not directly paid by the main police body and had no power to arrest or carry out police work in a like manner to the men (Brown J, 2000:94).

The first female officer appointed into the Garda Siochana was in 1951. Statistics put forward by Brown suggest that as far as promotion and positions of seniority are concerned, Ireland and in some cases the RUC, are further behind in lessening the gap between males and females in the police force. There has been an absolute increase in female entry into the police force but not a relative increase in promotion to senior roles in comparison to males (Westmarland, 2001:20). Police work is limited by popular view to physicality and women do not conform to this typical view.

Low numbers of female applicants into the police force can also be attributed to the experiences of women regarding policing as members of the public and as police officers. Women are not overly encouraged to enter into the police force, and emphasis is on the reproduction of an image of the atypical officer in a powerful, commanding role. Differential deployment has had a high level of debate recently regarding the role of women within the police force. Women have been assigned to roles which are seen to suit their gender i. e. tasks which would not compromise their femininity or render them any physical harm (Westmarland, L, 2001:2).

In a study carried out on a police department in England, 43% of officers under 30 were women on station duty. Women in the police sphere are absent from specialist departments and are resigned to ‘low frequency labour intensive specialised tasks’ (Heishmann, 2000:237). Women have been assigned in many cases to specialist divisions within the force. Some women choose to work in this type of area as it removed them from ‘competitive areas of male dominated arenas of police work’ (Westmarland, 2001:19). Not competing for these roles meant they did not have to participate in shift work.

In a study complied in the 1980s, 1/2 of men believed that women should leave the service to get married and have children (2001:20). Differential deployment was a forefront issue when the topic of promotion was to be addressed. Women were deployed into the traditional departments that saw them dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and children’s affairs. This structuring led us to believe that female victims would prefer to be dealt with by a female officer as female officers have the appropriate manner to deal with such situations i. e. sympathetic listeners, easy to relate to etc.

Many men see this type of work as ‘rubbish work’ (Heishmann et al, 2000:240). This type of work that women carry out also leads us to believe that women have restricted abilities and may not be as capable as a man to deal with other police issues. Brown establishes the over-representation of women in training departments and community affairs, leaving the men to deal with violent issues more than their women counterparts (Brown, 1998:271). This contributed to structural marginalisation. However Statistics show that once women applied for promotion they achieved a higher rank faster than men did.

Before the 1970s occupational segregation was accepted and practised in police departments all over Britain and Ireland. The introduction of the sex discrimination act in 1975 made this structural segregation illegal. The Garda Siochana were not included, but through the employment equality act in 1977 they were forced to comply according to EU directives (Brown, 2000:97). Sexual discrimination and sexual harassment have always been issues of ongoing debate within the workforce and policing may experience it more than other sectors.

Studies in England within several departments and precincts show that 9 out of 10 women have experienced verbal sexual harassment. 6 in 10 had offensive comments made about their appearance. 3 in 10 were subject to unwanted touching and 1 in 10 have considered leaving the police because of harassment (Heishmann, 2000:238). The highest level of sexual assault were found in Australia where an antagonistic form of ‘aggressive masculinity’ was evident (Brown J, 2000:99). Sexual harassment in the police force has always been an issue when dealing with study within this sphere.

Traditional views saw policewomen as masculine, hard and not expressing a large amount of femininity. It was believed that for women to progress well in the force and be treated on a more equal basis she would have to adopt masculine characteristics. It is seen as a ‘symbolic transference of gender’ giving the female a temporary honorary male role (Young, 1991:197). Policemen would accept them somewhat, as they were not seen as the attractive, weak female that is stereotypically as women are seen.

The ‘masculine cult of superiority’ sees a woman’s physical size as a hindrance and they are viewed as ‘illogical, irrational and emotional’ beings (1991:196). Young argues that women were appointed to certain specialist units to police other women as they are aware of their own misfortune and because they thought like women they could spot the ‘best potential feminine fall from grace’ (1991:200). This proved to be a vicious circle, as these policewomen in turn needed to be monitored by policemen in order to keep ‘them in line’.

The term ’embodiment’ refers to the gendered body in which we are assigned. Police rules are sometimes gender neutral, as physical strength is not always a requirement, they are however symbolically gendered because of the cultural differences that exist between men and women. Irigary argues that is it a ‘mistaken objective’ to demand inequality as men and women are different and are not equal and should not be understood in the same way (2000:8). The police uniform is the main way in which a police officer can be recognised and efforts have been made to ‘de-sex’ the police uniform.

The outward appearance of the body is the most important way of representing a figure and establishing recognition. The police uniforms’ main objective is to show authority and is a symbol of power. It is central to the enforcement of the law and its purpose is to deter those from breaking the law by having it highly recognisable. Police uniforms are designed for men, by men. Women are not only internally marginalised by the police organisation by they are clearly externally marginalised too- even if she has the appearance of a man, she is still a woman.

Uniform requires the female form to be hidden. It did however change on a regular basis to suit the male request. In this sense, women are seen as a commodity for men in the force and comply with their own demands, not those of the policewomen. Young noted that male uniforms rarely changed accordingly (Young, 1991:211). Young also suggests that there is a gendered ‘duality’ within the force. What is seen as one practice for men is another for women- taken place perhaps on a subconscious level i. e. hard VS soft, centrality VS marginality etc. (1991:209).

However Westmarland has identified a new type of female police officer, a post- modern thinking and ambitious woman. She is aware of her femininity and uses it to her full advantage. She is educated, professional, attractive, and poses as a threat to the structure that the male sex has created within the force. It compromises the aforementioned ‘cult of masculinity’ (Westmarland, 2000:7). It is clear from these studies carried out that women are indeed subordinated within the police force. The question that may be posed is who subordinates them? Is it management?

Is the hierarchical system within the police organisation passing down order and direction so as to exclude women from certain frames? Perhaps the traditional idea of a patriarchal paternalistic society is leading to a division between masculinity and femininity. Is it the policemen who work alongside the women who act as the superior gender and suppress their female colleagues? Or do women themselves allow themselves to be excluded from certain roles within the police structure? Young believes it to be a mix of all these interventions that lead to the marginalisation of women in the force.

In a practical sense, do women perform the caring role better than men and deal with domestic issues in a more nurturing manner and physical strength have an advantageous effect when dealing with violence? Young does not just limit this discussion on gender and marginality to policing. She sees the police force as a reflection on society and the world, as we know it. As we progress further into the 21st Century, we can see the gaps lessening in the gender division and a merge into a more equal gender-neutral society. Policing is governed and ruled as a body of power and enforcement and men see themselves as central to its maintenance.

Women have been given more leniency within the force and are gaining greater control as a group. The idea of structural marginality in the police is unquestionable. It works on both a conscious and unconscious level and is reflective of the world around us. Young’s argument has indeed been substantiated as her study has proved and other studies carried out have also touched on this idea. Will this structural marginalisation continue to add to hostility toward policewomen, or will the organisational dynamics within the police force collapse and allow for a homogeneous-policing atmosphere?

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