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Outline and asses sociological explanations of gender differences in the pattern of crime Essay

By looking at official statistics it would appear that 80% of all crime is committed by men. Crime committed by women is generally more minor and men commit more crime in every area with the exception of shoplifting. However in the past 10 years female crime has increased three fold. Although women only make up 4% of the prison population, in the 1970’s government experts predicted that there would be no women in prison at all, which has evidentially not occurred. Even so men still commit a much higher proportion of crime.

An early study into the causes of crime by Lombrosso claimed that men commit more crime as they are more likely to have physical flaws such as an extra nipple creating a more ape like appearance. By studying criminals in one Italian prison he argued that a more ape like features that he claimed could be seen in convicts and not in the prison officers, suggested that the individual was less evolved and therefore predisposed to committing crime. He noted that women are less likely to have these flaws and are therefore not born criminals explaining less female criminal activities.

However Lombrosso ignored socialisation as being a factor in creating a criminal disposition, which is the idea favoured by most sociologists. In the nature vs. nurture debate Lomobrosso decided that people were natural born criminals this has been criticised as being too deterministic. New Left Realists would claim that the individual is socialised into being a criminal due to relative deprivation and political marginalisation therefore they are not natural criminals. Also, Lombrosso is most fatally flawed as laws are socially constructed and are not a natural thing so one can not be predisposed to breaking them.

Eysenck put forth a more psychological explanation of crime; he claimed that if a person was extroverted they were more likely to be criminal. He created a test to find out if a person was extroverted or introverted. By studying single mothers and married mothers he found that single mothers, which are more likely to be poorer, are more likely to be criminal. This coheres with functionalist subcultural view on the causes of crime as being for economic purposes. Also, men are more likely to be extroverted than women, giving explanation for higher male crime rates.

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Although, this has been criticised for being too deterministic, he appears to be suggesting that all single mothers are in some way criminal. As well as not giving explanation for all types of crime, for example sexual deviance such as paedophilia, as the criminal is generally pictured as a social recluse. Nevertheless both of the above theories follow the idea that people are born deviants, ignoring the impact of socialisation. Oakley claimed that males and females are socialised differently from birth through being given different toys for example.

Females are socialised to be docile and caring, this is done by being called “pretty” and girls being given dolls. Whereas males are socialised to be active and aggressive, they are encouraged to play violent sports for example. This of course would explain different crime rates based upon socialisation creating different sex-roles, men are socialised into violent behaviour, equating to crime whereas females are socialised to be gentle. This is relatable to Becker’s labelling theory; females are given the label as passive gentle people and therefore become so.

Parsons would argue that although men are the more aggressive sex, this is not due to socialisation but it is in fact a biological truth. Once again there is the nature vs. nurture debate. A further argument is that women are subject to more social control. Females are more likely to be supervised during childhood and later in life have more responsibility as a mother. McRobbie studied what she called ‘bedroom culture’ seen in female teenagers, where they spent time with friends under adult supervision in their bedrooms, when males were out on the streets possibly committing crimes.

However this ‘bedroom culture’ is now being replaced by ‘street corner culture’ where females are no longer so heavily controlled, this would give an explanation for rising crime rates in females also noted by Adler to be caused by the loosening of social bonds. A partial explanation for overall lower female crime rates is also explained. It also coheres with phenomenologist Matza, who said that crime is the product of subterranean values which usually hide beneath our socially accepted values.

However during times of ‘drift’ such as youth, when the individual is subject to few social bonds one may act on criminal urges. As males are said to have weaker social bonds due to informal agents such as parents often being less strict they are able to commit more crime, giving explanation for the differences in crime rates. The Functionalist, Merton argues that crime is committed due to monetary needs. He studied young men and found due to blocked opportunities such as poor education they were unable to meet the socially ascribed goals. Instead they could ‘innovate’ and gain monetary success through unlawful means.

This would explain why men commit more crime as they are under more social pressures to earn money due to their sex-role socialisation as the bread winner. However Carlen would argue that woman are more likely to be economically marginalised than men and therefore have reason to have given up on the justice system meaning that they should in fact commit more crime. However women do commit more shoplifting than men and their second biggest crime is fraud, so this would cohere with Carlen. Although Merton explains the causes on crime for money he is unable to explain non utilitarian crime or why thrills are gained out of crime.

Postmodernists Katz and Lyng argue that crime is committed due to fun and kicks, which is mainly experienced by males explaining their higher crime rates. By engaging in ‘edgework’ they flirt with danger to gain enjoyment. However postmodernists also argue that society is too fragmented and that it is impossible to gain one explanation for why individuals do or do not commit crime. Smart commented that traditional approaches to the reasons different groups commit crime such as Merton’s subcultural theory are wrong as they try to find a specific answer, when actually everyone is different.

On the other hand social constructionists argue that it is possible to find a specific answer to why men appear more deviant than females, men are simply more likely to be labelled as being deviants than females. A similar theory is held in the Chivalry Thesis. Kalven and Zaesel suggest that there is a chivalry factor which means that judges and juries are generally more lenient to females due to their social label as caring motherly figures. Campbell noticed that women are more likely to be cautioned whereas men are more likely to be charged.

Campbell also conducted a study and found that girls committed 1 offences to every 1. 3 male offence, whereas official statistics suggest that for every 1 female crime 8. 66 crimes are committed by males. She suggested that this was an indication that women were actually committing crimes, but just getting away with it. Carlen claimed that the reason for the gender difference in official crime statistics is due to the fact that women are sentenced in terms of being mothers and wives, meaning that the chivalry factor is in place and therefore women are being convicted of fewer crimes. However women who do not fit rules of female sexuality often have harsher punishments.

This would also explain rising female crime rates as more women conform to typical femininity with women’s liberation movements and the immergence of ‘ladette’ culture. Heidensohn argued that women are subject to double standards, but against women. She claims that they are in fact more likely to be punished if they commit a crime as they are deviating from female sexuality. Although Pollack strongly disagrees with this, he coined the term ‘the masked female offender’ he claimed that due to females positions within society they are able to get away with more crime.

For example due to the role of a carer they are able to sexually abuse children or poison relatives and get away with it. Women also are able to hide from their punishment due to the chivalry factor. Women are also used to lying as they hide their menstruation and lie about orgasms. Pollack claims that women do not commit less crime but possibly more but they are able to get away with it. Heidensohn retorted that the concealment of menstruation is not a universal event, and that it is merely culturally based.

She also claimed that females are not passive receptive and brooding over vengeance, therefore Pollack was incorrect over his views of female deception. Miller took an independent conception approach and claimed that working class males commit crime due to their focal concerns; they commit more crime than other demographics as there culture is different and it leads directly to criminal activities. Focal concerns such as excitement, autonomy, smartness, toughness and trouble lead to crime.

These focal concerns need to be followed to prove masculinity, therefore giving an explanation as to why males commit more crimes than females who do not have such social pressures. Miller is able to show the pressures of socialisation mentioned by functionalists. Similarly New Right Realist Murray also studied the working class in his study of what he called “the underclass” referring to those who live entirely off state benefits. He claimed that crime was committed by men due to a lack of paternal role models due to a high amount of single parent families.

New Right Realists claim that serious unemployment leads to crime as the perpetrator has fewer responsibilities. In the north of England where there is high male unemployment due to the reduction in manual work, there are also higher crime rates. This would explain why men commit more crime than women. However New Left Realists would disagree and claim that the New Right Realists were over concentrating on the operation of control agencies and that in fact a combination of political marginalisation, relative deprivation and the formation of deviant subcultures leads to crime.

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