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Sociological explanations of the differing patterns of male and female criminality Essay

A psychological explanation for criminality by Eysenck states that those who commit crime have inherited this disposition genetically. The personality of these delinquents is that they are often extrovert. Eysenck argues that this leads to crime as these individual’s are less socialised and internalised to societies norms. Eysenck came to this conclusion from analysing a relationship between inmates, showing a relationship between criminality and personality traits.

However, a limitation of Eysenck’s work is that it is only studying criminals that have been caught, therefore generalising the findings from particular group of delinquents to all criminals. Also, his work was carried out on Male prisoners. Therefore, does not have any validity in terms of explaining women’s criminality. The differing rates between male and female criminality are due to the fact that women’s criminal activity is often underrepresented in crime statistics.

There are many theories as to why women are underrepresented; such as they may not commit as much crime e. . the opportunity thesis. Or those women get let off with crime, for example the chivalry factor. This issue of low rates of women’s criminality has mainly been addressed by feminism as they have seen it as a trend of malestream bias. Carol Smart sites four reasons for evidence of womens criminality being ignored. Firstly she points out that women commit less crime so are therefore are not seen as a threat to society. She argues that crimes commonly committed by women are not seen as threatening as male crimes, therefore are largely seen as less important.

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The most important point in her argument that shows malestream bias is that she highlights the fact that men studying male criminality, perform the research so miss out women as a variable altogether. Smart finally asserts that traditional criminology has attempted to control deviant behaviour, however because womens crime is seen as less threatening it has received less attention. Crime statistics often portray womens criminality to have lower rates then men and to be less vicarious.

For example, women tend to commit more of a certain type of crime i. . shoplifting and petty theft. The differing trends between male and female criminality are that men still commit more crime then women, but the rise in women and crime is increasing. For example the ratio of male/female delinquent crime during the early 1980’s was 7:1. The work of Anne Campbell revealed through self-report studies that in actual fact the ratio is 1:1. 2, however if you remove petty crime the ratio reflects the official statistics. This shows that the social construction of official statistics is a valid comment to suggest.

Crime statistics for men revealed that males were seven times likelier to be prosecuted for violent crimes against the person. This doesn’t suggest that female criminality is lower, but that women commit different kinds of crime. The work of Frances Heidensohn suggests four reasons why women’s criminality is underrepresented in official statistics. Firstly, she identifies vicarious identification; this means that men’s crimes are often seen to be more exciting or aggressive in comparison to women’s criminality. The actual official statistics themselves show that men’s criminality is higher.

Therefore, suggesting that gender is the most important factor in determining criminality, so males are studied closer then women. She points out that crime is a male dominated field, and also so is research. Therefore, gender and crime has been ignored by a malestream bias. This is also reflected in the theories of deviance, as the findings from studies into this often generalise to women. Another theorist that suggests that crime statistics are not accurate at representing the real extent of female criminality is Otto Pollak.

Pollack describes female criminals to be the ‘masked offender’; he uses this terminology to portray women to be innately sneaky. He argues that because women are used to hiding menstruation and childbirth from their male counter-parts. Then it is valid to state that women are sneakier and slyer then men, this enables them to commit more crime without being noticed. The chivalry factor also refers to the fact that the judicial system is more lenient towards women because of their roles in society.

Women are seen to be the role of the mother so is therefore more caring and nurturing on the whole. This idea can be applied to everyday practice such as speeding. Women can escape speeding tickets by arguing that they were late picking the kids up from school etc. The officer is more likely to be chivalrous towards the lady. Also, when women are seen to commit more vicarious crimes they are often looked upon more harshly. An example of this is Maxine Carr or Myra Hindley. However, contrary to this NSPCC in 1980 found that men still committed the majority of violence within the home.

This suggests that the chivalry factor must not exist, unless it applies to both genders, as men are still sneaky in that they still get away with abusing women and children. Also, Heidensohn argues that women-hiding childbirth and menstruation is culturally specific, as it does not happen universally. Therefore, the idea of the ‘masked offender’ is incoherent. She also argues that the main factor in relation to gender and crime is the society expectations towards the role of the offender. For example, women who are sexually promiscuous are seen to be deviant and are more likely to custodial sentences.

However, women with children seem to get lighter or no custodial sentences for a similar offence. A sociologist who tries to explain why the sudden increase in female criminality is Freda Adler. Adler asserts that due to the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s/70’s it has caused a new type of female criminality. Because women’s liberation caused changes to society it also caused changes to behaviour and roles also. Women did not just want to occupy legitimate male roles such as in the workplace, but also illegitimate male roles such as male crimes.

Between 1960-1972 robberies committed by women increased by 277% compared to 169% of robberies committed by men. Overall women’s criminality increased three times, showing a major increase in female criminality. Many sociologists, especially feminist sociologists have called Adler’s work controversial as it has had negative connotations on women’s liberation. Carol Smart criticises Adler by saying that in Britain there have in the past been dramatic increases in female criminality in a time before women’s liberation.

Therefore, she further argues that this demonstrates how crime statistics are unreliable. Also, Adler’s theory does not account for the different levels of female emancipation in the countries that she studied. Box and Hale also looked at women’s liberation and its effect on female criminality. They also found no substantial evidence to support this notion. They argued that the increase in female crime between 1951-1979 is due to the increase in the way women are policed, as there was also an increase in female police officers.

However, Box and Hale also found an increase in male criminality, and not a significant increase of violent street crimes committed by women. They did find that there was a link between female crime and unemployment, despite finding no substantial evidence to back Adler’s theory. Pat Carlen studied 39 female prisoners in London during the period of 1989, aged between 15-46. She found that social class had more of an effect on women that committed traditionally male crimes. Though there were a variety of typically male and female crimes committed.

Carlen suggests that female criminality is a result of the ‘feminisation of poverty’. Whereby the women from a working class background is controlled by the promise of rewards from consumerist society through employment and the family. This theory is called the ‘control’ theory, which works on two levels the class deal and the gender deal. The class deal is when consumerist goods are rewarded to the female through working hard, however this conflicts with the gender deal. The gender deal is the reward of the love of the male breadwinner, which can only be won through acting out the female role.

Criminality becomes a possibility when the class and the gender deal break down, either because the rewards are not met or they are not worthwhile for the women. Carlen found evidence in her research of the class deal been broken. Many of the women in her study had come from care backgrounds, which meant many did not get qualifications and lacked in employment opportunities. Due to consumerist society persuading the individual that the ‘good life’ is in the form of luxury goods, then many of Carlen’s participants could not find legitimate ways to live, and therefore turned to crime.

She also argues that for many women like those in her research the gender deal has been broken. Patriarchal society sets up a deal those women should aspire to gaining the love of a man and tacking on the role of ‘domestic morality’. However, for those in her research their fathers had sexually abused many. And had no notion of gaining the affection of a man purely for domestic gain. However, Carlen found valid data from her research into female criminality. She used a small sample and many participants coming from the same social class. Therefore her findings cannot be generalised to the wider population.

Her research has given insight into the effects of marginalization on female criminality. However it has not explained the difference in male and female patterns of crime. The most plausible explanation to the differing patterns in male and female crime is that female crime is under reported and under represented. Heidensohn gives the most reasonable explanation to the under representation of female crime statistics. Both Carlen and Heidensohn use the notion of control over women and show how criminality is a result of a deal been broken.

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