Feminist Criminology [Female Criminality Through the Lens of Feminist Criminology]

Feminist Criminology [Female Criminality Through the Lens of Feminist Criminology]

In social theorizing, feminism has developed, covering a considerable area and finding application in criminology. Numerous branches of feminism give rise to various branches of feminist criminology.

Tong identified and elaborated on six main types of feminism: liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism, existential feminism, psychoanalytic feminism, and postmodern feminism.

Types of Feminism and Their Influence on Criminology

Equal civil rights and equality of opportunity for women are the main concerns of liberal feminism, which seeks recognition of women’s rights in welfare, health, employment, and the education sector. Marxist feminism tries to explain the material basis of women’s oppression in terms of men’s ownership and control of the means of production.

Socialist feminism believes that women are second-class citizens in patriarchal capitalism, an economic system responsible for women’s suffering.

Rise of Feminist Criminology

The development of feminist criminology requires that more attention needs to be given to the correlation between gender and crime.

It is interesting to note that the female crime rate is increasing, though at a slow pace, with women’s increasing involvement in activities outside the home. In the USA, for example, female crime has been increasing since the 1960s.

In 1960, females constituted 11 percent of the total number of arrests. In the 1990s, the percentage was 19. Though the female arrest rate is still much lower than that of males, it has increased faster than the rate for men.

Historical Perspective on Female Criminality

In earlier times and the Middle Ages, female criminality was not separately studied. The scientific community and mass media ignored the subject, and even criminologists did not give it proper attention. They considered female offenders as deviated members rather than a threat to society.

Only Cesare Lombroso studied the subject independently, and his book “The Female Offender” appeared in 1895. He identified physical abnormalities in some girls that he believed determined their destiny as criminals. Later scientific research proved Lombroso’s findings inaccurate for both male and female criminals.

Evolution of Research on Female Criminality

In the 1930s, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck launched a separate study on female offenders and concluded that the condition of female criminality had to be understood in terms of the social circumstances in which females grew up.

Otto Pollak shared the views of the Gluecks, with an additional proposition he made in 1952, suggesting that statistical reports either did not properly report female criminality or recorded it otherwise. Actors in the criminal justice system have a strong protective attitude toward women, making them less likely to bring females within the ambit of prosecution.

Gender Roles and Criminal Activity

When females commit crimes, police officers are less willing to arrest them, victims are less interested in reporting their offenses, attorneys are less willing to prosecute them, and juries are less likely to convict them. Pollak attributed concealed criminal activity of women to their social role as homemakers, child rearers, and shoppers.

Women’s Liberation and its Impact on Female Criminality

Women have been taking on new roles in society because of women’s liberation. In this context, Freda Adler and Rita Simon took a fresh look at female crime in 1975.

Adler argues that as women’s social and economic roles change in the legitimate world, it is reflected in their participation in crime.

Women are facing the same challenges and strains that men have been facing in the outside world. The new reality places women on an equal footing with men, and this equalization of social and economic roles makes both males and females behave in the same manner, acting or reacting similarly in the legal and illegal world.

Rita Simon also admitted that female criminality has undergone change, but it is limited to certain property crimes, such as larceny/theft and fraud/embezzlement.

She concludes that as women have more opportunities, they are committing more crimes. Simon predicts that the female property crime rate will increase as more women enter the labor and job market. She views that men and women have the same propensity to commit crimes.

Diverse Perspectives on Female Criminality

Some criminologists, like Meda Chesney-Lind, do not agree with Adler and Simon. Their argument evidences the abandonment of chivalry by the criminal justice system, as they contend that the rate of female criminality has not changed through the years. Rather, women are increasingly prosecuted and reported in the official statistics.

Others, like Darrell J. Steffensmeier and Susan K. Datesman, argue that female crime has indeed increased but is confined to non-violent and petty property offenses, suggesting that the traditional female sex role is still continuing.

This indicates that women are still economically disadvantaged and suffering from sexism in the legitimate marketplace.

Other researchers support the proposition of Adler and Simon that in the changed circumstances, women, like men, are committing the same types of offenses, both violent and property crimes.

Socioeconomic Factors and Female Offending

Though there is disagreement regarding the form and extent of female criminality, scholars seem to agree about the close relationship between women’s offending and their socioeconomic position in society. Increased numbers of research indicates that the study of gender and crime has become a recognized area of concern in the criminological discourse.

Exploring the Depths of Feminist Existentialism and Psychoanalysis

“Feminist existentialism is perhaps epitomized by Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex,’ in which she argues that women are oppressed because they are ‘Other’ to man’s ‘self,’ the free, self-determining agent who defines his own existence, while a woman remains the ‘Other,’ the object, whose meaning is determined by what she is not.”

The psychoanalysis of Freud has been criticized because it elevated biology (sexism) over social relations and took masculine characteristics as the norm.

Nevertheless, feminist psychoanalysis has developed to show how the human mind is structured by the prevailing gender norms.

The Role of Postmodern Feminism in Challenging Essentialism

Postmodern feminism has taken a strong position against essentialism, which holds that the differences between men and women are innate rather than socially constructed.

Feminist Criminology: A New Perspective on the Study of Crime

Feminism is not a recent discipline, but its application to the study of crime is new. Feminist criminologists looked at the subject from a feminine perspective as the study of crime has been male-centered, with male experience taken as the norm and generalized.

Women are, therefore, absent from criminological discourse. Feminist theories shed light on three areas of crime and justice.

  1. The victimization of women;
  2. Gender differences in crime; and
  3. Gendered justice.

They point to the discriminatory treatment of male and female offenders and victims by the actors of the criminal justice system and raise two basic questions:

  1. Do explanations of male criminality apply to women?; and
  2. Why are women less likely than men to commit crimes?

Diverse Perspectives in Feminist Criminology

On this issue, feminists have different views. Radical, Marxist, and socialist feminist thoughts are in the same brand, to varying degrees, viewing that women’s problems lie in the institution of patriarchy, which has taken absolute control of women’s labor and sexuality.

Breaking down patriarchal relationships, feminist theories sought to establish equal opportunity and equal rights for women.

Critique of Traditional Criminology by Feminist Theorists

The early feminist writers in criminology criticized traditional criminology theories for ignoring or distorting topics related to women offenders.

Traditional criminology theories tried to expound the criminal behavior of men. Very few theories explain female criminality in terms of stereotypical images of women.

Traditional theories addressed the gendered nature of crime in a patriarchal manner, which implied women’s inferiority and endeavored to reinforce their subservience to men.

Traditional criminology theories failed to focus on the anomalies in the way women had been treated differently than men by the criminal justice system.

Feminist Views on Female Criminality and Liberation

The courts viewed more seriously those women accused of sexual crimes than men accused of similar crimes and awarded them heavy punishments. Women accused of violent crimes were treated more leniently than their male counterparts (by the courts).

These differences in treatment are reflected in the official crime rates, with women committing more sexual offenses than violent crimes, which ultimately affected the explanation of female criminality.

The existing theories of criminology did not discuss the new roles of women emerging from women’s liberation and how this new role would impact female criminality.

Emerging Theories on Female Criminality

Freda Adler argues that with women’s liberation, they are moving out of traditional homebound social roles, and their opportunities for access to outside activities are increasing. Due to this changing reality, women are becoming more aggressive and competitive.

Adler believes that women are taking on the roles that men have always fought. Rita James Simon analyzed the recent changes in female criminality, both in its nature and volume.

Both Adler and Simon argue that this liberation leads to an increase in the volume of female criminality, with differing views on the nature of the crimes.

The Debate on Feminist Criminology and Its Impact

Simpson suggests that these theories have “diverted attention from the material and structural forces that shape women’s lives and experiences,” thereby attempting to hinder the cause of feminist criminology. Due to this reason, other feminist criminologists are reluctant to recognize these theories as feminist criminology.

Evolution of Feminist Perspectives Within Criminology

The early feminist writers, known as exponents of liberal feminism, worked within the existing social structure. They endeavored to fill the gaps and correct the distortions of the past.

Later on, critical feminism developed with many ramifications, and several branches of critical feminism challenged the social structure within which the exponents of liberal feminism made their studies.

Radical and Marxist Feminism’s Contribution to Criminological Theory

Radical feminism is the first branch of critical feminism and anatomized the nature of patriarchy. Marxist feminists argue that men’s ownership and control of the means of economic production is the root of male dominance.

Socialist feminists view that if women take control of their own bodies and their own reproductive functions, that will place them in their rightful position in society.

Postmodern Feminism’s Unique Approach to Criminology

Postmodern feminism has evolved out of postmodernism. It questions the nature of justice and challenges the notion of “truth” as a discourse that benefits some at the cost of others.

Many feminists are now taking a role that is similar to postmodernism, ready to uncover women’s experiences related to crime victimization and criminal justice, which are multi-racial and multi-cultural in nature.

Female Criminality in Criminology: Rise of Feminist Perspectives in Unraveling Criminal Behavior

For a long time in the criminological discourse, there was no focus on the causes of female criminality. Most of the criminology theories tried to look into the matter by assuming man as the only being. The researchers did not inquire into why male criminality has been so high and why female criminality has been so low. The global crime situation suggests that males commit 80 to 90 percent of criminal activities.

Investigating the Roots of Gender Disparity in Crime Rates

  • Is the physiological difference lying behind the big difference in crime rates between males and females?
  • Should the different processes of rearing and socialization be identified as operating behind the high rate of male delinquency and females being law-abiding?
  • Some researchers point to the biological difference between females and males, which is suggested to cause their different behavior patterns.

Sociological arguments constitute a very prominent perspective since socialization, as contended by many scholars, plays a vital role in shaping how men and women will behave. Feminist criminologists have identified the institution of patriarchy and men’s control of women’s labor and sex as the root of the problem.

Gender and Crime: Toward a More Inclusive Criminology

Researchers started to address gender and crime to find out their mutual relations. They brought women’s offending, women’s victimization, and women’s experiences in the justice system.

Though Cesare Lombroso and Sigmund Freud analyzed the problem of female criminality, their views had been criticized for being biased by patriarchy.

The Emergence of Feminist Criminology

The discussion of gender and crime, with a particular focus on female criminality, is of recent development. It also paved the way for the evolution of feminist criminology.

Gender and crime correlation requires much more attention and inquisitive insight into the problem of criminality, without which a complete study of criminology cannot be accomplished.

Lombroso’s Theory on Criminality and Gender

Cesare Lombroso portrayed criminals as primitive in their nature. He argued that white males were the most advanced forms of humans and non-white females were the most primitive. Women having more ‘atavistic’ characteristics would become more criminal than others.

The Anomaly in Lombroso’s Theory

Lombroso maintained that all females were less advanced than males. If crime was to be explained in terms of primitive traits, female crime, according to Lombroso, would be greater than male crime, but in the real world, female criminality was much lower than male criminality.

He tried to repair the anomaly of his theory by holding that prostitution was a female substitute for crime. He attributed the lower female crime rate to women’s proximity to lower life forms.

Lombroso’s Views on Female Intelligence and Adaptability

He claimed that women were less intelligent and less capable of abstract reasoning because of their smaller cerebral cortex. This made females, as argued by Lombroso, more vulnerable to psychological disturbance and sexual anomalies.

He maintained that, like domestic animals, women were more adaptable and they could survive in any situation. Due to this capability to adapt, they tolerated male manipulation and male control.

Lombroso’s Ideals of Femininity and Criticisms

By taking this reality into account, Lombroso considered women as the stronger but less well-developed sex. The ability to survive made the females insensitive to pain. He argued that pity, weakness, and maternity neutralized coldness in most women.

Due to the causes that he attributed to female criminality, Lombroso had been criticized as being racist. He also stood by his concept of passive women, for patriarchy, which erected a role model for women.

The Legacy and Criticism of Lombroso’s Theories

In spite of criticism and flaws in his theory, Lombroso opened the way for criminological study to be possible in terms of biological factors. That crime could be explained in the light of biological and inherited traits and that crime was caused by pathological abnormality—these concepts gained momentum due to the works of Cesare Lombroso.

Gender, Genetics, and Criminality Research

Later on, some researchers tried to show that women possessing an extra male ‘y’ chromosome (XXY) were more masculine in their character. They maintained that prostitutes showed high rates of lesbian tendencies.

Several tests have been made on rats and monkeys to study the impact of hormones on behavior, suggesting that hormonal differences might play a role in shaping aggressive behavior.

The Nature vs. Nurture Debate in Gender and Criminality

To infer anything from the experiments on rats and monkeys and impose it on humans is very risky. Sociologists repeatedly assert that the different behavior of males and females results from different socialization processes.

The continuous works on genetics, biology, and sociology again brought the nature vs. nurture debate before us. It is really very difficult to ascertain which social or biological factors play a greater role in shaping different behavior of males and females.

Sigmund Freud on Female Criminality and Gender Roles

Sigmund Freud pondered over every human being as a potential criminal because all human beings have been born with immoral and anti-social elements. The id, a great reservoir of biological drives, becomes active from birth throughout the whole life of every individual. The authority of ego and superego marginalizes it. Freud maintained that criminal activities were the product of factors, both inherited and external.

Freud’s Analysis of Female Criminality

He argued that though all humans are born with anti-social elements, most of them learn to control them through a process of socialization. Those people who did not take sufficient lessons to control their criminal instincts became criminals.

For Freud, the explanation of female criminality was placed on sexual neurosis. Females developed a sense of inferiority when they understood that they lacked a penis.

Freud’s Views on Feminine Behavior and Intelligence

Freud maintained that a female during her childhood understood that she had inferior sexual organs, and pondering this as a punishment, she then became envious and revengeful and developed feminine behavior. He wrote about the impact of penis envy on women’s development, and character formation and how it influences their roles as wives and mothers.

The Superego and Gender Differences According to Freud

Freud argued that men developed a very strong superego, but women could not, and their conscience was weaker than men’s.

The Oedipus complex of a boy was repressed due to the fear that the father might castrate the son, leading to a strong superego. Women could not overcome the Electra complex, as there was no fear of castration, therefore, could not develop a strong conscience.

Freud’s Conclusions on Female Criminality and Deviance

Freud attempted to explain the low frequency of female crime by proposing that females were more controlled due to their passivity and their strong desire for love and affection from males. He suggested that deviant women were those who refused to accept their passive role and were driven by the desire to claim a penis.

Critique of Freud’s Theories

Freud ignored social, political, and economic factors in his concept of femininity, explaining female criminality in terms of psychology and mental disease.

He erected a model of a gentle and passive woman who should conform to the desired role of a female; otherwise, she would be pictured as deviating from her socially desired sex role.

William Thomas’s Views on Female Criminality

William Thomas has noted four basic wishes active behind all human activities and argued that the desire for response is very strong among females.

He viewed female criminality as being based on sexuality, suggesting that ‘amoral’ and lower-class females should be taught to conform to the model role of a gentle, law-abiding female.

The Early Theorists and the Social Model of Female Roles

All the earlier theories were more or less similar in that they pictured women in a very typical way. They ascribed to women a socially erected sexual model role. If any woman violated the socially erected norms, those women were categorized as deviant and criminal, reminiscent of concepts that women always remain as sources of evil.

The Impact of Early Theories on Women’s Societal Role

The criminality of females was considered more destructive to the social fabric than men. This fear of female criminality reminds us of the barbaric history of ‘witch-hunting’ and exposes the apprehension of patriarchy to lose its dominating position.

Women were relied upon to maintain order and to continue social order, and deviance from this typical role was viewed as extremely dangerous.

Sociological Theories

Sociological Theories of Criminal Behavior: From the 1930s to Post-War Developments

From the 1930s, sociological theories started to gain momentum in explaining criminal behavior. They tried to expound criminal behavior in terms of social phenomena. Sutherland argued that criminality is not rooted in the nature of human beings; rather, it can be learned in interaction with persons in society.

Sutherland’s Theory on Crime and Social Institutions

The learning includes motives, drives, and techniques of committing crimes. If the definitions favorable to lawbreaking outweigh those unfavorable to it, the ultimate consequence will be criminality. Sutherland maintained that there are some institutions (in a state) organized to commit crime and some for curbing crime.

Gender Differences in Criminality According to Sutherland

Sutherland and Cressey strongly claimed that their theory is applicable to the rich as well as the poor and to women as much as to men. They explained why the male crime rate is much higher than female crime. Sutherland pointed out that females are socialized differently than males.

The Emergence of Masculinity/Femininity Theories

This general line of thought has been further developed after the Second World War, giving rise to masculinity/femininity theories. These theories maintain that the different roles of males and females are due to different socialization processes.

Gender Roles and Criminal Behavior

Within the structure of society, males and females are socialized in different ways. Most of them accept their role and conveniently dispense their activities determined by their sex role. In human society, gender roles are among the strongest learned social roles, which remain constant with certain exceptions.

Talcott Parsons on Delinquency and Gender Roles

In the context of American society, Talcott Parsons has explained different levels of delinquency between males and females. He has depicted two different roles of mother and father. Children observe different roles of father and mother.

Social Structure and Gendered Paths to Criminality

Social structure determines the ultimate destiny of a girl to become feminine and a boy to become masculine. It also teaches girls to be conformist and law-abiding. The frame of reference put forward by Talcott Parsons has been utilized by Grosser to expound juvenile delinquency.

Female Criminality: Sexual Promiscuity and Social Expectations

Cohen argues that female criminality is related to sexual promiscuity, or its aim is to make a stable relationship with a man. Reiss maintains that young girls may participate in sexual activity because they will earn some prestige among their peers due to their close relations with boys.

Media Influence and Stereotyped Gender Roles

Dale Hoffman Bustamante argues that females get social appreciation due to their conforming behavior. Males are taught to be law-abiding, but if they violate the law, sometimes, they are rewarded. Media portrays male heroes as very active, charismatic, and aggressive, and heroines as girlfriends, mothers, or housewives.

The Impact of Social Roles on Female Criminality

Social roles determine what type of crime an individual woman will be capable of committing. Women usually play the stereotyped role of paying the bills and doing the shopping. This role gives rise to forgery, counterfeiting, or shoplifting.