Outline and assess sociological explanations for gender differences in patterns of crime.
In recent years, based on the official statistics collected and recorded by the police, the number of people committing crime has increased rapidly. There are striking gender differences in the patterns of recorded crime. Women appear to commit fewer crimes than men and, when they do offend, women tend to commit different kinds of crime from men. The question is, does women really commit fewer crimes than men? Or men were born to have a criminal instinct inside them? From functionalists perspective, women do not commit crime because of sexual theory and differences in the socialisation. For example, women perform the expressive role in the home where they take the responsibility for socialising the children while men are socialised to be tough, rough and risk taking and this mean they are likely to commit acts of violence or take advantage of criminal opportunities when they present themselves. In addition, functionalists argue that gender differences in patterns of crime are due to the ‘control theory’. For example, women are controlled and more likely to be at home, they are not in the pubs or clubs getting drunk which makes them hardly exposed to commit crimes. While Interactionists refuse official statistics on crime and believe they are socially constructed. What is classed as crime or deviance is based on subjective decisions by agents of social controls (e.g. police and jury) which is also called as labelling theory. For instance, based on ‘labeling theory’, men get labeled as being violent and a criminal while women do not. Feminism, on the other hand, disagrees with both functionalism and interactionism, feminists theory is a radical theory. They accept that women do commit crime but they commit crime because of different reasons in comparison with other sociologists.There are a number of feminist perspectives.
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First and foremost, according to Marxist feminists, they claim that women are under oppression of a dominant power structure (patriarchal society). Marxist feminists argue that men often take advantage and greater control over women which indirectly reduces women opportunities to commit crime.We can see women are controlled by men not just in a wider society but also at home and work.For example, housewives are required to spend most of their time at home taking care of the children and do all the house chores which impose severe restrictions on their time and movement and indirectly minimise their opportunities to offend.Women who try to reject their role as ‘housewives’ may find that their partners will force them to do it through domestic violence. As Dobash and Dobash (1979) show, “many violent attacks result from men’s dissatisfaction with their wives’ performance of domestic duties”. These automatically shows that domestic violence are mostly committed by men. While at work, women’s behaviour are controlled by male supervisors and managers and keep women ‘in their places’ as most of them only given the opportunity to be in subordinate position.However, eventhough they are only given the lower position compare to men at work, women reduces their opportunities to involve in major criminal activity at work.
Women are also controlled in public spaces by the threat or fear of male violence against them, especially sexual violence.Frances Heidensohn (1996) notes that sensationalist media reporting of rapes add to women’s fear and frighten them into staying indoors. For example, Women are more likely to stay at home before night as they are afraid something will happen if they are outside.Furthermore, women are controlled in public by their fear of being defined as not respectable. These eventually prevent women from committing crime such as prostitution as it will deviate them from the norms of the society. In general, these patriarchal restrictions on women’s lives mean they have fewer chances for crime. However Heidensohn recognizes that male dominated society can also push women into crime.For example, women are more likely to be poor as they did not get the opportunity to get a job in a higher position due to inequalities in gender. As a result, they will commit crime such as being a drug dealer or prostitution for them to live in a decent life.
Next, based on the results of unstructured interviews carried by Pat Carlen (1988) most convicted serious crime female criminals are working-class. “People will turn to crime if they do not believe the rewards will be forthcoming and if the rewards of crime appear greater than the risks”.Women are generally led to comform through the promise of two types of rewards or deals.Firstly, women will find a job which will give them material rewards with a comfortable standard of living and leisure opportunities which also called the class deal.Secondly, the gender deal for example, men promises their wives with material and emotional rewards if they conform to the norms of a traditional domestic gender role such as taking care of the children and doing housework. In return, if these rewards are not available or worth the effort women will choose to commit crime to replace the ‘rewards’.
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However in terms of class deal, women in working-class are more likely to offend than middle-class women.So even if working-class women put on efforts more than middle-class women do, they still have a limited way or could not even find an allowed way of earning a decent living and this will bring them to commit crime as a way for them to run from poverty. In terms of gender deal, because of the patriarchal family norms, most of the women either not had the chance to make the deal or saw few rewards and many disadvantages in family. As example, some of them might be subjected to domestic violence by partners.Many women cocluded that “crime was the only route to a decent standard of living. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain”, which is the reason why they do offend. Carlen conclude that, for these women, poverty and oppressive family life were the main causes of their criminality.In general, Heidonsohn shows that male dominated society which control women helps to prevent women from deviating while Carlen shows that the failure of patriarchal society in delivering the promised ‘deals’ to some women removes the controls which prevent them from offending.
Last but not least, according to liberation feminist which is the closest type of feminism to the consensus view of society, nowadays women has become liberated from patriarchy and led to a new type of female criminal and eventually rises the crime rate. As now women get the same opportunities received by men which have become more equal, such as in education, employment, and political activity they are now more likely to commit more serious crime such as violence and white-collar crimes. Women no longer commit traditional ‘female’ crimes such as shoplifting and prostitution because they now have greater opportunities in the society.However, not all women got liberated, most of female criminals are working class who still commit traditional crimes.Liberation feminist point of view shows us the importance of investigating the relationship between changes in women’s role affects changes in patterns of women offending.
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