Gender and Crime
Look at the photo. What do you think are the most
common reasons for fighting amongst girls?
If it had been two men fighting would you have
had the same reaction?
Why do you think that men are more likely than
women to break the law?
Gender and offending
• Significantly more men than women commit
• Men are more likely to commit serious
• Men are more likely to re-offend.
The crimes that women are charged and
sentenced for more than men are: theft and
handling and fraud and forgery.
Why do you think women are more likely to
be involved in these crimes?
Three major approaches to explaining the
relationship between gender and offending are:
Sex role theory
Sex role theory argues that boys and girls are
socialised differently and, as a result, boys are
more likely to become delinquent.
Females are less likely to commit crime because of
closer social control they are subjected to at home
Edwin Sutherland According to Sutherland girls
are more closely supervised and more strictly
controlled than boys.
Also boys are encouraged to take risks and to be
tough and aggressive. As a result boys are more
likely to commit crime.
Task Give examples of ways in which the
behaviour of women is likely to be more subject to
control than the behaviour of men.
The values that girls are brought up to hold are
those that do not lead to crime.
Talcott Parsons According to Parsons there are
clearly defined gender roles in the modern nuclear
family. While girls usually have a readily available
female role model in their mothers, boys have less
access to a male role model. Largely socialised by
their mothers, they tend to reject any behaviour.
Albert Cohen Says that socialisation can be a
difficult process for boys. Without role models they
can experience anxiety about their identity as
young men. Being tough and taking risks can
confirm identity but also lead to delinquency.
There is an emphasis on toughness and aggression
which can encourage anti-social behaviour
Task How do different agencies of
socialisation help socially to construct gender
Lack of opportunities
The narrower range of roles that women are
allowed to have consequently limits their
opportunities to commit crime.
Feminist writers criticise sex role theory for failing
to consider gender differences in power.
Particularly the power that men have over women.
This theory starts from the belief that women are
innately different from men, with a natural desire to
be caring and nurturing- both which tend to be
attributes linked to crime.
Women are therefore less likely to commit crime.
Some writers such as Dalton (1964) have claimed
that hormonal or menstrual factors can influence
women to commit crimes in certain circumstances.
The previous two approaches were not popular
with feminist sociologists as they were not seen to
be adequate explanations for female crime
It was a response to the need for a feminist version
of criminology that Carol Smart (1990) introduced
the idea of transgressive criminology.
Smarts’ idea was that that sociologists look at
crime and deviance from a male perspective.
She said the question people should be asking is:
What can criminology offer feminists?
We should be looking at activities that harm
women and ask how these came about and how
they can be changed.
This lead to people looking more closely at things
such as: why women stayed in a night for fear of
becoming victims, and how women were treated by
the law in issues of rape and domestic violence.
Female crime as rational
Pat Carlen argues that female crimes are largely
‘the crimes of the powerless’.
Many women who commit crimes are powerless in
various ways. They often live in poverty with little
chance to change their situation. They have often
lived under the dominance of male partners
Unrewarded in the family and in the workplace and
with little power to change their situation by
legitimate means, they see crime as a rational
Conformity and control
Frances Heidensohn argues that women have far
more to lose than men if they deviate from societies
norms. She says that in a male dominated society,
the control of men by women makes it difficult for
women to deviate from societies norms.
Home and family
Women have been socialised to conform. Girls are
given less freedom than boys and are expected to
perform household duties. These controls carry on
into adult life.
Women who challenge their traditional roles are
often brought back into line by men’s physical and
Women’s lives are centred on the home and they
have less freedom to go out. As a result they have
less inclination and opportunity to commit crime.
Beyond the home
Outside the home, women’s opportunity to deviate
from social norms and come and go as they please
is limited in various ways.
Women are less likely to out after dark in cities for
fear of being raped. Women are also less likely to
deviate from the norms and values for fear of being
labelled ‘slag’ or ‘bitch’ etc.
At work, men are more likely than women to be in
positions of power and control. Surveys show that
sexual harassment is common in the workplace.
Both inside and outside the home there is pressure
on women to conform. Pressure which is reinforced
by male power.
Evaluation of feminist perspectives
Critics say the theory describes women as passive,
simply accepting their situation. Critics also say
that Heidensohn makes sweeping generalisations
about men and women.
Explaining male crime: male roles and
Normative masculinity= the socially approved idea
of what masculinity is.
Bob Connell an Australian sociologist, argued that
normative masculinity is so prized that men
struggle to live up to its expectations.
He believes the idea of masculinity is not
something natural, but is something that males
achieve as an ‘accomplishment’ and is constantly
being worked at.
More powerful males will achieve their masculinity
in different ways and contexts from less powerful
The example is given of businessmen who express
their power through control in the workplace and
less successful men who express power through
violence at home or in the street.
Katz: Seduction of crime
Katz (1988) argues that most of criminology has
ignored the importance that the pursuit of pleasure
has on people committing crime.
Katz argues that by understating the thrills that
breaking the law provides, we can begin to
understand why males commit crime.
He uses the examples of armed robbery, football
hooliganism and the use of drugs and alcohol to
Katz’s work was heavily influenced by the work of
Matza who looked at the idea of delinquency and
drift. (young men drift in and out of crime at
certain parts of their lives).
1) Give three examples of sex-role theory
2) Explain ‘transgression theory’
AQA exam question
With references to material drawn from any other
part of the course, discuss two social influences
that might lead women to become involved in