Feminism and Criminology

Topics: Women'S Rights

Feminism is a collection of different theoretical perspectives such as liberal, Marxist, social and radical feminism which all explain the oppression of women in different ways. Feminism re-emerged in the late 1960’s and feminist criminology was a result of old, established chauvinism in the academic discipline where women were viewed as degraded minor figures. Gender should be treated as an essential part of criminology but instead it’s a specialist topic of study. In this essay I will attempt to discuss different branches of criminology such as, biological, social, psychological, liberal and radical feminism.

Analyse them from a critic’s point of view and answer the fundamental question if feminism is important to the study of criminology and what kind of impact it has had over the past few decades. My essay will carefully examine and evaluate the way in which female offenders were presented and understood in criminological theory and the rise of feminist criminology. Lombroso and Ferrero were two of the first criminologists to look at female criminals and crime.

Their research was mainly biological based on assessment of skulls and facial appearances.

Lombroso argued that females commit less crime because they are less highly developed than males, and the female criminal was unnatural, masculine and not a normal woman. Lombroso and Ferrero, (1885) said, “… natural passivity of women deprived them of the initiative to break the law”. Although he was discredited, the lack of crimes committed by females meant that his work continued to exert influence long afterwards. Thomas (1907) held similar views to those of Lombroso, he also argued that women are emotional and require the need to give and receive – hence prostitution.

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This study also marked the beginning of criminologists looking at what impact feminism can have in the study of criminology. After looking at some early views of female criminology one can argue that it assumes female crime is a direct result of their biology, not free will. Biological theories and advanced medical science can only help us improve our knowledge in understanding criminal behaviour but they do not provide enough sufficient or adequate evidence that can explain the causation of crime entirely.

Early feminist critics disregard such biological theories arguing that the work of Lombroso lacks methodological sufficiency. Female offenders remain invisible in classical criminology as well as in subcultural or control theories in contrast with early biological theories. Labelling theory or British subcultural theory which looks at white working class males did not have much to say about female crime. Late 1960’s saw the second wave of feminism and the work of Messerschmitt who had a big impact on social feminism.

He proposed two key idea’s, the first one was to understand criminality, and secondly capitalism and to grasp criminality by patriarchy which is a social system in which the father is the head of the family and men have authority over women and children. A sex based theory by Otto Pollak was developed and he argued that women were more deceitful then men, and as a result they were experts at hiding crime. He proved his theory by talking about their ability to fake orgasms.

Otto also argued that statistics on women’s crime from the 1950’s were not accurate because of the fact that the criminal justice system was dominated by men and the fact that courts are more lenient on women. While more women work with the criminal justice system at present, yet the system is still dominated by men and law is still more lenient towards women. Critics argue on the other hand that the statistics tell us that women mostly commit low level, non violent offences such as shop lifting and are usually not a risk to public safety which could be a factor in lenient sentences.

Women are considered to be more law abiding and very little research has been conducted into female crime. It can be argued that more researching into female crime can provide us with more insight into the nature of criminal behaviour. Edwards also argues that most criminologist spend a lot of time studying men. Feminism has been neglected from mainstream criminology which skewed criminologists from looking at gender, and crime has become something that is committed by men not women. Of the population born in 1954, 34% of men but only 8% of women had a conviction for a serious offence by the age of 40.

This shows more men committed serious crime but also shows that crime is also committed by women and that all criminologists should consider gender. Carol Smart, a feminist critique was one of the very first criminologists of modern criminology to study women and crime. She wrote a book Women Crime and Criminology that perhaps had the greatest influence and impact on the debate of feminism. In her book she raised some fundamental issues and argued that official crime statistics data and other such data’s are based on conceptual problematic bases.

If criminology and the sociology of deviance are truly to play a significant role in the development of our understanding of crime”, smart concludes, “then they must become more than the study of men and crime” . She went on to say that early criminologist such as lombroso and ferrero had harmful effect on understanding female crime. In her book smart talks about the character and nature of female offending and analyses classical and modern braches of criminology. She also implied that women remain invisible in criminology to a large scale.

Tim Newburn elaborates further suggesting that its not only the invisibility but victimization of women is also ignored. Feminist Victimisation is strand of criminology in its own right as well. Smarts study was later followed by many criminologists such as Leonard, heidenson, naffine, and morrison. All of these criminologists criticised traditional criminologist for failing to recognise women in criminal terms. These are also amongst the first few feminist who looked at the neglect of women in the studies of crime and sexual stereotype of women. “Criminology is nothing more than specialised theories of male delinquency and crime” (White, R. D. 2000).

Psychological theories of women criminality are linked to the works of Freud (1927). He was known as the “father of psychoanalysis” and his work was highly influential. He also argued that women are inferior to men and he believed that defecting qualities in females were a result of ‘masculinity complex’. Freud uses the Greek mythological character Oedipal to uncover his theory that females fail to overcome the Oedipal complex where a sex is attracted to opposite the sex parent thus making them morally inferior, week and unable to control there impulses.

This kind of theory is open to criticism and is not considered valid in the study of female criminality because “inferiority in females is not due to Oedipal conflict, but simply because of the unnatural relationship of male dominance that exists between the sexes. ” (White, R. D. 2000) Socio economic theorists reject the masculinisation as cause of crime. Socio economic theorists have also looked at criminology and believe that illegitimate expression of the role of expectation is the cause of crime.

Females with this theory are seen to engage in criminal activity, when the legitimate roads to achieve social goals are closed and illegitimate left open. Studies within this theory suggest women are likely to engage in crime when economically disadvantaged, concluding that female criminal behaviour is linked to their socialisation or opportunity Post modern feminism has little or even no impact on feminism nevertheless feminism and post modernism had criticised criminology in many ways. This approach argues that women are viewed as inferior, emotive and biologically determined.

They believe that women are rational offenders and that women commit crime for rational reasons whereas it is men who can be irrational and are involved in criminal behaviour. This branch of feminism looks at women and crime from outside mainstream criminology thinking. This shows that mainstream criminology is dominated by men and is about men studying men. During late 1960’s the ‘women’s liberation movement’ also played a vital role in introducing greater social, economical and political equality. Liberal Feminism is fundamental to the study of criminology because it demands equality.

Liberal Feminism focuses its attention on liberation of women and stresses on change towards the expected role of the women in society. Liberal Feminists argue that women are discriminated in the field of research and crime and that all research must take into account women in the model. Liberal critiques such as Walklate scrutinise work of otto pollak arguing his study of women and crime was discriminating and was biased towards chivalry’ which made the study under documented of female criminality.

Liberal feminists in conclusion argue that it is essential that criminologists not only look at biology and psychology of female but also carefully consider fundamental factors such as family and personal issues that could play a role in female offending. Radical Feminism came into being around 1970’s. This kind of approach focuses on patriarchy and hierarchy. (Hartman 1981) Where Liberal Feminism is about female oppression over men, Radical Feminism is about ‘male supremacy’ that oppresses women. Radical feminism is about victim studies however this study places great emphasis on the term survivor rather then victim.

Since 1990’s there has been quite a lot of focus on violent towards women by men. This focus of attention started a major debate in the field of feminist politics including many countries where female liberation appeared with strong points. Radical feminism also looks at other areas such as pornography and child abuse. However, Radical feminism is also open to criticism and is often criticised by the criminologists such as Burke (2001) arguing that it’s biological determinism. Liberal feminism and radical feminism contrast sharply in certain of their fundamental views.

Liberal feminist thinking is a more reasoned, intellectual perspective than the radical feminist position, which has both emotional and political centering in its logical expressions. Black feminism grew after black and liberal women’s movement. It was formed in an attempt to meet the needs of black women who felt they were being racially oppressed in black women’s movement and sexually oppressed in black liberation movement “black feminism and post modern feminism provide both critiques of feminist accounts and also their own perspectives that recognise the different experiences of women and of their subordination” (Burke, R. H. 001:161).

Another leading criminologist Gelsthorpe (1990) argued that sentencing and punishment is influenced by sexism and that women are discriminated against in areas such as crime. Gelsthorpe concluded that “traditional explanations of crime and criminal behaviour are disfigured because of the focus on criminality of males and the invisibility and marginalisation of women and girls” (Gelsthorpe and Morris). Women have been left out of scientific and criminological research and this resulted in distorted science. Some criminologists believe that feminism is the greatest and most decisive resolution of modernity (heller and feher 1988).

Feminism is sometimes seen either as multiple or singular as though we have to make a choice along ideological as well as philosophical lines. Feminism, I shall argue, is both multiple and singular, since ‘liberal’, ‘socialist’ and ‘radical’ feminisms are distinctive feminisms that can and should be assessed according to the extent to which they contribute positively to the development of a post-patriarchal society. It is important to distinguish here between the way in which particular theorists regard their endeavours, and the practical implications of the positions taken.

Feminism not only has a large impact but also plays a vital role in criminology as it examines how the traditional crime and criminal behaviour is not appropriate in understanding female crime and there is need for new perspectives. Although feminist criminology is not mainstream criminology, it has been quite successful in establishing its critique. This essay shows that study of women and crime is a small branch in criminology. It shows how women are not included in mainstream criminology or so called male-stream criminology.

Not only is it vital that more research is conducted with women but it is also essential that such research should be situated in broader moral, political, economic and sexual spheres which influences women’s position in society. The essay also attempts to show the sexism in early criminology as well as present day, fails to give explanations of female offending. Women and men go through different levels of experience throughout the life span as well as within criminal justice system and this should be a major factor when approaching the study of criminology.

There is no one relationship, but a myriad of relationships between feminism and criminology’. (lorrain gelsthorpe). Essay also points out how traditional criminology does very little justice and fails to explain the different ways women can be treated in criminal justice system. It is hard to deny that feminist scholarship had anything other then important impact in recent years. This impact resulted in women no longer being ignored in any major research and criminology is no longer gender blind. Some critics may still argue that all theories are still based around men.

Carlen and Worrall (1987) pointed out some crucial points that feminism has had on criminology. Firstly it has called into question previous theories of law breaking, it has suggested new lines of research and finally provoked new uses for old concepts. Feminism therefore has had an impact on our understanding of women offending, their victimization, and their treatment by the criminal justice system. Although feminism has had a large impact and many studies and research method have changed but criminology is still male dominated and male oriented.

I will also suggest that There is a need for something called futurist criminology, which is similar, but not quite the same as newsmaking criminology. It is a fact that old myths are frequently replaced by new myths. But it is also a fact that sophisticated criminals will use criminological theory as excuses for misbehavior. Rather than being behind them as a think tank for development of their motivational systems, it is preferable to be one step ahead, and incorporate “criminological vision” into our theories.

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Feminism and Criminology. (2017, Nov 26). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-feminism-and-criminology/

Feminism and Criminology
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