Exploring Gender Differences in Crime: Sociological Theories and Explanations

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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Examine some of the reasons why females may be less likely than males to commit crimes. Women in general seem to have a lower rate of offending than men. Some sociologists take the view that it is social factors rather than biological factors that cause the gender differences in offending. Sociologists have put forward three main explanations of gender differences in crime, which are the sex role theory, the control theory and the liberation thesis.

The sex role theory and the control theory both give us explanations for why females are less likely than males to commit crimes, however the Liberation thesis argues this, and suggests there are no gender differences between male and female crime rates. Gender differences in crime began by focussing on differences in the socialisation of males and females. Boys are encouraged to be tough, aggressive and risk taking. This means they are more disposed to commit acts of violence and take advantage of criminal opportunities when they present themselves to them.

Parson’s traced down differences in crime and deviance to the gender roles in nuclear families. Whilst men take the instrumental role of a breadwinner, women perform the expressive role in the home where they take the main responsibility to socialise the children. As girls have access to an adult role model and boys to not it means that, boys are likely to reject feminine models of behaviour that express tenderness, gentleness and emotion and distance themselves by engaging in ‘compensatory compulsory masculinity’ through aggression and anti-social behaviour that lead to acts of delinquency more than women.

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Furthermore, new right theorists argue that the absence of male role models in matrifocal lone parent families leads to boys turning criminal. Also, men have much less of a socialising role than women in the conventional nuclear family; therefore socialisation for boys is much more difficult compared to girls. Cohen argued that this relative lack of an adult male role model meant boys are more likely to turn to all male street gangs as a source of masculine identity. In these subcultural groups, status is earned by acts of toughness, risk taking and delinquency.

However, this sex role theory is criticized by Sandra Walklate for its biological assumptions. Walklate argues that Parson’s assumption is that because women have the biological capacity to bear children, they are best suited to the expressive role. Furthermore, it is argued mainly by control theorists that women always conform to men and their role as a housewife. Heidensohn expanded on this control theorist view and suggested, due to women being a part of a patriarchal society it reduces their opportunity to offend as the nuclear family lifestyle at home acts as a prison to them.

He further notes that men are able to impose this control upon women through domestic violence and by controlling their finances it limits their activities. Daughters are also subject to patriarchal control. Girls are less likely to be allowed to come and go as they please or to stay out late. As a result they develop a ‘bedroom culture’ socialising at home with friends rather than in public places, they are also required to do more housework than boys. As a result they have less opportunity to take part in deviant activities.

Conversely, what Heidensohn doesn’t take on board is that modern relationships nowadays are much more equal and as the liberation theory argues, women have many opportunities outside the home and there has been a large increase in independence for women. On the other hand, the liberation thesis debates that if society becomes less patriarchal and more equal then women’s crime rates will become similar to men’s. Put forward by Adler, she suggests that as women become liberated from patriarchy their crimes will become as frequent and as serious as men’s.

Women’s liberation has led to a new type of female criminal and a rise in the female crime rate. The changes in the structure of society according to Adler have led to changes in women’s offending behaviour. As patriarchal controls and discrimination have lessened, and opportunities in work and work have become more equal, women have begun to adopt traditionally ‘male’ roles in both legitimate activity(work) and illegitimate activity (crime). As a result, women no longer commit traditional ‘female’ crimes such as shoplifting and prostitution.

They now also commit typically ‘male’ offences such as crimes of violence and white collar crimes. This is because of women’s greater self -confidence and assertiveness, and the fact they now have greater opportunities in the legitimate structure. For example, there are more women in senior positions at work and this gives them the opportunity to commit serious white collar crimes such as fraud. To support her view, Adler argued that the pattern of female crime has shifted.

She cited studies showing rising levels of female participation in crimes previously regarded as ‘male’ such as embezzlement and armed robbery. Nevertheless, many critics reject Adler’s liberation thesis by arguing, the female crime rate began rising in the 1950’s long before the women’s liberation movement, which emerged in the late 1960’s. Also that most female criminals are working class; they are least likely to be influenced by women’s liberation, which has benefited middle class women much more.

According to Chesney- Lind in the USA poor and marginalised women are more likely to be criminals compared to liberated women. On the whole, it is arguable that females do commit fewer crimes than males simply due to their roles as housewives and the patriarchal society we live in today. Despite this, it is still considered through the liberation thesis that there are no gender differences with the rates of crimes between males and females.

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Exploring Gender Differences in Crime: Sociological Theories and Explanations. (2017, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/examine-some-of-the-reasons-why-females-commit-less-crimes-than-males/

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