Keywords: gender and crime, gender criminology theory
Criminal patterns by women and by men have both similarities and differences. Women and men are more prone to committing minor substance abuse and property crimes, rather than serious ones like murder or robbery. The main gender disparity in criminal activity is that men commit offenses at a higher rate than women do, except for prostitution (Heidensohn). Gender difference is more distinct in serious crimes, while it is least discernible in petty ones, which is a phenomenon called “gender gap in offending” (Rennison, 2009, p. 172).
Particularly, it has been evidenced that 19% of criminal act perpetrators are women, yet they are also more likely victims of crime: as of late 2009, two women are slain every week by a former or current partner, and 44% of violent crimes against females are domestic (White, 2010). Meanwhile, women have been imprisoned for offenses like possession of stolen property, theft and drug charges. Other characteristics of female offenders include, (i) 15% have been confined to a psychiatric hospital, (ii) 40% have been drug-dependent since the year prior to their imprisonment, (iii) 20% have been in rehabilitation (White, 2010).
A new focus of criminology is the study of criminal careers and although research on this topic has been limited to violent offenses, it has been established that (i) women perpetrate violent crimes to a much lesser degree than males; (ii) the criminal careers of violent women start and reach its peak a bit earlier than men; and (iii) to thoroughly comprehend the gender gap in crime, variables such as age and gender must be taken into account (Rennison, 2009). According to Callie Marie Rennison, race has always played an essential role in violent offending (175). She pointed out that minorities make up a large population of offenders. For instance, Rennison cites data from the U.S. Department of Justice – gleaned from arrest reports and victimization surveys – attesting that “Blacks are disproportionately found among violent offenders” (Rennison, 2007, p. 175). She also lamented the fact that studies on gender gap have largely omitted gender and age, and joins the call for “moving beyond simple comparisons of offending by gender” (Rennison, 2007, p. 175).
Evidence attests that there is a substantial “overlapping” in the social perspective of criminal acts perpetrated by men and women (Hall, 2009, p. 5). To note, it has been proven that female and male offenders both usually have low socio-economic standing, come from minority groups, unemployed or under-employed, and poorly-educated (Hall, 2007). In light of these social implications on gender disparity in crime, there have been questions on whether biological factors could be stronger determinants in crime as compared to social factors. Here is a look at the differing theories on crime and gender disparity.
Traditional theories about gender disparity in crime are, Anomie, Labeling and Personality Theory. Anomie postulates that females commit crimes at a lower rate than males because they are less subjected to cultural pressures to achieve success materially (Hall, 2007). In Labeling, parental acceptance of violence, neighborhood and home violence all increase the odds that a male will be involved in crime and violence (Ramoutar and Farrington, 2005.) Males who have had episodes of severe punishments at home for misdemeanors were less likely to commit property crimes or violent offenses. Meanwhile, men who were labeled negatively by people in his environment, and men who had poor self-esteems, were “twice as likely to participate in violent and property crimes (Ramoutar and Farrington, 2005, p. 563) On the other hand, women who perceived that they were negatively labeled tended to participate in violent crimes, but females who have been at the receiving end of violence were more likely to be involved in both petty and violent crimes (Ramoutar and Farrington, 2005.) In contrast with their male counterparts, being subjected to severe punishments at home due to misdemeanors, increased females’ tendency to commit violent crimes. The most dominant personality dimensions that are associated with crime are self-centered orientation, low empathy, venturesomeness and impulsivity (Ramoutar and Farrington, 2005, p. 558). Male offenders were characterized by enjoyment of intense and new endeavors, as well as by risk taking — all descriptive of venturesomeness. They also had low rates of empathy. In female offenders, venturesomeness and impulsivity were reasons for criminal behavior; and, self-centeredness increased female offending by 100%. Female offenders were not characterized by low empathy and low empathy (Ramoutar and Farrington, 2005).
The biological perspective on gender differences in crime rate points out that genetics determines the criminal behavior of a person. Neurochemicals trigger the behavioral tendencies and patterns in the human brain. One of these neurochemicals, monoamine oxidase (MOA), is linked to antisocial behavior: low levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) cause disinhibition, which, in turn, can result in aggression and impulsivity (Jones 2005). MOA has intertwining functions with other neurochemicals that have already been associated with criminal and antisocial behavior, like dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine are also closely linked with “the personality factor of psychosis” (Jones 2005).
On the other hand, serotonin affects brain development, and low levels of serotonin plays a significant role in triggering bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. Moreover, serotonin is closely linked with aggression, which can be a trigger for criminal behavior. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters of the brain that provides feelings of pleasure, and thus, motivates people to do certain acts. A study conducted by Katherine Morley and Dwayne Hall in 2003 showed that there is an association between violent offenders and the dopaminergic pathway (Morley and Hall, 2003). Basing on these information, it could also be plausible that genetics plays a role in criminal behavior. Hence, supporters of the biological theory in criminal behavior assert that crime rates may be curbed by monitoring offspring and immediate family of known criminals, so that they may be tested for MAO (Morley and Hall, 2003). On the other hand, critics point out that this is not easy to accomplish because of moral implications — youngsters could be classified as potential criminals even if they have not committed any offense yet. Also, there is the ever present fear that governments may start using drugs to wage battle against crime, instead of addressing relevant social problems.
It is important to recall that gender disparity in crime – high level of male offending in comparison with females – is absolutely accepted by criminologists. It is also important to note that gender disparity varies according to time, geographic area, race and age of the perpetrators. If gender disparity is indeed caused by genes, then the former will not vary – as it does – according to time, geographic area, race and age of the perpetrators. Thus, the biological theory is rather inadequate to explain gender differences in crime rate.
New Female Criminal
Freda Adler, a criminal professor at Rutgers University, published a book in 1975, entitled “Sisters in crime: The rise of the new female criminal” (Adler, 1975). The profile of the new female criminal, as explained by Adler, was considered as the most powerful and influential expert on female criminality more than three decades ago. According to Adler, the feminist movement may be credited with promoting positive changes in women’s lives, i.e., social position, employment, marriage and family (Hamilton, 2010). She noted that women used to have the same hopes and ambitions as men, but they have not been able to attain these because of oppression towards their gender. Women’s liberation changed all these, as females began to be empowered to pursue their dreams and ambitions — and achieve them. However, Adler explained that women’s lib had a “darker side” (Hamilton, 2010). Just as they were being productive, they were also “pressing into crime” (Hamilton, 2010). Women began to compete with men, even in the criminal world, wherein they were attempting to carve their own niches. And just as women became stevedores, soldiers, lawyers and doctors; they also became terrorists, embezzlers, forgers and burglars (Hamilton, 2010).
Adler theorized that with women’s liberation, a new breed of women offenders had come on the scene. She noted that the feminist movement created “structural opportunities” which women took advantage of by adopting the same characteristics as men: risk-taking, aggression and assertiveness. These, she said, were also the same qualities that enabled men to commit crimes. Adler has since, authored three more books on the topic, but modern times has seen critics bringing down her theories. For one, Adler’s theories are weak in the sense that there are no supporting research evidencing that females who lived liberated lives committed more crimes than their more traditional peers. In addition to this, while it has been proven that most women offenders come from the lower socio-economic ladder, these same women rejected feminist ideals as distinctly middle-class. Moreover, feminists themselves shot down her theories, stating that these undermined the good intentions of women’s rights (Hamilton, 2010). Thus, it may be said that the “new female criminal” is more of a myth than reality.
Which Theory is Correct?
There are certain things to consider before determining which theory about gender differences in crime is correct. Women have been engendered by moral principles which inculcate nurturing values in them, which restrain them from committing injurious deeds to others. Hence, females were less apt to commit crimes than the male counterparts, because of their “nurturing and dependent nature” (Cole and Smith, 2007, p. 57). Moreover, the criminal environment demands violence and physical power, which may account for lesser frequency and seriousness of crimes committed by women. Male have enhanced physical prowess and strength needed to commit graver crimes (JRank, 2010). In addition to this, women who wanted quick money but had no other means of getting it had opportunities to go into prostitution rather than commit crimes (JRank, 2010).
Taking into consideration all these information, majority of studies concede that traditional theories are not given the deserving credit for explaining the patterns in criminal activity as it pertains to gender differences. Most of these theories are backed by hard evidence, and have outlasted the numerous “modern” theories that have sprung up and just as quickly, debunked by one study or the other. Majority of theorists agree that traditional perspectives are inadequate in explaining gender disparity in serious crimes, but a painstaking study of available data from research and experiments reveal that there is simply not much information in this area. Thus, the trend towards studying gender equality/inequality in criminal behavior must be continued, taking into consideration both traditional and biological perspectives, towards learning more about serious crimes. In doing this, the greater goal of curbing crime rates through significant research may be achieved.