How do Feminists explain crime?
Invisible Female Offenders
Sociology of Crime and Deviance tends to focus mainly on men. Although that it is true that approximately 80% of offenders are men, there is the other 20% who are women that are simply ignored in many sociological theories. Frances Heidensohn has criticized the male dominance of the subject and has suggested four reasons behind it:
1. Male dominance of offenders As the majority of offenders are men for many sociologists it would therefore make sense to focus on the majority rather than the minority of women offenders.
2. Male Dominanation of Sociology According to Heidensohn sociology topics of investigation reflect a male view and interests. As it was usually the case that the majority of academics were men.
3. Vicarious identification What interests males is what’s studied, and applied to crime their interest lies in the lives of the marginal and the exciting.
4. Sociological Theorising Male sociologists constructed their theories without ever thinking about how they could be applied to women. Most traditional theories are ‘gender blind’, which in effect means they ignore the specific viewpoint of women. Feminist Debates and Criminology Though male sociologists have largely ignored female offending, feminist writers have sought to include some criminology analyses within their approaches.
This approach to feminism is based on the idea that by bringing women onto the agenda and by demonstrating how women have been ignored in research, then there will be a greater understanding of female deviance. In particular, new theories can be developed which will cover both men and women.
Radical feminists argue that the only way to understand crime is to see it through a female perspective – and research should be based on the assumption that all men are prepared to commit crimes against women if given the chance. Women should construct their own unique approaches to explaining crime and deviance and this should incorporate the threat from men.
This approach stresses that the position of men and women in general and with reference to crime, can only be understood by locating males and females within the context of societies that are divided by both sexism and capitalism.
Smart and Cain argued that the very concerns criminology have (burglary, street crime etc) are actually a reflection of male concerns and therefore women should be looking beyond these to the things that are most harmful to them. In other words they should look at how harm comes to women in the widest sense possible and not just accept the (male) boundaries of criminology.
Postmodernism and Transgression
In response to the need for a feminist version of criminology Carol Smart introduced the idea of transgressive criminology. She suggested that criminology itself as a discipline was tied to male questions and concerns and that it could never offer answers to feminist questions. Instead of looking at how feminism affects criminology, she said that they should look at how criminology can affect feminists. This can be done through looking at a range of activities both illegal and legal that harm women and to then look at how they came about and how they can be changed. This idea led to feminists (and sympathetic male sociologists) looking more closely at the way women stayed in at night for fear of becoming victims, at domestic violence and how women were treated by the law in issues of rape and harassment (where they form the overwhelming bulk of the victims).
Male Roles, Postmodernity and Masculinity Smarts idea of transgression linked to the growing importance of postmodern analysis. Some sociologists began to go beyond the traditional confines and to revisit the issue of why most crime is male crime.
Some Criticisms of Feminist Theories of Crime
• Some feminist theories are accused of hypocrisy as they are said to over focus on gender in their explanations of crime and deviance • Some feminist theories are criticised for understating the issues of class and ethnicity
• Some feminists are accused of an over focus on victimisation and of simplifying the causes of offending.