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An Essay on the Women and Crime

Criminology has treated women’s role in crime with a large measure of indifference. The intellectual tradition from which criminology derives its conception of these sexes maintains esteem or men’s autonomy, intelligence and force of character while disdaining women for their weaknesses of compliance and passivity. Women who conform as pure, obedient daughters, wives and mothers benefit men and society Those women who don’t, that is are non-conforming, may simply be one who questions established beliefs or practices, or one who engages in activities associated with men, or one who commits a crime. These women are doubly damned and doubly deviant. They are seen as ‘mad’ not ‘bad’. These behaviours frequently lead to interpretations of being mentally abnormal and unstable. Those doing the defining, by the very act, are never defined as ‘other’, but are the norm. As ‘men’ are the norm, women are deviant. Women are defined in reference to men.

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Earlier women were primarily perceived as sexual objects and expected to remain within male dominated ideologies such as homemaker and nurturer taking second place after men. Women who strayed from the norm were severely punished, void of any opportunities to explain their actions. Later in the late nineteenth century, Lombroso and Ferrero (1895) wrote a book called, The Female Offender. Their theories were based on ‘atavism’. Atavism refers to the belief that all individuals displaying antisocial behaviour were biological throwbacks. Criminality in men was a common feature of their natural characteristics, whereby women, their biologically-determined nature was antithetical to crime. Female social deviants or criminals who did not act according to pre-defined standards were diagnosed as pathological and requiring treatment, they were to be ‘cured’ or ‘removed’.

Other predominant theorists such as Thomas (1907) and later, Pollack (1961), believed that criminality was a pathology and socially induced rather than biologically inherited. As Thomas (1967) says, ‘the girl as a child does not know she has any particular value until she learns it from others’. Pollack (1961) believed, ‘it is the learned behaviour from a very young age that leads girls into a ‘masked’ character of female criminality’, that is, how it was and still is concealed through under-reporting and low detection rates of female offenders. A grater leniency towards women by police and the justice system needs to be addressed especially if a ‘true’ equality of genders is to be achieved in such a complicated world.

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Women have so many choices of which they didn’t before. It would appear naïve to assume that women and crime may be explained by any one theory. Any crime for that matter, whether male or female, may not be explained by any one theory. It is an established an no-arguable fact that males and females differ biologically and sociological influences, such as gender-specific role-playing appears to continue within most families. It’s matter of proportion not difference.

Some theorists believe that in many men ‘testosterone’ is responsible for the aggression. Women mostly commit crimes of a lesser aggressive nature such as shoplifting, leniency is given to them from law enforcement officers and judges. It is true that many women use their ‘femininity’ to their advantage, which makes it very difficult to argue equal rights for both sexes. This unequal position of women in society due to social oppression and economic dependency on men and the state, needs to be addressed. Offences by women remain sexualized and pathologised. In most ways, crimes women commit are considered to be final outward manifestations of an inner medical imbalance or social instability. Their punishment appears to be aimed principally at treatment and resocialisation.

Intermixing of cultural and biological factors makes people as individuals. Behaviour may be changed. All have the potential for aggression and compliance and women are no different.

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