Official crime statistics show that males are four times more likely to commit crimes than females. Victim surveys show women to be more likely to be victims of sexual and violent assaults than males. It has also been suggested there are gender differences in punishments. And therefore different people have given their explanations for the reasoning behind this. The official crime statistics show that women commit less crime than men. Men are convicted of 80% of serious crimes, and women only make up about 5.7% of the prison population. There is also a difference in the types of crimes committed by men and women; most women are imprisoned for non-violent crimes such as theft or handling of stolen goods, which accounts for 57% of known female offenders in 2002
Radical feminists such as Heidensohn claim that women’s lower crime rates can be explained in terms of patriarchy. She claims that both in the family and at work men exert power and social control over women. Women who challenge the traditional roles of women within the family run the risk of having them imposed by force. In public, women are controlled by the male use of force and violence, by the idea of holding on to a ‘good’ reputation, and by the ‘ideology of separate roles’. Women often choose not to go out into public places because of the fear of being attacked or raped. Heidensohn argues that the consequence of this control is that women have fewer opportunities to commit crime and acts of deviance whereas men have more opportunity.
However, many of Heidensohn’s arguments are based upon generalisations, some of which don’t apply to all women. She doesn’t always support her claims with strong empirical evidence. Furthermore, she admits that many of the empirical tests of control theory have been carried out on juvenile offenders rather than adults, and that control theory does sometimes portray women as being passive victims. Yet, Heidensohn does present a plausible explanation of why such a gap remains between men’s and women’s crime rates. In doing so she highlights some of the inequalities that remain between men and women Frances Heidensohn in 1989 suggested four reasons why sociology is, malestream, dominated by men. Firstly, males are the main and dominant offenders, so it seems unnecessary to study a small minority of female offenders. This is also combined with a largely male outlook and interest on the subject, as most sociologists who are academics are men.
Due to this problem another arises, vicarious identification. This is where the male sociologists only study what interests them, the exciting and dangerous lives other, criminal males. Lastly this has culminated in theories on crime being ‘gender blind’ in that they ignore female viewpoints. We can see from this information why sociologists ignore female crime, but why exactly do women show up little in the crime statistics? Some people argue that it is because women do actually commit less crime than men do. Steven Box in 1981 reviewed self-report studies in Britain and the USA and concluded that ‘the relative contribution females make to serious crime is fairly accurately reflected in official statistics’. Observational studies have also back up the idea that women commit less crime.
For example in 1981, Buckle and Farrington carried out a study in a department store and found that 2.8% of 142 males shoplifted compared to 1.4% of 361 women. Although these are crude measurements of crimes it hints at women being less criminal in behaviour than men. McRobbie (1994) found that many young women were not involved in subcultures because of parental control. Instead, they stayed indoors with their friends, reading magazines and gossiping, creating a ‘bedroom culture’ of their own. Hagan (1987) studied child raising patterns in Canada and found that daughters had far more informal control exercised over them than sons. Heidensohn (1985) identified three areas where women were socially controlled, giving them fewer opportunities to commit crime. At home, women were still seen as the primary carers of children and the household.
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