The theory of gender entrapment refers to the life stories of battered African American women in New York City Jail. The theory emphasized that society’s insensibility and indifference provided these women with no socially acceptable way to change their position, thus making their incarceration almost inevitable. The society’s discrimination of color denied black women equal economic opportunity as well as their rights to create an ideal family of their own; instead, it systematically wrecked their hopes to achieve their dreams of brighter future and to have an ideal family of their own.
Baskin and Sommers (1993) theory traced women’s crime on early victimization. Their study reveals, forty percent of women from three New York City neighborhoods were severely beaten by family members while growing up, and thirty-six percent were sexually victimized as children. Other theories suggest that women’s crimes were related to selling and using drugs. Orenstein (1995), Sadker and Sadker (1995), and Taylor, Gilligan, and Sullivan pointed out that “many women who sold or began using drugs became involved as the result of a relationship with a drug-using man (p.
Ritchie (1996) noted that women of black color have different experiences resulting from battering. She pointed out that “after victimization by their male partners they became entrapped by patriarchy at home and racism outside the home” (p. 25). Ritchie argued that this in turn led to criminal involvement. Ritchie explained that early sexual abused, racial and class oppression, poverty, and structural dislocation from the family and school increased the likelihood of the criminalization of these females’ resistance strategies.
Ritchie’s Feminist model and Gendered Model of Female Offending
Ritchie’s feminist model emphasized on the role of the family particularly the father figures, which according to Ritchie are “more peer like than parental quality” (p. 41). In her interviews with several convicted women, it appears that many of those women suffered emotional crisis that lead to the crumbling of their outlook. Ritchie also pointed out racial and ethnic identity “as a way to establish a frame of reference about community norms, family values, and their experiences in the social world” (p. 41).
Ritchie noted that these women’s behaviors were shaped by an awareness of the current and historical position of their particular racial or ethnic group within the legal social structure. She further noted that the physical injuries and disfigurement resulting from the abuse such as facial scars, loss of fingers, blindness, baldness, and burn marks were particularly significant for these women as they served as “constant reminders of their suffering, and it created public humiliation” (p. 82). Ritchie’s six paths to jail explain these battered women’s participation in illegal activities and why they had committed such crimes as murder and other heinous crimes. Ritchie pointed out:
“Their sense of being competent and desirable was first threatened by their limited social success as African young women in the public sphere, and they began to feel occupationally, educationally, or economically ineffective as their social options were limited. As they felt their social position becoming marginalized their public identity became more fragile” (p. 102)
Ritchie emphasized that these women’s sense of themselves shifted after they came to understand that their intimate relationships betrayed them. The identity shifts occurs again from a sense of loyalty to men to humiliation and fear to feelings of anger and frustration.
This frustration is provoked by the fact that their sexuality became a source of vulnerability that when taken advantage of, they felt very little control over one of the most basic aspects of themselves, their sexual beings. In general Ritchie’s feminist model traces the patterns of women’s criminality in racial and ethnic discriminations. Ritchie undoubtedly pointed out that the predicament suffered by black women is related to the society’s indifference towards African American Women.
Steffensmeier and Emilie Allan on the other hand, contends that rather than equality between sexes leading to more female crime, “it is female in equality and economic vulnerability that most shape female offending patterns” (p. 5). They pointed out that poverty is the main cause triggering the changes in women’s offending. Steffensmeier and Allan cited that increased opportunities for female types of crime, and trends in female drug dependency as the reasons for increase in the percentage of female arrest.
Steffensmeier and Allan believes that “traditional structural and social process theories are more or less gender neutral, and therefore are as useful in understanding over all female crime” (p. 5). Steffensmeier and Allan stressed that the offence committed by African American women are comparable in the involvement of white women to drugs, property, and sex related crimes. But Steffensmeier and Allan pointed out that those African American women are responsible for unreasonably large percentage of violent crime.
In contrast with Ritchie’s findings that the crimes committed by women offenders were related to race and ethnic discriminations, Steffensmeier and Allan disputed the findings arguing that larceny-theft increases are due most likely to shoplifting increases, which is misdemeanor, and connected with the roles of women as family custodian and consumers. Steffensmeier and Allan uphold their view that the most significant changes in women’s offending reveals that the rise of large shopping centers enhanced the opportunities to commit petty crimes such as stealing goods and misuse credit cards and so forth, which are generally attributed to female traditional roles.
In this context, Steffensmeier and Allan’s view of the nature of the female offending runs counter to the findings of Ritchie. In fact, the view of Steffensmeier and Allan seemed to criticize Ritchie when they pointed out that the real reason of most of the women’s offenses were the traditional economic family needs, and that those women were stealing goods and doing all sorts of dirty tricks out of their distressed economic condition.
It seems that they utterly ignore the social prejudice against the black women, which in Ritchie’s findings were instrumental for these women’s to commit such crimes, stressing some points that undermines the abuse and battering of those women. Thus it appears that Steffensmeier and Allan work is indirectly a critic of the view of Ritchie particularly the six paths to jail of the African American women.
Does Ritchie’s model and the Research methods employed in data collection and analysis build on the key elements of a gender approach to theory development that have been discussed by the various feminist researchers that you have read in the conduct of this course.
In a study conducted by Lori B. Girshick to both White and Black female offenders, of the forty women in the sample with different offense committed ranging from shoplifting to first-degree murder, “seventy percent of the prisoners had charges that related to drugs” that involved in drug crimes (Girshick, p. 66).
The study aimed to point out main and important reasons for the committed crimes; the first three main reasons were poor judgment, paying for drugs, being drunk or high, and economic pressure, desperation, and fear. In the same result of study, a separate finding recounted almost same reasons for these African American for committing crimes.
The responses made the following findings: poor judgments, economic pressures, fear, and paying for drugs. The same study pointed out that women who commit crimes were also subject to the same reasons as sexual abuse and other reasons of crimes. One white and Native American respondent was reported of having abused as a child and in her adult relationships. Of course, no one could deny the discrimination that take place in the society especially to color issue, yet, there are emerging, and growing factors for female offenders, which go beyond the issue of racial discrimination.
The next most commonly mentioned reasons were protecting self or family, greed, anger, and helping a friend or relative.
The study therefore shows that in the issue of gender entrapment, it is likely to connect the findings to all Americans regardless of colors and race because women in general are subject to discrimination. Ritchie was true in her theory however, Steffensmeier and Allan were also correct in their statements about the reasons of female offenders. Discrimination issue has been as old as American history, thus, discrimination continue to happen in a society, and it exists in the world of many women.
Lori B. Girschick has presented her report on this issue objectively as she collected accounts for these offenses from the mouths of the female offenders. As pointed out earlier, female offenses are categorized by some of the following reasons as battered and abused women since childhood (p. 70), drug-connected (p. 71), and breaking the law out of economic needs (p. 72).
In general, Ritchie’s use of data collection and research materials was in line with most of the writers on feminism; it is in line with Baskin and Sommers, Sadker and Sadker, and others. Therefore, I would say that Ritchie’s model and the research methods employed in data collection and analysis build on the key elements of a gender approach to theory development. It is also supported by the research made by Girshick as the findings presented racial and gender discrimination as primary sources of committed crimes. However, the issue must be approached in different angles in order to point out clearly the real problems like what Steffensmeier and Allan.
Chesney-Lind, Meda and Pasko, Lisa (2004). Girls, Women, and Crime: Selected Readings. California, USA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Girshick, Lori B. (2000). No Safe Haven: Stories of Women in Prison. USA: Northeastern University Press.
Ritchie, Beth. (1996). Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Battered Black Women. New York: Routledge
Zaplin, Ruth. (1998). Female Offenders: Critical Perspectives and Effective Interventions. Maryland, USA: Aspen Publishers, Inc.