With the help of feminist criminology, the essay will explore society's stereotypical view of gender roles in light of the statement that criminology is a male-dominated field that overlooks the importance of female offenders. Further, this essay will compare the types of crimes committed by women and men, and why this might be. It will also look at case studies of female serial killers and how it may impact the view on them being more important than originally believed.
Braithwaite (1989) observed that crime is committed disproportionately by men, and the Home Office (2001) notes only 19 percent of known offenders cautioned or convicted by the criminal justice system are women. This statistic has remained stable for the past decade, which could suggest that women's crimes are not held to the same priority as men's crimes (Walklate, 2004). During childhood, families, schools, and society may instill stereotypical views on gender roles that function as a self-fulfilling prophecy of gender roles. At a certain point in a boy and girl's life, they would have internalized certain roles, such as when girls were given dolls and boys were given construction or car toys, and this would have a huge impact on how they interact with these toys in the real world that they then act out.
Criminal psychology often overlooks female offenders because it tends to find some crimes are dominated by men rather than women. This may be attributed to the ‘feminization of poverty’, where males are more likely to commit violent or sexual crimes, whereas women are more likely to commit property and theft crimes. In proportion, female offenders tend to steal to make ends meet for their children, while some male offenders who commit burglary and theft do so for the same reason (Walklate, 2004). Nevertheless, the reason why poverty has such a major impact on women more than men has still not been fully explained. Due to stereotypes about gender, a female who commits the same crime may be more understood than a male, simply because she is perceived to be 'innocent,' and as a result, treated more leniently by law enforcement. In general, females are not viewed as bad people when they make a mistake, but rather as individuals who have simply made a bad decision - this is rarely the case for males. Due to the more violent crime associated with males and the non-violent crime associated with females, males are deemed as more threatening and harmful to society.
As Brown (1986) pointed out, the more the focus is solely on the woman and crime, the more mainstream (male stream) criminology will feel untouched by criticisms of feminism and will already presume that their narratives are accurate (Walklate, 1995). Criminology faces a problem here since female behavior is most likely measured against some masculine norm that may not offer a framework adequate to explain crime for men, women or both.
In general, this study proposes that just because criminology has neglected or failed to adequately explain female crime, it does not mean that it has performed better than men. It suggests that even though female crime has been overlooked, it does not mean that male crime has a greater validity for explaining it. Criminology being a male-dominated field could be biased due to the fact that it has had little time to devote exclusively to explaining female crimes (Walklate, 1995, p.13).
According to case studies on female offenders, criminology should not be considered a male-dominated discipline, since women are equally capable of committing serious crimes. As an example, Myra Hindley was convicted of murdering five children and sentenced to life in prison. Several explanations for her behavior were given, including her violent childhood and her submissive love for her partner at the time. Another prominent case was that of Joanna Dennehey, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three men. Considering that these two cases contradict the notion that women are innocent, sensitive, nurturing, and weak, these cases are extremely important when discussing the notion that criminology is a male-dominated discipline. As these cases demonstrate, females can be just as threatening and harmful as males.
Prior to the 1970s, the study of crime and deviance was largely a male domain. Feminist criminologists proposed these ideas in the mid-1970s. As a critique of existing male stream criminology, firstly, “showing how women have been neglected, misrepresented, and how they may be integrated back into existing theories”, secondly, “to present new areas of study” and, thirdly, “a way of bringing gender to the forefront and especially the role of men in crime” (Carrabine et al., 2009, p.106). In the twentieth century, the feminist movement made women more visible as professional criminologists and as subjects of criminological studies. Feminist criminologists made their first contribution of criminology began by establishing critiques on the male-based theories; not only were the theorists men, but they only wrote and researched about men, and when considering women offenders they had a very sexist perspective.
On the other hand, feminist criminology has been heavily critical of mainstream criminology, and Heidenshohn (1996) stated bluntly that the mainstream and tributary criminology “has almost nothing to say about women” (Newburn, 2017, p.308). While criminology has ignored the female offender within society in the past, feminist criminology has emerged to combat this perception of a male stream criminology and use research and studies to explain the female offender and women's treatment in the criminal justice system.
Lombroso concluded that there were fewer 'born criminals' than males when he studied the female criminal. In order to explain why women commit fewer crimes than men, it was suggested that they are less developed, are therefore more primitive, and as a consequence are less likely to degenerate as a result. Lombroso argued that the most common form of regression for women is prostitution (Newburn, 2017, p.309). As a contrast, Otto Pollak proposed that “women are actually more criminal than men”. They are just more devious and cunning, which allows them to cover up their crimes more effectively (Carrabine et al., 2009, p.107). Because there is not a clear interpretation about the female offender towards criminal offences, this implies that because there is not a clear interpretation about the female offender, it lacks adequate and valid content, which makes it very difficult to analyze and less significant to research on within criminology.
In recent years, feminist criminologists have become increasingly interested in how women are treated by the police, courts, and prisons in ways they are not handled by men. Women who appear before a court face what is referred to as 'double deviance' and 'double jeopardy'. As a result of the low crime rate among women, this has important ramifications, because women who have offended are seen as having transgressed both social norms and gender norms. As rule-breakers and role defiant, they frequently receive the sort of treatment they deserve (Carrabine et al., 2009). Since the advent of feminist criminology, criminology has not only focused on male offending, but has also used theory to make us see that female offending has some relevance within the criminal justice system.
In conclusion, the discipline of criminology has traditionally been dominated by males because research has shown that men tend to commit serious crimes that are considered serious by the criminal justice system. Females, on the other hand, tend to commit non-violent, less serious crimes that are not considered harmful to society. Nevertheless, case studies show that female criminals can be equally as violent as male criminals, and this should not be overlooked, especially since female crime rates have increased in recent years.