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Feminist Perspectives in Criminology

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Feminism is more than a view or perspective but a movement. As the question points out, it is a movement with a multitude of perspectives. Feminism traces its roots to male dominance and oppression, which according to Patricia Hills led to a movement to end male chauvinism and ensure equal rights for all and also to eradicate the ideology of dominance.

According to Naffine, feminist criminology is the integration of feminist perspectives into criminological studies. During the late 20th century, the majority of social sciences were considered to be masculine, including criminology, which has historically been missing female-focused perspectives. Due to this, this essay examines whether a consensus is needed between feminist perspectives in criminology and if they emerged from traditional theories.

The so-called ‘malestream’ approach to women and crime connected women and positivism, embracing biological, sociological, and psychological positivism. Lombroso was an important representative of biological positivism, as he stereotyped female offenders based on their physical characteristics, e.g. He classified female offenders as more masculine. In addition, he noted that the skull anomalies of female offenders are not unlike those of normal women but rather like those of men with a ‘virile cranium’. Further, he analyses women’s generative phase in connection with their menstrual cycle; this theory has also been adopted by Otto Pollak, where females are reminded that they can never be men during menstruation. This triggers women to commit crimes.

This particular theory remains unproven, but the Law has acknowledged a portion of this theory by taking pre-menstrual tension into account in cases of brutality, manslaughter, arson, and theft. There have been cases where premenstrual tension has led to murder being reduced to manslaughter, as noted by Susan Edwards and Gary Luckhaus. Regina v English begins with defendant, an Eastern barmaid with 45 prior convictions, stabbing her fellow barmaid three times through the heart. She then crushes her man to death by smashing her car up against a utility pole after an argument with him. This is one of many cases where defendants have reduced their criminal responsibility by pleading premenstrual tension, according to Dalton.

In addition, women who have recently given birth experience postnatal depression as a result of hormonal changes. The crime of infanticide would appear to be equally applicable to a man with primary responsibility for the child, yet only women are permitted to use this defense and their punishments as reducing sentences to probation Regina v Craddock. The case shows that this is not a special defense, but rather compassion for the women involved. Fathers, who committed infanticide, were treated with contempt, as savage tyrants.

Furthermore, the view of W. I.Thomas’ work on women and crime is based on psychological positivism, he was of the opinion that women in domestic spheres committed fewer crimes, he also believes middle-class women committed fewer crimes than low-class women, not because they were immoral, but because they were simply amoral. Freud asserted that women commit crimes, because as girls, they become jealous because they do not have a penis, so basically grow up to resent men and thus, become exhibitionists who commit sexual crimes.

Finally, women and crime come under the gaze of social positivism because according to Merton and Grosser, men are supposedly power-hungry and money-oriented, whereas women are socialized to pursue marriage and children over a lucrative career, which encourages women to commit crimes against men.

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Even so, feminist perspectives within the field of criminology have challenged a number of established theories, concepts and assumptions. In classical criminology, women and crime are portrayed as androgynous, fail to comprehend the complexities of gender and sex. According to researchers, only 18 females are convicted of serious crimes for every 100 males. Crime and delinquency remain highly correlated with age and sex, and these factors outweigh class, race, and employment status.

Women’s liberation and the emergence of feminist criminology are part of the second wave of feminism, the first wave being the suffrage movement following the end of the world war. I think it is necessary to acknowledge that feminism consists of a number of schools of thought which each explain the oppression of women differently, including: liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, black feminism and post-modernist feminism. As a result, there is no universal feminist explanation for women and crime, yet they do tend to share one thing in common: rejecting the term ‘victim’ to characterize women’s oppression instead using the term ‘survivor’.

By rejecting Lombroso’s and Ferrero’s biological positivist account of criminality, Carol Smart inaugurated the feminist critique of classical criminology. Hence, Smart argues that the sexism of women heavily affects sentencing, incarceration, and punishment, and thus there is discrimination in the sentencing, incarceration, and punishment of women. She blames personnel in the criminal justice system for the stereotype that believes women will become mad if they go against their biological nature of passivity or compliance and commit certain crimes. Additionally, Addison Morris asserts that the biological and psychological positivist theories do not explain at all why women commit crimes.

The feminist critiques have made a significant contribution to theoretical criminology in three specific areas. The first is the female emancipation debate, in which Adler and Simon state that women’s liberation or emancipation causes crime. Although critics have noted that the rate of male violent crime has continued to rise faster than the rate of female violent crime, this view has been critiqued as being a myth. This status is taken to be only a historical overlap by Box and Hale.

As far as the invalidation of the leniency hypothesis is concerned, Pollack stated that women are treated leniently by the criminal justice system because of the notion of chivalry, however, critics have overturned this hypothesis, as Farrington and Morris discovered that women’s court leniency towards them was a result of their lower criminal records. The Scottish sheriffs, Carlen found, viewed female offenders as ‘failed mothers’ more easily when justifying imprisonment. According to Downes and Rock, rather than being treated leniently, they are being overprotected and overcontrolled.

As a final point, Hirschi’s control theory extension to the context of women and crime is responsible for the emergence of gender-based theories. In Heilensohn’s view, there are a number of formal and informal barriers that restrict women from committing crime, including practical and ideological restrictions imposed by family life. In familial roles, women serve as agents of control for men; yet they are themselves controlled both in and out of home, functioning chiefly within the private sphere, resulting in depression and self-abuse.

In addition to considering the feminist critiques contribution to theoretical criminology, it is necessary to examine the criticisms of the feminist movement itself because of its lack of unity; lack of unity has led to the fact that the main focus of modern feminism is focused only on studies of prostitution, rape and domestic violence. Diverse feminist opinions exist regarding prostitution, which can either be supportive or critical. Prostitution is considered a private business transaction by liberal feminists, and it is a choice of the woman herself. The radical feminists view prostitution as a form of exploitation that places the woman in a subordinate position, reducing her to a sexual object for the pleasure of men. Among Marxist feminists the view is that prostitution becomes a rational choice for the women in capitalism. However, Pateman agrees with liberal feminists that prostitutes are not wage laborers, but rather independent contractors.

To summarize, while it’s evident that feminism comprises a number of perspectives, as there are differing races, ethnicities, cultures, and sexual orientations of women, it cannot simply be viewed as one point of view. To do so would lead to gender essentialism, i.e., characteristics defined as women’s essence are shared by all women everywhere, since that’s not the case, which is not true.

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Feminist Perspectives in Criminology. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from
“Feminist Perspectives in Criminology.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
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Feminist Perspectives in Criminology [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Oct 3]. Available from:
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